Frontline: the role of the media – a defence.

Image047_edited-2Journalists die much too frequently, are confronted mentally and physically, and in many cases, are brave beyond words. What they tell us, informs us. They are often the frontline between warring suppositions, and warriors for the unspoken.

In 2013 it was estimated by one organisation there were 211 prominent journalists in jail across the world because of their work : Turkey, Iran, China stand out but so do Eritrea, Vietnam, Syria, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Egypt and Uzbekistan. http://cpj.org/reports/2013/12/second-worst-year-on-record-for-jailed-journalists.php Soon we might be adding Crimea and Ukraine. http://en.rsf.org/ukraine-two-ukrainian-journalists-missing-10-03-2014,45977.html?dolist=ok/ukraine-two-ukrainian-journalists-missing-10-03-2014,45977.html :

“Analogue over-the-air transmission of all Ukrainian TV stations except the science channel Tonis was meanwhile suspended in Crimea yesterday and their frequencies were re-assigned to Russian national TV stations. Their transmission on digital frequencies was terminated today…Some cable TV operators have also stopped retransmitting Ukrainian channels in Crimea. The secessionist republic’s deputy prime minister attributed this to “technical reasons” but information minister Dmitri Polonsky said the censorship was required by “moral principles” and legal imperatives.” (Ibid, March 2014)

In 2014 (so far), another organisation estimates world-wide, 4 journalists have died, 3 netizens and citizen journalists killed, 169 imprisoned, and 166 netizens incarcerated http://en.rsf.org/

Yet, some aspects of modern journalism, their craft, is besieged like no other time. The moral and ethical standards by which they work are under the spotlight more than ever before and not just in conflict zones. What has been exposed in too many countries, in too many stories, is too often bad practise, lies, too much private gossip made into the material of mere reporting. But real journalism, not just reporting, remains at its best a noble art, no matter the failings. Without transparency there is no informed opinion, no accountability, no bottom-up political participation, and no means to real justice. Without true, thorough, investigatory practice there is no real journalism.

The pressures on journalists are enormous and this has always been so, but it is also increasing. Not least because ‘History’ has always been, on one level, a ‘confirmed-accepted-text’: a sort of validating game of interpretation and what is reported is a part of that process. So holding to the accepted line becomes as much a matter of politics, and politicians, and any of those in power, dutifully aware of the pressure that can be applied to journalists, apply that pressure, remorselessly. Maybe on one level this is normal, acceptable but the media is special, and times are changing.

The access to information, even gossip, is no longer a restricted game in the digital age.  From local newspapers to cross-national broadcasting, there is open trumpeting across the e-platforms: the Twitter effect is one of the best examples. It is not that Twitter is more truthful than anything else, but it has opened the controlling portals to the managed text, to a wider community beyond the affiliated, and controlled, often ‘stay-at-home’ editorial journalist-politician set, and this is inherently powerful if not disruptive.

The reporting on the Ukraine crisis, for example, will be the subject of many a PhD dissertation in the future as the alarming events unfurl before our eyes and making sense of it, serious on the frontline journalists, generally, are doing exceptional work. And so are those on Twitter and other social media. Making a full appreciation of what is at stake is hard, and there are many sides to the arguments. Increasingly, one sees academic effort wading into the journalism in open-house direct access and the results can be remarkably useful. A good example is the recent 90 minute debate at the journalists’ Frontline Club, London on the Ukraine crisis: Brilliant, balanced, informative, combative and truly at the frontline!  http://www.frontlineclub.com/first-wednesday-13/

Are words mightier than the sword? No, because they are inherently, socio-linguistically, philosophically, by their nature words of ‘spin’ – but quality newspaper and other forms of journalism add to our understanding by separating wheat from chaff. A bridge between academic and journalism also helps, which, at its best, supports and enhances freedom of speech. But the popular press, and that includes some aspects of national public broadcasting – which in itself is always limiting, is less substantial, and here lies the problem for reasonable debate about the role of the media in the modern age for modern audiences, especially for the e-aware or the ‘netizens’ of the world.

But if we need to stand up and defend journalism, we cannot forget that if quality newspapers, and groups such as those at the Frontline Club, are indispensable to our contemporary understanding of modern journalism, too often the ‘popular press’, and sadly, public broadcasting, is increasingly turning into ‘entertainment’:  too many headlines, too little data, too many presenters, too many unsubstantiated, entertainment-driven opinions (and images) , and not enough real, investigative journalism. And the ‘News’, for the private and the public journalists, is always at the heart of public integrity. Get this wrong and all else fails.

The next generation, educated, open-shirted, non-suited, T-shirted, socially and globally media aware, are standing at the gates of this ‘popular’ misrepresenting press (and politicians), and saying ‘we won’t buy this’: in the end the political game, and journalism will have to catch up with them, or lose them, and they are the future.

Photo© Richard Rooke 2014

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