Thursday, April 08, 2010

Why media outlets face their biggest crisis and why people don't trust them

Yesterday I received an email from an editor, whose name and publication I won't reveal, saying:

Thanks for that article - we don't publicly comment on political articles, but certainly appreciate what you share and thank you for getting the message out. There is more bullshit political propaganda in the USA than even China. Americans are fed with lies, hate and fear every day by their government and media. Keep spreading the word.
Someone has to pave the way. I spend more time in USA than I like and can't stand the endless media/govt propaganda. Whenever we travel overseas, the media does a much better and more balanced job of sharing news from around the world - whereas the USA news is primarily US centered and the rest of the world barely exists. Keep up the good work.
While this is very flattering and somehow encouraging, it nevertheless caused me some anxiety.

Why is it flattering? Easy: it's always nice to see that someone actually appreciates my efforts which, in the end, are not as hopeless as they seem most of the time.

Why is it encouraging? Because it's reassuring to see that who works in the media industry is fully aware of what the situation is and that always more journalists/editors are finding this unbearable.

So, why did this email cause me anxiety? Because Western countries (and relative media outlets) claim to be free and independent, and they are not. Western economies are run by a free market system (very "market", little "free"), and media outlets are nothing but entreprises. As all entreprises do, also media outlets work towards making profits and benefiting their owners. This, in a free-market economy, is quite normal. What is not normal, however, is that private companies act and offer an image of themselves as if they were operating for the sake of the population, for a greater public good, and not for money. This behaviour is misleading and very unfair towards all readers. It reeks of mind manipulation, instead of honest information, with the aim of preserving a system and its flaws, instead of trying to correct them.

While in the political sections of newspapers and magazines this censoring process is most perceived, the other categories are not completely bias-free. The travel section, for example, can have the means to enlighten readers about foreign countries: they cover far-flung destinations, but do they really carry out proper research? No, most of the times their articles seem stemming from total ignorance of the geopolitical and sociological situation of the countries they write about, with the only aim to advertise the tour operators paying for the articles or support in a subtle way their government's takes on foreign administrations.

This usually corresponds to the relations Western governments hold with foreign administrations. So if there is a so-called "rogue state", the travel articles would abide by the unsaid rules of conformism. An example would sound like "China is a beautiful country, and you can constantly perceive the population's discontent against a suffocating dictatorship." This is a plain lie, but I wouldn't be surprised to read it tomorrow on a national paper.

What's sad is that even small publications, even if non-corporate, seek for some kind of illustrious approval from mainstream media (that is always corporate), and instead of making the best out of their independence, are filled with hackneyed expressions and judgements that are often incorrect but adopted because generally accepted.

Admittedly, the statement "Someone has to pave the way" did freak me out a bit, and my first reaction was "And that should be me??" But then I quickly flicked through the notes in my mind and found a lengthy list of journalists that are doing a pretty good job, such as Jeremy Scahill and William Blum, or the team of Democracy Now.

Today I've read an article on the Huffington Post about the reasons why magazines are losing ground. The writer is right when she says "Magazines are risk averse": true, magazines don't risk, they publish run-of-the-mill stories, rarely thought-provoking, always able to recall something "familiar" to readers to make it easier for them to identify themselves with an unreal and made-up world.

A reader left a comment to the HuffPo article saying "the Economist doesn't suck." Really? Is The Economist actually as authoritative as it claims to be? I've actually read many misleading articles on the Economist about Italy, France and Brasil, just to mention the three countries I'm more familiar with. Why was that? Tellingly, every time the articles libelled one of these countries, it corresponded with a particular moment of tension between them and the UK. Coincidence? Likely not.

One of the most dangerous practices is the self-censorship, more common than it seems, as freelance journalists often do it even unconsciously, for the fear of not being published and so losing work. I'm absolutely not an exception to this, the need of making our ends meet often sacrifices the need for truth, with the inevitable outcome that we betray our readers and society.

The truth, although hard to admit, is that journalists are far less brave than what they like to boast.

No comments:

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin