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Archive for the tag “Journalists”

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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Searching for fairness in an unjust world

http://copywritercollective.com/howtobeacopywriter/wp-content/uploads/Accountant-Cartoon-728x520.jpgIt is not often that I write a personal account of something. I prefer to see things from the perspective of a journalist or writer – as an outsider, viewing the world from all possible angles. But there are some things that strike you hard, right in the centre. Because you can relate to them more than anything. And sometimes you have to speak up in the hope that someone will listen and things will change.

My attention yesterday was directed at an article that said pretty much everything I have in my mind. Martin Conterez at The Hungry Dog’s Lair wrote an open letter to Huffington Post stating in essence that it is high time that writers are paid for the work they do.

I agree. The work you do should be compensated for. It’s nice to be acknowledged in every way and form. The satisfaction you receive through someone’s expression of gratification is priceless, as is the the much-desired (and needed) exposure by a renowned source. Yet, none of these enables you to survive a month of obligations, expenses and bills. You still need a monetary recompensation of the work you do. Because what you offer is in fact original content. That content that all publications are looking for. But that very “content has to come from somewhere. It has to be created, and creation takes work. It takes passion. It takes blood, sweat, and tears. It takes desire, drive, devotion, dedication, and deference. All of that comes at a cost. A cost to the livelihood of the person creating it. A cost that should be compensated for.”

Martin says it very well. Because although it may take you a few minutes to read something we’ve written, for us “it takes hours, days, sometimes weeks to create a great piece. To make content the world is willing to consume ends up consuming those who create it. And that’s just one piece, that doesn’t take into consideration the years we pour into our craft to become good enough to be featured on a site” with global reach and money. The truth is, such publications do have money, often unduly collected through exploitation and unpaid labour.

The paradox of it all is that, as writers and journalists, we are still eager to write for anyone willing to publish our pieces, usually dubbing this “voluntary contribution” because it is better to be exposed either way in the hope that someone will finally discover you and offer you a worthwhile compensation. Hiding away without any demonstration of what you can do will lead to nowhere.

That, however, does not negate the fact that people need to get financial compensation for whatever they offer. They spend time, energy and focus on something that others will profit from. Isn’t it fair that they too earn their rightful share from that?

Choose wisely

Sleepless journalistsThey say that when you select your career path, you need to choose wisely for it is what you will spend most of your life doing. It will be what will determine your character, your personality, your entire being. It will be through what you will learn to deal with whatever life throws at you and how to cope with it all. But most of all it will be the prism through which you will view everything around you.

When I chose to be a journalist, I never had a doubt. It was a profession depicted as adventurous, exciting and fascinating. It was a chance to travel, even if it was simply around your neigbourhood, to meet people and learn their stories and then be creative in writing it all out for other people to read. And the satisfaction of having others view and praise your work is, of course, priceless and worth all the effort.

But what they don’t tell you about this profession is that it requires at times inhuman hours. Long waits doing absolutely nothing. Constant screening of everything that goes on the web – on every platform and social network. Of cross-checking facts before you say anything, just to be sure. Of reporting alleged claims and two seconds later confirming they have been refuted. Of covering 17-hour marathon negotiations that have been described as the “European Union’s most historic and significant Council” in order to avert the collapse of the entire system due to a single country’s breakdown. Yet, even with hardly a couple of hours sleep in the night that results in you spending the rest of the day stumbling over just by moving between living room and kitchen, it is somehow all worth it. When you see that the articles you wrote are being shared and liked, that you are being recognized as fluent and exceptional in what you do.

Right then you don’t think about the tiredness anymore or the lack of sleep. You simply dwell in the satisfaction that you did indeed choose wisely. And this is a path you never regret having taken.

Who is #Charlie?

