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Archive for the tag “citizens”

Journalism Under Fire

https://static.kent.ac.uk/nexus/ems/116.jpgJournalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations”. George Orwell’s quote, today more than ever, remains relevant, at a time when media and control over them has become a highly controversial issue, mainly due to the ethics involved. Because, while journalism should, ideally, be objective and free of political affiliations, nowadays, the newsroom is dominated by the ominous shadow of advertising revenue. In a period when almost everything has been affected by the financial crisis, media – the people’s source of information – are searching for sources of income, while at the same time competing against social media and the plurality of free news.

How then can we distinguish the truth in what we read? And how can we dismiss ‘fake news’?

This was the topic of a very interesting discussion held in Athens in the context of the New York Times Athens Democracy Forum, hosted by the journalistic platforms Oikomedia and Hostwriter. The aim was to examine why Media have come under Suspicion and how journalism can regain public faith. Five guest speakers from international media participated: Serge Schmemann (New York Times), Philip Faigle (#D17, Zeit online), Simon Wilson (BBC Brussels), Prune Antoine (freelance journalist) and Tasos Telloglou (Skai TV/ Kathimerini).

The prevailing view, shared by many journalists and citizens alike, is that the observation of how real life unfolds is absent from many media reports today, mainly because of the rising trend of ‘opinionated journalism’. This trends sees the inclusion of a commentary, with the reporter him/herself often expressing a view on the story reported. But that is not what the role of the journalist is supposed to be, nor what the point of journalism is. It is supposed to be about the clear, undeterred, fair and objective presentation of facts that have been thoroughly researched and presented as is. Journalism is the means to make heard as many voices involved in a story as possible, and to cause, through that, the audience’s critical thought, so that citizens themselves may launch a public debate on the matter. In an era of rapid technological evolution, media outlets are perfectly positioned to become platforms promoting such active public discussion.

Instead, citizens increasingly turn against media, viewing them with suspicion and distrust and accusing them of transmitting ‘fake news’ and siding with any one political group. As such, it is not strange that, especially in Greece, citizens do not trust the media, and in fact increasingly tend to avoid the news. The 2017 annual Digital News Report by the Reuters Institute for Journalism revealed that Greeks have the lowest rate globally in trusting media with only 23% (compared to, for example, 62% recorded in Finland, the highest rate). Greece is also the only country in the world that believes social media do a better job in separating fact from fiction than traditional news media (28% vs 19%). In addition, over half the respondents (57%) in Greece and Turkey are avoiding the news, compared with fewer than one in ten in Japan (6%). One of the main reasons for this ‘media avoidance’ may very well be all the ‘negative’ news constantly broadcast, regarding the economy, politics, corruption, accidents, war, bloody conflicts and terrorism attacks around the world. News that not only contribute to increasing fear and agony for a future that is already blurred, but also result in further dampening an already low morale and bad psychological state. Consequently, people prefer not to know, endorsing that ‘ignorance is bliss’.

But in all this, how much are the journalists themselves to blame? Are they not asking the right questions? Are they presenting news out of context, indeed causing misinformation? Is the need for higher revenue placing at risk not only the independence of the organism but also its credibility as a source of objective and truthful facts? Press freedom is not only about the pluralism of views, but also about their presentation as facts, without editorialisation.

Journalism should be about opening questions not answering them. The journalist’s view has no place in the story they are reporting.

Today’s need to ‘sell more copies’ and ‘record more online views’ has irreparably also affected the quality of journalism. We need to go back to basics, to remember that in order for a fact to be reported correctly, you need to experience and (re)search it as best as possible to make it easier for the reader to comprehend. And most of all, to realise that people want to read about things that concern their lives and that affect them.

There will always be a need for stories. This was broadly acknowledged at the discussion. The main issue, however, is that journalists should never stop striving for their fundamental element: objectivity. And to step away from the uniformity and unanimity that so often characterises news stories today. After all, the mind opens up when it tries to do, see and think something differently. Otherwise, it is not even worth it.

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A politician can be an idiot

Since the time of Socrates politicians have not been thought of highly. They are considered dishonest, selfish, arrogant, and immoral. Socrates, himself had said that “I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live”. Charlie Chaplin saw himself as a clown, but even that, according to him, placed him
on a far higher plane than any politician”.

Politicians haven’t gained a bad name for no reason.  History has shown that true politicians were remarkably few.  And those who actually care about their people and work to improve their lives can be counted on one hand. “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar” (H. L. Mencken) and with corruption scandals and embezzlement of public funds being revealed every day, politicians have become perhaps the most hated profession of the modern era. On a daily basis they are insulted by the people who consider them more and more a disgrace, as they no longer see in them their representatives. Politicians are now scorned, despised and slated by the very people who elected them to their posts, for they do not adhere to their mandate, or to any of the electoral promises they ever made, for that matter.

Someone once argued that no politician is an idiot. Because by definition a politician is someone interested in the polis – the city-state and not in his/her own interests, the idiot – the self. It is someone who is involved in influencing public policy and decision-making and puts the good of the people before his own benefits. However, modern definitions of a politician have converted into “a seeker or holder of public office, who is more concerned about winning favour or retaining power than about maintaining principles”. It turns out, after all, that politicians are indeed idiots.

In our contemporary times, politicians appear literally everywhere, at any conference, event, gala, opening, simply to gain exposure and better their image. They either think that this will help them appear as though they are interested in public affairs, or they simply want more than Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame. It actually appears to be both. Politicians, being the idiots they are, only care about heightening their own image and appearing as though they care, whilst at the same time serving their own selfish purpose.

Press conferences and debates are held sometimes even twice a day, while negotiations and discussions are on-going for days, even months with the sole reason of appearing as though action is being taken and something is actually being done by those in power, when in reality it is all about pleasing their own desire for exposure and publicity.

Statements are made continuously by politicians eager to talk, while hundreds of reports on various policies are published. They all do the same. They outline what needs to be done and when. But no-one ever realistically explains how they propose this to be done. And it turns out it is all about wishful thinking. In the EU, for example, months of discussions pass before the budget is approved and decisions are made as to how much money will be spent for various regions, projects and issues. They never, however, take into account the selfish and greedy nature of human beings. And years after the funds have been disbursed but the projects never happened the European Commission begins investigations on misuse of funds and embezzlement. As if it is surprising that idiots would do exactly what they are by definition known for – serving their own interests at the expense of the public good. And all this selfishness will in the end result in the demise of the polis and the common good. And as Paulo Coelho had described in a short story, the only way for the polis/town/state to survive was to let it drown in its own corruption and then build it anew.

Indeed, the problem with the world today is that so much talk is based on idealised situations. As if corruption and selfishness do not exist. Politicians are so versed in how to paint out exactly what they would like things to be. But they provide solutions to problems that are not realistic or at times even feasible. Instead, politicians are characterised by all talk and no action. They all know all too well how to draw attention to themselves, how to speak without actually saying anything, how to make empty promises, that people seem to forget that nothing substantial is ever occurring. And that is also one of the reasons why it is often argued that people who study politics are so repelled by what they learn that they never want to go into politics. Politics is indeed a dirty game. But what everyone seems to forget is that this very “game” concerns the lives of people who depend on those ruling to secure a better living for them – for the people, not the rulers.

Bertrand Russell had said that “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”. Thing is, it is the cocksure idiots that rise up in the world and end up presiding over the unsure.

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Viral – The New York Times is going to feature your blog on its home page, and you’ve been asked to publish a new post — it’ll be the first thing tens of thousands of new readers see. Write it.

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