The ethics of journalism

Category: Americas, Nature & Science Views: 4927
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Conflict could never be straightforward in an inextricably tangled aristocratic world of American politics where scoops and contracts went from husband to husband and where everyone seems to be kin to everybody else. The question that American news outlets have to ask is what it means to be "impartial". Media companies that have their anchors wearing American flags and plaster their programs with patriotic imagery are taking sides - especially when they give little or no air time to critics and dissenters. Surely one can express pride of country and practice its democratic tradition of supporting the right to dissent at the same time. 

Political conversation is the source of new ideas, new energy, and new directions. It shapes what we work on and how we work on it, day in and day out. Journalism's aim must be to be the first, not the last, word on the ideas and practices that keep changing the world. 

Now is the time for media institutions, journalists' organizations and citizens' groups to seize the initiative and demand that a free press must have the right to cover wars, domestic and foreign agendas the way they need to be covered. If the people have a right to know, if that often-cited fog of war is to be lifted, then media institutions have to speak up - loudly. And the public has to demand them to do it.

The failure to condemn this outrageous conduct infuriated The Independent's veteran Middle East watcher Robert Fisk. His words deserve more than brief quotation: "The lack of careful, thorough coverage by the U.S. media is a crime in its own right against the public's right to know." 

The cynicism, arrogance and brutality with which Bush is leading the world has provoked a profound, deep-rooted worldwide hostility. Most television journalists have shown little or no interest in these disgraceful crimes. Cozying up to the Administration, participating in the scripted White House press conferences, obfuscating the obvious in the midst of their reports. What on earth has gone wrong with American journalisms' moral compass since 11 September?" Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Indian politician and philosopher warned long ago that 'rights are protected not by laws, but by the social and moral conscience of society'.

The antiwar rallies across the United States leading up to the war in Iraq were the largest antiwar demonstration since the 1970s protests against the Vietnam War. Why has the media itself, on the other hand, been so reluctant to question the policy when many regular Americans seem willing to do so?

If any good came out of the Vietnam war, it was the realization that war reporters should give the full picture: show the bodies as well as count the body bags; step out of the military media pool and flout the sensibilities of generals. Should our 'right to know' supersede conventional canons of taste and decency, political sensitivities, even the 'national interest'. Should journalists at war focus on civilian victims rather than armies: show the indiscriminate horror of war? Can they prevent truth from being war's first casualty?

Think about "investigative" reporting. The best investigative stories are expensive to produce, risky and upset the wisdom of the established order. Do profit-conscious enterprises, whether media companies or widget firms, seek extra costs, extra risk and the opportunity to be attacked? Not in any business text I've ever read. I can't help but note that the Guardian and Observer is the world's only leading newspaper owned by a not-for-profit corporation, as is BBC television. 

But if profit-lust is the ultimate problem blocking significant investigative reportage, the more immediate cause of comatose coverage of what is laughably called America's "journalistic culture." If the Rupert Murdochs of the globe are shepherds of the new world order, they owe their success to breeding a flock of docile sheep, the editors and reporters snoozy and content with munching on, digesting, then reprinting a diet of press releases and canned stories provided by officials and corporation public relations operations. 

In a materialistic world and one in which exhibitionists are drawn to journalism and show biz (there is a difference?), they will censor themselves and cater to the perceived interests of their owners, and, often with the slyness of the slave, they do please them. There is little or no material advantage in honesty or principle. Material advantage rules, period.

What the Bush administration has working for it is an American population unbelievably stupid when it comes to current events, geography and most importantly, history. The force of boredom in human history, by the way, is one that historians have often underestimated.

The United States may currently be the only military superpower. But it's a hollow shell, with its domestic economy in profound crisis and the dollar in fast decline. More than any physical battle involving soldiers, the real war will be how the definitive history describing the U.S. liberation of Iraq is written.

And speaking of human nature, power corrupts. It corrupts those who wield it. And it corrupts those who seek to influence those who wield it. Media have long been part of the world of elites. The free press is a myth when powerful people own it. Only when many small people own it will a truly free press, based on our "right to know" be possible. That may be a strong argument in favor of blogs.

In the Orwellian world of modern day journalism, where a new form of political correctness frames their every utterance, the language is contracting. Because the goal of totalitarian thought control is to make the expression of political incorrectness impossible, the goal of this Neocon Newspeak is the abolition of many now-common words. In this context, words are used, not to make debating points, but to end all discussion.