Darrin Bell

©DarrinBell

Since the bloody attack on Wednesday 07 January 2015 on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which resulted in the murder of 12 people, including the chief-editor and four cartoonists, a lot has emerged. The shock and horror of this action intensified in the next two days, with more murders, as the terrorists were finally killed on Friday 09 January 2015, after a police siege ended two hostage situations in Paris. The Internet is being overflooded with articles, opinions, memes, and messages of support, declaring #JeSuisCharlie, or #JeNeSuisPasCharlie, or even #JeSuisAhmed in honour of the Muslim police officer who was so ruthlessly shot by the attackers. But who really is this Charlie, and what does it all mean? Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical weekly newspaper, featuring cartoons, reports, polemics, and jokes. It describes itself as left-wing and anti-racist and is Irreverent and stridently non-conformist in tone. It first appeared as “Hara-Kiri” in 1960 and later changed its name in order to overcome the ban that was imposed in November 1970 after its cover spoofed popular press coverage of the death of former French President Charles de Gaulle, eight days after a night-club disaster that resulted in 146 dead. The new name was derived from a monthly comics magazine called Charlie Mensuel. Charlie allegedly took its name from Charlie Brown, the lead character of Peanuts – one of the comics originally published in Charlie Mensuel – and was also an inside joke about Charles de Gaulle.

Jean Jullien

©JeanJullien

Over the years, the publication has been criticized and even banned due to its controversial cartoons, particularly attacking religion. It was some of these cartoons, ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed that reportedly led to the 7 January attacks during the morning editorial meeting of the paper. It is argued that the paper is being racist, not respecting other religions and insulting the faith of a minority, which has never really ever felt welcome in France anyway. Hence the growing of the #JeNeSuisPasCharlie group. Editors are faced with a tough dilemma as to whether they should reproduce these controversial cartoons, with many uttering “what right do I have to risk the lives of my staff to make a point?

David Pope

©DavidPope

Yet, on the other hand, around the world, the debate of freedom of expression and the right to be able to say, write or paint anything is being bellowed across social media, in mainstream news, and in candle-lit staged protests in central squares and outside French embassies. #JeSuisCharlie is a message of solidarity. It is a message that the pen is more powerful than the sword. That if you are so easily affected and offended by words and cartoons, then you should think deeper about what it is that you truly believe in. In fact, cartoonists all over the world have joined their voices and pens in protesting against the attempt to silence them and declaring support to Charlie Hebdo.

Samiamidi

©AikateriniAndreou

The Charlie Hebdo attacks demonstrated to the world that no matter how technologically and socially advanced we proclaim we are, we are still very backward in our mentality. Yes, we do have to consider carefully what we say and do in order not to offend anyone, but when does that become censorship? If people are supposed to be able to freely express themselves, shouldn’t we be equally tolerable of everyone’s opinion? Was it not Voltaire who said that “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”?

Patrick Chappatte

©PatrickChappatte

This is also what led to the emergence of #JeSuisAhmed. Ahmed was the 42-year old French police officer who was shot and killed on 7 January. He was a Muslim who died, fighting to defend a publication known for insulting his culture and religion. Without discrimination. Without hesitation. Because he knew, like so many Muslims who condemned the attack, that violence is not an answer to anything. In fact, by “sharpening the contradictions” that have so loudly appeared after this tragic attack, we are all feeding into the hatred, the polarization, and the atrocity. This publication, is not the only one that used cartoons to satirize political, social and religious life. In fact, people who understand the importance of humor in our lives, take it lightly and enjoy such criticisms. From Plato, Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, George Orwell to Stephen Colbert, Jon Stuart and even Matt Stone and Trey Parker (South Park), satire has always been crucial to a healthy life. Because it would, supposedly, lead to a better comprehension of our life and help improve it. Reacting with extremism is the worst that could happen, because “extremism thrives on other people’s extremism and is inexorably defeated by tolerance”. Take a pen out and write something. Witness how easy and permanent it is to scribble a word, and how difficult it is to erase it. Consider what would you like to be, the pen or the eraser?

