Thursday,20 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)
Thursday,20 June, 2019
Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

‘Never trust the teller’

Robert Edward Turner
Robert Edward Turner

Truth, like pure gold is rare. With so many versions it has become even rarer. Buried deeply somewhere by men of influence in every field, the task of the masses who hunger for truth has become increasingly difficult. For decades the news media has been an active player in the drama of our lives; that is when we trusted the news.

How much simpler life was when there were just a handful of newspapers, a few conscientious editors and faithful readers who felt compelled to read each headline, each opinion, each news item, each story, with every comma until the last full-stop on the last page. We believed the writers, we respected them, we trusted them.

This was then. This is now. The social media serves us sensational even grotesque entertainment. It serves a mournful feast of lies, exaggerations and untruths, leaving us gaping at the mouth as we devour it eagerly and completely.

Instead of a handful of newspapers, or an evening radio news bulletin, television invaded our homes to inform and entertain. Until the 1970s TV’s major networks presented a one half-hour of straight unadulterated news, that summed up the day’s main events. Today one would be hard-pressed to find impartiality on any of the myriad news broadcasts.

New undesirable elements have been introduced to the news field — business. This is “fabricated” or “fake” news.

Until the 1980s news was for the most part factual, accurate, truthful and impartial, until one Robert Edward Turner changed the face of television forever. Despite much scepticism a 24-hour cable news network, CNN, was founded in July 1980. Its unforeseen success created many followers, but to fill up 24 hours of “authentic news”, some of it had to be invented. Ideology, personal opinion, bias and political party preference, found room to ventilate.

 That was only the beginning or rather the end of the honourable news profession as we had once known it.

The competing channels took to sneering and smearing each other, competing for more horrifying and electrifying news. The profits came pouring in. Correcting their lies was useless. No one pays heed to corrections. It is simply human nature.

While CNN was the matrix it not only spawned other 24-hour news networks, but hundreds if not thousands of social media networks making it a cheap commodity, turning the gold to tin. How regrettable for genuine news buffs who click to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. There you find bias towards a president, a political party, an institution for a dose of modern “fake” news.

Fake news has fogged up the mainstream media which in turn began to imitate the trend. The result paid dividends. Even the leading newspapers have followed the trend and with pockets bulging, they too helped bury the truth even deeper — profit or truth? The choice was easy.

 According to the Gallup Poll, there are 1.5 billion people who use the network for news. We have access to millions of potential news sources and that is largely positive if their mission was to inform. But there is practically no trust between news seeker and newsmaker.

We need journalism to resort to seeking, checking and presenting the truth, to inform not misinform, to guide and not misguide.  

The lack of centralised gatekeepers or rather, the out-sourcing of the gatekeepers function of mainstream media, is lacking. Did they too help bury the truth? Do they serve journalism? Are the merchants of those lies the owners of these networks? Was the price the quality of our minds, our power of thought and judgement?

How can we verify the news, or launch a search for the buried truth to find “all the news that’s fit to print”???

There is no longer a sense of responsibility to inform in any kind of journalistic way. Their mission is engagement, not accuracy. The public needs a deeper understanding and are dissatisfied with what they get. Shifting resources and attention to defining a new world for writers and creators to write and create and to be rewarded on the value they are creating.

We all wish to be smarter about the world. We read, we travel, we listen to tales, but it all depends on the teller.

When D H Lawrence wrote: “Never trust the teller. Trust the tale.” Then, there were not so many tellers, not so many tales. Today, he may have worded it differently. Nonetheless it is good advice.

Our sources of fake news are neither pleasing nor satisfying. They are producing a more confused ignorant world and there is enough ignorance for us to add to it. Scratch them all.

 Living this opaque existence, this diabolic tale of deceit will only hurt our already ailing humanity.

Without its arbitrary bias or selective shreds of reality, Journalism once stood tall, proud and pure. They called her “Her Majesty” for she was without stain or smear. What should we call her now?

We as humans need the total truth to be human. Distortion of reality can only undermine the work of those endowed with the qualification for the pursuit of truth.

Search for the truth. Dig it out. Uncover it. Let it shine and glow so we can all honour it.

The burden is ours to doubt, to check to verify before we pass judgement.

 The truth is out there, somewhere. Let us make an effort to find it.

 “No one can ever bar the road to the truth, and to advance its cause, I’m ready to accept even death.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008)

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