https://www.eurasiareview.com-By Murray Hunter
The media was once considered a pillar that guaranteed a country’s democratic system. The role of the media was to provide a forum for freedom of speech, freedom of information, and scrutinize political leaders, policies, decisions, and actions. The media enabled citizens to make informed decisions on the selection of their leaders, once carrying great sway.
The expose of the Watergate Hotel break-in and its connections right up to the top echelons of the White House by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post in 1972 is heralded as the best example of the investigative journalism that exposed corruption in government. This was the golden era of journalism.
Since then, journalism has dramatically changed. There are now many laws hindering investigative journalism. Whistle-blowers are now more viciously sort out and punished by authorities, even though many countries claim to have enacted laws to protect them. Defamation laws are now tighter, journalists themselves are persecuted, and prosecuted under draconian laws around the world. Media companies themselves have become owned by organizations that pursue particular political narratives. The nature of journalists and environment they work within is very different from what it once was.
Journalism is a high-risk occupation in many countries. According to Reporters Without Borders, arbitrary detention of journalists in 2021 was 488, while 65 were held hostage in some part of the world. Forty-six journalists lost their lives in the line of duty and 2 are missing. These figures don’t include the number of journalists facing civil and criminal suits for defamation, news portals like Terry Xu’s Online Citizen in Singapore being forcibly shut down by authorities, and those investigated and charged under draconian laws like the Official Secrets Act. Police forces raid and intimidate journalists and treat them as they are criminals.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2021 focused on the worldwide suppression of the media and press freedom in their selection of Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia as joint Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.
One of the major threats to the integrity of journalism is coming from within. The media’s traditional role has been to inform the public of the facts. However, this has been hijacked by the media organizations themselves.
Most media corporations, including independent media, have allowed strong editorial lines to evolve over many issues. They have set positions over climate change, SARS Covid 2, Black Lives Matter, ‘woke’, and the EU. Journalists consequently must practice self-censorship to remain employed. Any investigative or critical articles researched by and written by journalists must carry their employer’s editorial line.
Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) journalist Tara Henley gave some insight into the culture of a major news broadcaster, claiming the CBC has gone from being a trusted source of news, to churning out clickbait that reads like a parody of the student press. Henley continues saying that the CBC pretends that the “woke” worldview is universal and pursues issues that provide and monetize outrage against views that social media platforms are hostile to. Sweeping societal changing issues like lockdowns, vaccine mandates, and school closures are largely left without any insightful examination or debate. Many critical articles rise little above ad hominem attacks or use anecdotes to justify arguments. According to Henley, journalists and staff are now employed according to qualifications and meeting particular profiles.
Outside pressure groups have compromised media organizations, turning them into propaganda mouthpieces to disseminate specific editorial agendas. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave a grant to The Guardian of USD 3,499,032 in September 2020 to increase awareness on global health and public medicine.
With the ABC, BBC, CBC, and CNN on one side and Fox and Sky News on the other side, very few journalists within the mainstream media have been able to critically analyse major issues objectively. Networks were clearly partisan on the major issues of the era, the Iraq war and weapons of mass destruction, the January 6 riots, Trump’s Russiagate, and Hunter Biden hardisk, are just a few examples. This has not been assisted by social media platforms which have become clearly partisan, removing content that doesn’t meet their clandestine editorial lines. Facebook even has a blacklist of unacceptable organizations. Mistakenly banning information is becoming a growing problem.
Another major influence upon journalism today is the development of the journalism degree, turning journalism into a pseudo academic profession. Traditionally, cadet journalists would follow a career path after an apprenticeship in a media organization, picking up the skills of information seeking, research, writing, and editing, as they go along. This has now changed with a journalism degree being a prerequisite of employment within many media organizations.
Those who study journalism, do so at the cost of learning grounding technical disciples and sciences that will enable them to understand highly technical disciplines, like climate science and public health. Mass media organizations are employing interns with general degrees in journalism, who are writing articles about extremely complex subjects that few people may understand. Consequently, many articles are supported by fallacies of consensus among scientists, medical doctors, and emotionally charged anecdotal examples, rather than exploring the research on the subject. Forecasting models are reinterpreted as fearmongering and alarmist facts to promote clicks.
Journalists, once the gatekeeps of the truth have lost their status to social media platforms, and their factcheckers which also employ people with journalism, rather than technical backgrounds. Maria Ressa, was less kind to social media in her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance when she said, social media “has allowed a virus of lies to infect each of us, pitting us against each other, bringing out our worse fears, anger, hate, and setting the stage for the rise of authoritarian dictators of the world.”
However, while mass media organizations are employing interns without specific disciplinary knowledge, and social media is deciding what people can or cannot read, another phenomenon is going on. Many high profile and experienced journalists are opting out of media organizations and turning to platforms like Substack or Medium.
Substack allows autonomy and editorial freedom. These platforms are unencumbered by the new gatekeepers, where stories can go out as emails to subscribers. Substack allows independent journalists to follow their investigative and writing passions from their homes.
Journalism has long moved away from reporting the news. News now comes with analysis and commentary. People read the people they believe and trust. This new window on journalism is appearing at the community, regional, national, geopolitical, and specialist disciplinary areas.
Will this rekindle investigative journalism once again? These platforms enable independence, but whether this will come with the patience and discipline to do the hard and tedious detective work required of investigative journalism is another question.
However, the multitude of journalists and their fragmentation will ensure alternative voices in the online wilderness. Ironically Twitter enabled journalists to build up personal followings that transcended their employers’ branding.
Over the next couple of years, we will know what these new platforms will do for journalism. This may force more diversity within mass media op eds, or big tech may come in and takeover these platforms putting them once more behind the gatekeepers.
Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 30 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, and researcher. As an entrepreneur he was involved in numerous start-ups, developing a lot of patented technology, where one of his enterprises was listed in 1992 as the 5th fastest going company on the BRW/Price Waterhouse Fast100 list in Australia. Murray is now an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis, spending a lot of time consulting to Asian governments on community development and village biotechnology, both at the strategic level and “on the ground”. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and regular speaker at conferences and workshops in the region. Murray is the author of a number of books, numerous research and conceptual papers in referred journals, and commentator on the issues of entrepreneurship, development, and politics in a number of magazines and online news sites around the world. Murray takes a trans-disciplinary view of issues and events, trying to relate this to the enrichment and empowerment of people in the region.