©BernardoErlich “The world has become so serious that humour is now a risky profession.”

©BernardoErlich “The world has become so serious that humour is now a risky profession.”

The story and debate that has erupted is not about satire. It is far beyond it. The violent attacks will lead to repercussions on all sides. And it is already evident at how other media, mosques and international organisations are on high security alert. Fear is taking over once again. So, we need to ensure that this demonstration of solidarity that begins by lifting a pen and raising your voice will ensue. That it will trump over the hatred and will rally behind a common cause – that of accepting difference, respecting others and committing “to defeating those hell-bent on destroying the common fabric of our society”. It is now the time more than ever to prove that we, as multicultural societies, can live together in peace. Western heads-of-state have over time urged media not to publish certain stories or cartoons even – as in the case of investigative journalist Gary Webb and Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier. Both refused, no matter how precipitous developments may follow or as how offensive they might be perceived. Charb remained defiant even after al-Qaeda reportedly placed his name on an “enemies of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad” hit list. Two years ago, explaining why he continued to publish cartoons criticizing Islam, despite threats to his publication, Charb said, “I prefer to die standing than to live on my knees.Jouralism - Orwell Freedom of expression is a fundamental liberty and a right that we all so profoundly demand. But this attack was not just on journalists, it was on society as a whole, on people who dare to be different. It was a wake-up call that nothing can, or should be, taken for granted. And it was an alert that we do not live in as much a liberal world as we want it to be.

Also part of Daily Prompt: (Your thing) for Dummies

The Journalistic Hunger Games

460475_journalismA taxi driver on our way to my destination one day told me that “journalism is a dirty job”. He said that journalists today must be “part of the system in order to succeed – to say one thing, think another, and do another. They are disgraceful”. And I was left wondering since when this occupation – one of the most wonderful and most important there are, ended up being thought of as inferior, non-profitable and “dirty”.

A graffiti in an EU country stated that a democracy is only as good as its journalists. Yet today almost everyone agrees that journalism worldwide has deteriorated. And this is not only due to the rise of social media, blogs and the widespread use of the Internet where everyone feels that they are qualified to write (about) anything. It is also because the quality of journalism has significantly declined. When articles published are badly written, lack information, are misspelled and without any syntax, how will journalism provide a good example to the masses?

One of the basic principles of journalism is that it will offer citizens the truth no matter the circumstances, and in a clear and simple way. Without destroying values, or taking a stance for or against an issue. This is the way it should be – the simple, unadorned, and unexaggerated truth.

So many journalists sacrifice their life for this exact principle – for the citizen’s right to proper information. In 2013 at least 70 journalists were killed in the line of duty, while in only the three first months of 2014, another 15 have already been killed. A profession for which people risk their lives should undoubtedly be respected. But just as in every other case, respect is something to be earned.

The so much bad journalism that exists today negates any good examples that still remain. And when people are more interested in the lives of “celebrities”, then journalism inevitably stoops down a level, with journalists themselves now becoming part of a profession that is not thought of as highly.

Of course, the fact that journalism is among those jobs where the worker is occupied long hours without a proper schedule, no real holidays or overtime, and receives a meagre salary, does not help at all. And in addition, journalists themselves are often scorned. For example, in high-level meetings such as Eurogroup and Ecofin Councils where the elite of governments, financial organisations and other officials gather to hold discussions and conferences, journalists are the ones who spend twelve-hours a day at the press centre trying to communicate to the people in a simple and coherent way what exactly is going on. Yet, they are often faced with insufficient space in which to work, weak Internet connections, and even lack of food. They are often treated as people of an inferior class, just like many employees, or at least all those who do not have a fancy title giving access to the relevant luxury that comes with. It is as if these employees and the other officials are separated into an “upstairs” and a “downstairs” clan. Journalists have to strive to earn their living (and their food), working hours on end in adverse conditions, while officials, delegates and “VIPs” freely enjoy luxurious lunches, extravagant dinners, and even exclusive (free) guided tours.

