Friday, March 11, 2005

The Problems with Present-Day Journalism

The problem we have with present journalism is that journalists have increasingly shifted from a role of bringing news to one where they try to influence opinion
writes Jean François Martinez.
What are the problems?

1) The journalist gets an audience infinitely superior to the one of the average citizen. When the journalists as a whole have opinions who are significantly different than those of the silent majority it becomes a problem: in the name of what is thesis A (the one of the journalists) getting that much airtime while thesis B (the one of the people) is getting no air time?

2) Journalists don't limit themselves to editorials, they distort the news according to their opinions. Worse, they have used the tactics of silencing the unpleasant (for them) news. While an alert person could wade through opinions or even lies it is much harder to detect omissions

3) The journalist is not in a reaction of peer to peer with the public. A normal person discussing will probably keep a healthy does of scepticism toward the allegations of a politician and keep its critical sense when discussing with a peer while instinctively trust the news in the paper. Just like you expect your maths teacher tell you the truth about the Pythagoras theorem you don't expect lies from a person whose job is to inform you

4) People usually think in the need of guaranteeing the independence of journalists but the problem is often the opposite: politicians fearing the anger of journalists and molding the State's policy according to the wishes of the chattering classes instead of the wishes of the majority. If a politician takes a measure who is popular between his constituency but unpopular between journalists he will fear journalists not limiting themselves to attacking his proposition. They could silence anything he does or says who is likely to gain him votes while giving maximum publicity everywhere he goofs. They could wait for their moment until people have only vague memories about the matter and then present it in a form who makes believe journalists were right (cf how after a few weeks some journalists tried to rewrite history about the Dan Rather scandal). Or they could quite simply avoid mentioning him trying people forgetting about him (cf journalistic black-out toward Chevenement once he became dangerous for Jospin). At this point many politicians could cave in and do the will of the journalists instead of the will of the people. The possibility isn't theoretical: at one point Jospin adopted a policy towards Corsica who was both contrary to the wishes of the people and to the opinion of most of his party. But he wanted the support of "Le Monde" for the presidential elections and that policy
pleased to Colombani.

It is a grievous thing when politicians listen to journalists instead of to the people. It is a grievous thing when unelected people can change the policy of nation by shifting the public opinion through distortion of the news (think in Vietnam and the biased presentation of the Tet offensive and its role in the abandonment of the Vietnamese). It is a grievous thing when journalists try to change the outcome of an election and boast about their support being worth 15% votes for John Kerry. It is grievous and undemocratic

We also have to remember that journalists are not special people. They could have better information channels than most people but they aren't more virtuous, intelligent or cultured. They have no right to use and abuse of their position for the triumph of a cause who pleases them.

The job of a journalist should be to REPORT about the facts. And let the reader form his opinion instead of trying to mold it. That is how a journalist who has both ethics and some sense of democracy.

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