Monday, 30 January 2012

Letter to Heather Brooke (author of The Revolution Will Be Digitised) regarding the importance of professional journalism

Dear Heather,

Someone was kind enough to buy me 'The Revolution Will Be Digitised' for Christmas. Your comments about the importance of professional journalism in democratic societies remind me of the following Dalai Lama quote:

"When I talk to people of various professional backgrounds, particularly from the West, they seem to have a tremendous amount of attachment to their own profession. One could say that many people have an enormous personal investment in their profession, they identify with it, so much so that they feel as if their profession is so vital for the world's well-being that if it were to degenerate the whole world would suffer. This suggests to me that their level of attachment is inappropriate"(HH Dalai Lama, 'Transforming the Mind', 2000: 64-65).

You write:

"A statement isn't a fact. Even when the person making the statement is an authority he or she still needs to provide evidence or proof that what they say is the truth and a professional journalist should be asking for this proof and supplying it for public scrutiny"('The Revolution Will Be Digitised', 2011: 72).

I agree but sadly, as the media scholar Robert McChesney explains, this rarely happens because

"Journalists who question agreed-upon assumptions by the political elite stigmatize themselves as unprofessional and political. Most major U.S. wars over the past century have been sold to the public on dubious claims if not outright lies, yet professional journalism has failed to warn the public" (Robert McChesney, 'The Problems of the Media', 2004: 74).

You add:

"All this accumulating of statements, data and information which then has to be verified takes time. But this is the only thing a journalist does that marks him out as professional. It's the only reason anyone would choose a well-known newspaper's website over an unknown blog. The newspaper as a brand has built up, over time, a reputation for challenging the powerful and giving people meaningful, true information.

"The press is not like any other business and what it sells shouldn't just be rehashed press releases or celebrity gossip, but the civic information necessary for people to understand their society and participate in it. It is a check on political and financial power, or at least it should be"('The Revolution Will Be Digitised', 2011: 73).

In reality, the press is exactly like every other business because it's raison d’ĂȘtre is not to inform the public, but to make a profit. In their excellent book 'Guardians of Power' (2006) David Cromwell and David Edwards ask:

"Can a corporate media system be expected to tell the truth about a world dominated by corporations? Can newspapers, including the "liberal" Guardian and New York Times tell the truth about catastrophic climate change - about its roots in mass consumerism and corporate obstructionism - when they are themselves profit-orientated businesses dependent on advertisers for more than half of their revenue?"

Why did you choose not to explore these questions?

I look forward to your reply.


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