If journalism’s real purpose is to reveal corruption scandals for example, then ideally it should be clear of such issues itself. A bad name comes out of a bad example given. But it is now time for journalism and its employees to deservedly revive the glory that they lost long ago.

Jobless, Hopeless and Divided

Is European Labour Mobility dividing the EU?

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It’s a hard time to be young. It’s even worse if you come from the periphery of Europe. Unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, and youngsters are forced to migrate northbound for a better future. But how is this ‘great escape’ affecting the unity of the EU project?

On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman said that Europe cannot be built in a day, but rather through events that require solidarity. Today’s European Union (EU) seems too distant from this vision. “We are doing everything in the wrong way,” says Portuguese MEP Inês Cristina Zuber (GUE/NGL), Vice President of the European Parliament’s (EP) Employment and Social Affairs Committee. She explained that the biggest problem qualified youth face today is that they are in jobs without quality contracts, no job security and no social benefits. They may even live precariously like this for years. In fact, youth unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, averaging 23% in the EU and reaching 63% in Greece, and with increasing long-term unemployment, the youth of today risk becoming the unemployable adults of tomorrow.

“We have to change these kind of labour relations,” stated Zuber, “we must create safer labour relations with guarantees and rights in order to keep people in their country. It is impossible to develop a country without these qualified people,” she said.

Her co-vice president for the EP Employment Committee, German MEP Thomas Mann (EPP), said that the EU’s Youth Employment Initiative is very important in this sense, and particularly the Youth Guarantee Scheme through which member states committed to ensure that within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education all young people up to 25 years receive a high-quality offer for a job, an apprenticeship or traineeship. But can this really work?

EURES Adviser in Cyprus Antonis Kafouros appeared pessimistic. He said that even this is targeted to specific groups, as it cannot help everyone. “Such schemes often simply serve to keep unemployment figures at a steady level,” he explained. “There is no real investment in infrastructure or job creation. Demand levels do not increase. The programme is simply adding more qualified people into the supply end. If there are no jobs in which to use the skills/experience gained then it is futile”.

The EU has earmarked €6 billion for 2014-2016 for this scheme. But even though that sounds impressive, Joachim Weidemann, head of “Insight EU” at Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa), calculated that this amounts to a mere €500 per unemployed person per year. “In order to have the minimum effect this programme would require €21 billion,” he noted.

Giving youngsters a chance

For Mann, however, this initiative is “a small drop on a hot stone”. It is a first step to give young people a chance to become integrated into the labour force, to gain experience and have the opportunity to seek a job. Such programmes are supported by the European Social Fund (ESF) which for the 2007-2013 period amounts to some €75 billion, more than €10 billion per year.  Mann believes this would help create the conditions for young people to stay in their countries. “The decision is taken at the EU level but the realization is in the hands of member states,” he said. He stressed that the ways for southern European countries to combat increased unemployment is by changing the conditions in these countries. “They should realize reforms and this takes hard work. Some are too lazy for these reforms.” But he insisted that the best way forward is to learn from each other: “we must ask why some countries are so successful while others are waiting for money from outside.”

Qualified individuals from the periphery of Europe face more than twice as high unemployment rates than in the north and core (17.1% compared to 7.1%). Many of these seek a better future abroad. But according to a 2011 Flash Eurobarometer, 44% of EU respondents do not want to leave their country. “They are forced to go,” says Zuber, pointing out that this is not true ‘mobility’ but immigration.

“The EU is marketing its idea of Social Europe to legitimse itself before public opinion,” continued Zuber. But how the EU is actually affecting the lives of its citizens is different. “We are now living worse than our parents,” she said, reverberating EP President Martin Schulz’s statement of a lost generation. “The EU’s programmes will help the youth find jobs and traineeships, but it is not solving the problem.” She argued that a positive discrimination is required to help countries in trouble recover and develop top-quality infrastructure. “More solidarity” is needed she said.

