Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1404, (2 - 8 August 2018)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1404, (2 - 8 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

News not fit to print



Remember the days when we all huddled around the radio to listen to the news bulletin, hanging on every word? It was the truth we heard, as was the written word in our daily newspaper which we read religiously front to back. We delighted in the details, the short newscast could not provide. We found opinions, analyses, information, stories of social interest, we believed every word.

For decades the news media has been an active player in the drama of our lives.

A free press has been the cornerstone of any democracy for centuries, encouraging readers to believe in stable and settled truths. It was as early as 1556 that Venice published the monthly Notize Scritte, (written sources). It cost one Venetian coin, gazetta. The name eventually came to mean “newspaper”.

By the 19th century there was an outstanding outreach for newspapers and journalism became an honourable and dignified profession. Journalists worked hard, digging sources, double-checking, searching for the truth, proven through facts.

They travelled to faraway places to ensure serious, in-depth coverage. War correspondents at the risk of their own lives covered the action and the pictures published were the closest we could get to the horrors they witnessed.

Early in the 20th century radio broadcasting was the magical means of reaching the public, relaying instant news from around the world. The first radio news broadcast aired in Detroit, Michigan, almost 100 years ago, 31 August 1920.

Television was maturing fast. The BBC aired the first TV broadcast in 1933 and the Summer Olympics were transmitted on TV from Germany in 1937.

By the second half of the 20th century, TV was followed by the computer and the Internet and the Digital Age totally transformed the way we get our news.

Social media has swallowed everything in journalism at the expense of accuracy and veracity.

Professional integrity is the cornerstone of traditional, credible journalism.

Now, what do we get? Speculation without evidence. An ideological agenda pushed down our throats. Prejudice as official policy.

Mainstream news has crumbled under the pressure of the countless 24-hour cable news networks. In order to provide enough material for their long news day, they lie, imply and later deny. We get opinion, opinion, opinion and what we desire is news, news, news, free of bias, untruths, inaccuracy and mendacity.

American statesman, scientist and public leader, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) made his livelihood as a printer and journalist, with the firm belief that a free press maintained the engine of a true democracy. As one of the founders of the Declaration of Independence, he knew of what he spoke. It still stands true.

Journalism has been a highly rewarding, highly respectable profession. A true journalist has to be knowledgeable, passionate, learned, curious and honest. Where are they now? American journalism faces a new dark age and has become no more than rock journalism. Everything American invades the world. British Prime Minister Teresa May turned to President Donald Trump, who was attempting to renounce a newspaper quote and gently dismissed the subject: “It’s only the press.” It has reached rock bottom.

Even the most famous newspaper, the New York Times, has now been muddied by political prejudice, not on opinion pages, but as hard front-page news. This prestigious 115-year-old publication has for the past 100 years proudly displayed its motto, which became the most famous seven words in American journalism: “All the News That’s Fit to Print”.

Not anymore. Filled with false or fake news, its excuse is quoting “unknown sources”. Next come apologies or denials. Spread like wildfire and repeated as a fact, the damage is done.

Where is the adherence to fairness essential to the confidence and trust of its reader?

As for TV, it could not be worse. The first 24-hour, Cable News Network, CNN launched by one Robert Edward Turner III (Ted Turner) in 1980, once highly regarded, not only has several competitors, but it has now fallen to the bottom of the barrel. Its inaccuracy, fabrication, uneven and unfair reporting sacrificed news for biased opinion. Again, denouncing lies does not cut it.

Does the quasi show of fairness presenting opposing views “he said, she said” mends matters? There is no proof of even-handedness. Is it not wiser to please the prejudiced boss?

Mark Zuckerberg edits opinions published in his own Facebook. That boggles the mind. How dare he? The Internet is a wretched place for wretched ads, and even there the boss controls.

The press must be free, accurate and fair in any democracy, and individuals, organisations, businesses and governments are to keep their hands off.

Whatever happened to the basic fundamental elements of true journalism: who, when, what, where and how? They were the maxim of every newsroom... no more.

It is bad enough that we receive news filtered through the ideology of the owners. Now editors of major newspapers have to ask: “Should we print this?” Yes, yes, yes, yes. We have a right to know.

Many in America have announced the death of journalism. Digital media like Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc, have changed the game. The race is to get it first not to get it right.

 If journalism can once again become the gatekeeper of honesty and fairness instead of myths and lies we, the faithful readers, can turn its fortunes from its present darkness to the eternal light of truth.

“The power of the press is very great but, not so great as the power of suppress.”

(Lord Northcliffe (1865-1922)



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