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The stifled voice and the final exit of Journo: A disagreeable reality in demo'crazy'

Published : Friday, 7 December, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 1642

If in each year at least one journalist gets Pulitzer Prize and one hundred journos get killed, and close to 1010 newsmen killed for reporting news and bringing information to the public between 2006-2017, in addition 90 percent of the killers go unpunished, then we need more than formal action in ground, not just celebration of both World Press Freedom Day on May 3, and International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on November 2. Between the ethics and the challenges of journalism stands the UN theme of the 2018 celebration to highlight "legal environment for press freedom, giving special attention to the role of an independent judiciary in ensuring legal guarantees for press freedom and the prosecution of crimes against journalists."  The theme also addresses the role of the media in sustainable development, especially during elections --as a watchdog fostering transparency, accountability and the rule of law. The theme deliberates on "aims to explore legislative gaps with regard to freedom of expression and information online, and the risks of regulating online speech." It seems that we have failed to grab the opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, assess the state of press freedom throughout the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Opinions from a few social-psychologists are already afloat: the more the media get politically tilt, the more they are prone to be the victims, as in the arena of absolute power, power doesn't get corrupt with much intricacy. Like any other profession the modern newsmen are compelled to face questions from various socio-political edges: if media's the most 'powerful' entity, then why there is a vibrant perception among people that freedom of the Media cannot be regarded as always good? Is it because they have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent? Because that's the 'idiom of power' or that is the reason they control the minds of the masses. Whoever controls the media controls the mind. Why the stories that sell are mostly published? Why do the 'entertainment stories' rule or why the most popular stories are often not investigative pieces, but entertainment stories? Is journalism entering into a world of 'virtual reality'? Why are there stories created deliberately to mislead audiences, promote a biased point of view or particular political cause or agenda? Why there is abundance of misleading or sensationalist headlines, with stories not completely false but distorted?

It is often debated that media has lost its way. People apprehend that the proprietors of these organizations have put on a form of censorship as they're more interested in celebrity, narcissism, rich people, good-looking people, and successful sportsmen. The mainstream media spins stories that are largely racist, violent, and often irresponsible--stories that celebrate power and demonize victims, all the while camouflaging its pedagogical influence under the cheap veneer of entertainment.

Is it possible for a reporter to be objective in time present? What about his or her beliefs, convictions, education, religion, background, origins, etc. Is the reporter a human being with feelings, temperaments, likes and dislikes, or a machine that just performs things mechanically?  Human beings are not objectivity-driven machines. All intrinsically perceive and process the world through subjective prisms. Were they to be objective, meaning that they would approach each new subject like a blank slate without opinions?

Enemies of objectivity argue that because journalists must be free of bias to be objective, and because this is impossible, it follows that objectivity is a false ideal. Can journalists stop being humans and somehow expunge all the prejudices that they carried inside them? Perhaps 'objectivity' in journalism is a fairy tale invented purely for the consumption of the credulous public, like the Santa Claus myth. But there is also an argument why journalists should not abandon objectivity because objectivity does not require that journalists be blank slates free of bias, in fact, objectivity is necessary precisely because they are biased.

Conservatively, objectivity and realism in journalism mean, playing it straight without favouring one side when the facts are in dispute, regardless of one's own views and preferences. It means doing stories that will make friends mad when appropriate, and not doing stories that are actually hit jobs or propaganda masquerading as journalism. It sometimes means doing something that probably is not done nearly enough--betraying one's sources. And sometimes the source of the information feels betrayed. Objectivity also means not trying to create the illusion of fairness by letting advocates pretend in one's journalism that there is a debate about the facts when the weight of truth is clear.

In order to combat feudal despotism and feudal ideas in England and France in the 17th and 18th centuries the notion of freedom of the print media came into being. Writers like Voltaire wrote against religious bigotry in Candide, Zadig, Letters on England and Letters philosophiques. In The Social Contract and Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Rousseau made scathing attack on the feudal political and economic system. Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man also played a significant role in helping European society progress from feudalism to the modern era. Thus freedom of the media was meant to benefit society and help it move forward in history.

The great thing about media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people. The media has a great role to play in promoting scientific and rational thinking and combating backward ideas. Time is ripe enough to wake up against the menace of 'paid news' culture in mainstream media. The practice that involves money in unethically acquiring media space for the beneficiaries remained an important issue in many countries. It is alleged that many media houses, irrespective of their gamut of business have started selling news space after some 'understandings' with 'politicians and corporate people without disguising those items as advertisements'. Numerous Editors' Guilds expressed concern at the growing tendency of a section of media groups to receive money for some 'non-advertorial' items in their media space, as the practice 'violates and undermines the principles of free and fair journalism'.

Yes, the media has changed. Print and broadcast licenses today are usually given to credos instead of people. Confusion reigns supreme and people think that there is no difference between news and entertainment. People who project themselves as journalists on such media don't remember the ethics of press or the first thing about journalism. It seems all media have some sort unofficial political affiliation these days. And then through 'mistrust, misinformation and manipulation,' fake news and paid news transform the field of media journalism into claustrophobia. Fake news is news, stories or hoaxes created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers. Multinational corporations control the politicians. They control the media. They control the pattern of consumption, entertainment and thinking. The influence of the media is complex: in its representation, in its power of communication and interpretation it is a remarkable amplifier of fancy and illusions.

And there are instances where freedom of the media was used to block progress and subsequently help businessmen to make money. There is nothing wrong in making money but this must be blazed with social responsibility. Businessmen cannot be allowed to say or promote anything that should be permitted to make money even if the rest of society suffers. The media is not an ordinary business that handles commodities, it deals with ideas.

Many urge that corporatisation of the media world has been a threat to the existence of free media. Some newspaper owners are greatly influenced by political clout and the proprietors grant space for vivid coverage for the benefit of their 'friendly politicians' in the newspapers. Even some lowest paid journalists enjoy regular payments, like monthly lump sum compensation from politicians in power. Licenses for wine shops are offered to reporters and unfortunately accepted happily by some, with the inherent understanding that they only write positive stories and stab negative reports against their politician-financers.

The favourite catchword of the social-psychologists goes less debated: 'freedom of the media is a double edged weapon� it depends for what purpose it is being used." We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by all: the media, the governments, the big industries, the religious and the political groups. As society is bombarded with pseudo realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms, one doesn't have any choice but to ask often, 'What is real?'

It appears that some people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda. It is all the more important that the public understand that difference. Perhaps that defines the tumultuous rise of the social media because that has restored the power back to the people. Reasonably the best journalists thus combine open advocacy with sensitivity to the gaps and limits in their own perspectives. No journalist writing one simple piece can or should be expected to cover all the territories, but general acknowledgment of an advocacy dimension in all journalism would aid not only the profession but politics as well. With the western model of democracy under strain, the will-to-power operating under a pure democratic disguise will finish off this masterpiece by transforming the fourth pillar into a blunt edge.

Avik Gangopadhyay, an author,
columnist and educationist, writes from Kolkata, India



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