Zuber believes that the EU must invest in these countries, otherwise the gap in development will become even greater. “There will be the countries with the know-how and the technology and then the periphery (the countries now under a Memorandum of Understanding) with the cheap labour force to work in their industries. We will create a Europe even more divergent.”

The EU’s motto is in fact united in diversity. With all the challenges and opportunities this entails. But by failing to contain this ‘brain drain’ from the periphery to the core, the situation in immigrants’ home countries deteriorates further, accentuating the division of the EU into a prosperous north and a despaired south.

Written in Brussels on 15-17 October for the European Youth Media Days (EYMD) 2013 Orange Magazine.

Bubbly press

journIt was raining outside. That pitter patter that isn’t worthy of even opening up an umbrella. He put on his suit, wrestled with his professional conscience for a couple of minutes over whether he should wear a tie or not (the “proper” side of him won) and hurried off for the underground.

He was there in less than 15 minutes. It was still raining thinly but there was a lot more people around here and they all seemed to be transmitting their anxiety to get somewhere. It was as if all this stress was diffusing into the atmosphere and penetrating his very pores. He began to feel an adrenaline rush. Looked left and right. Everyone seemed to know where they were going. He wasn’t sure. Actually, he was lost. He thought about asking someone but no one would even slow down a pace, let alone turn around and look at him. He stepped aside and pulled out his A4 map. After a couple of minutes he figured the building he needed was 100metres in front of him. He felt silly. He followed the crowd and entered what was to be a 10 minute airport security check before he was allowed access to the press room.

He stood astounded for what seemed like forever. He gazed gulping all around him, devouring every inch of the ambience of this room. So this was what it was like. The press room at the European Council. With reporters from all over the world. So many ethnicities. And so many languages. Where did he fit in? From across the Atlantic for an online news source. And he only spoke (the) one language.

He parked his laptop and bag next to a group of people who were acting as if they were at a cocktail reception. They seemed to know what they were doing and at least they had left spaces next to them empty for other people to use.

“Ciao!” said one of them. They all seemed relatively young.

“Oh, hello” he responded.

“Ah, é un Americano!” the chirpy one replied.

They soon got to talking and he discovered basically all he needed to know about finding his way around the place. The Italians were “frequent flyers” you see. And they knew the inner dwellings of covering news at such a summit. For the “yankee”, as they called him, it was all new. This was his first big international mission. And he had to deliver outstanding results. He had high hopes for his journalistic career.

He decided to take notes on everything he saw. After all, publishing the decisions of the Council was easy. Everyone would do that. It was issued as a press release anyway. The juice of the story was behind the scenes. And that was what he was after.

How journalists scavenged for news, barking at every suit that made the mistake of coming into the room for a statement. Laptops, smartphones and tablets were all on fire. It was amazing the power and internet system could actually hold on to so many connections.

And the most interesting of all: the journalists themselves. Their priorities. And knowing where to draw the line.

“No. Absolutely not,” he heard a Brit say. “That is simply unacceptable. A low cost airline is out of the question”. He was obviously negotiated his flight arrangements for his next mission.

Further down, another reporter was trying to decide whether to attend a conference the next day or not. It was a serious issue.

“Yes, but what kind of sandwiches?” he enquired. Lunch, especially that free-of-charge, is you see an important part of these meetings.

A French photographer next to him was anxiously going through the photos he had taken during the day. The more extraordinary ones would gain him more money and greater publicity in the long run.

“Ehi Americano, vieni prendere il caffé!”. The Italians were going for coffee. Again, he thought to himself. Ah, the life of a journalist. If only everything in life was really that simple, he pondered, as he put away his tablet and mingled with the rest of his “hard-working” colleagues.

N.B. The descriptions here are simply examples. Not all journalists are like this and none can be stereotyped. Just making sure it is clear!

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