Citizens can only make up their minds on any issue, large or small, if they live in an environment of unrestricted information, offering the widest range of potential input. At the top for any society, politicians can only be called to account, and tyrannies prevented, if serious failures and improper uses of power can be made known to all citizens. 

That is the core justification of a free press, for all its manifest imperfections. That is precisely why dictators, oligarchs, juntas, emperors and tyrants through the ages have sought to censor debate and to stifle the free dissemination of opinion and information. 

Politics is fundamentally a conversation. If we allow a focus on politics gone wrong to crowd out any discussion of what might go right, if we allow the number crunchers to overwhelm the idea people, we make it harder to change the negative trends that we all find so, well, negative. We must call for a new kind of criticism that might find its most useful work not in confirming our right to know but rather in putting under some degree of pressure the mediatic ideas and assumptions of the present time. The alternative is too frightening to consider.

Francisco Goya's Plate 79 of Disasters shows the fair maid of Liberty flat on her back, bosom exposed. Ghostly figures play about the corpse while monks dig her grave. Truth has died. Murio la verdad. How is that for an alternative?

Daniel Estulin is based in Spain - Political columnist, adviser and author of four books on communication skills.


  Category: Americas, Nature & Science
Views: 4927
 
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Older Comments:
YAHYA BERGUM FROM USA said:
The author reminds me of one of those renowned Russian dissidents who seemed to have employed chronic pessimism, in easing the mental burdens placed upon them by their own (sometimes towering) intellect. However, just as it might be the case with chronic optimism, a predisposition for pessimism might tend to interfere with a person's ability to accurately predict what sort of courses will be taken by the world's nations.

I am guessing that it would be "something new" (indeed!) if the US dollar were to continue its decline against other world currencies were the United States and its affiliates to continue in extending a series of nation-sized, military conquests (astaghfirullah). My guess would be that the US dollar's recent decline has considerably more to do with some sort of skill on the part of the world's "euro mongers" than with some sort of weakness on the part of the US economy.
2004-03-03

GERRY LYKINS FROM USA said:
Media in general today operates on BIAS. The bias is that of its financial base. Whether rightwing ideologue, whether corporate interest...no matter, in my opinion there is extremely little jouranlism left. The Fourth Estate has abdicated its responsibility to inform the PEOPLE! It is now up to the PEOPLE to restore the FOURTH ESTATE. I am a Howard Dean volunteer...and that candidate for nominee of the Democratic Party in 2004 was subjected to a barrage of media attacks...which helped sabotage his campaign...BECAUSE he spoke (speaks) the TRUTH. We, the people of the U.S., must not also abdicate our responsibility to ourselves and our country...we must also SPEAK THE TRUTH!
2004-02-28

AKBAR KHAN FROM CANADA said:
The news is heavily responsible for shaping and driving the minds of young, delicate minds, and those who work for a "free press" should begin to ask themselves if what they are reporting to the public is making hte public trust in them more, or less.

Journalists should begin to ask themselves, and we as free-thinkers, should begin asking them to reflect upon this very important question!! "Do I have any journalistic integrity?" it is a plain, simple, and straight to the point question. We shouldn't have to be bombarded with commercial advertising telling us who to support and what to buy, and at the same time being told what to think!!! This is like highway robbery of our morals, ethics, and the lessons we learn from history.

If the public watches or reads news, and sees it as being a perplex distortion of events, with many overtones that conform to a particular ideology, it is a crime being committed against society, because they are being told what to think, and how to feel - constantly bombarded with gobbledeegook that make people think with a one-track mind.

Look as how most news networks report the victims of suicide bombers in Tel Aviv as "victims," but in the same report call Palestinians who are killed by IDF forces, as "armed gunmen," or being "casualties." A simple play on words can alter a person's way of thinking, creating a limited, distorted mentality. The killing of a young Palestinian boy is no simple casualty, it is a CRIME committed against him, his family, and his people. It is the media's responsibility to finally stop distorting the news, and to start upholding the true meaning of free press. It is not an accident that favouritism by so called non-partisan media outlets is showcased by junk-news networks in such a manner.

You can fool some people some of the time, most of the people all of the time, but never all of the people, all the time.
2004-02-27