What journalism is really about

I’ve been struck this week by different journalists’ ideas of what journalists do.  Firstly New Zealand’s own Michael Laws, who in the Sunday Star Times described journalists thus:

THE UNIVERSAL problem with almost all media is they would secretly prefer to create news, rather than report it.Their middle-class background, academic qualifications and self-importance convince reporters, columnists and editors the world is somehow awry; that they are at the wrong end of the keyboard, the microphone or the photographer’s sun gun; that their interviewee is nowhere near as smart, sassy or sexy as themselves.

Note to self, be less focussed on self.

The only problem with this analysis is the person making it – with a little bit of background, it is difficult not to see this description as the most titanic of projections, a point, to be fair to Mr Laws, that he acknowledges later in the column. 

So if that’s too depressing a description for you, what about this critique of news reporting from John Pilger, who suggests the media has failed to play watchdog over US and UK military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Just one example he gives:

Try to laugh, please, while you consider the devastation of Iraq’s health, once the best in the Middle East, by the ubiquitous dust from British and US depleted uranium weapons. A World Health Organisation study reporting a cancer epidemic has been suppressed, says its principal author. This has been reported in Britain only in the Glasgow Sunday Herald and the Morning Star. According to a study last year by Basra University Medical College, almost half of all deaths in the contaminated southern provinces were caused by cancer.

So journalists are self-important egotists, who fail to monitor centres of power adequately, leaving human rights catastrophies uncovered if they do not fit into the way global superpowers want to describe what they are doing.

Crikey.  What the hell am I doing studying to be a journalist? 

Thankfully, though, this week I also went to see Robert Fisk, foreign war correspondent extraordinaire, describe his experiences of reporting from the Middle East.  And he’s left me with the only definition of journalism I want to use, which he borrowed from Israeli journalist Amira Haas.  She says:

There is a misconception that journalists can be objective. Palestinians tell me I’m objective. I think this is important because I’m an Israeli. But being fair and being objective are not the same thing.

What journalism is really about – it’s to monitor power and the centers of power.

Cheers for that, Amira.

LJ

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3 thoughts on “What journalism is really about

  1. Amira’s perspective is nice, but I don’t necessarily think its true – would be nice if it was though. Unfortunately, if you look at whats happened to Ha’aretz (the paper she wrote for) recently, you’ll see a perhaps more realistic perspective on journalism – Amira on indefinite leave, the other anti-occupation journalists mostly sacked.

    *sigh*

  2. John Pilger has ceased being a journalist when he reports fiction as being fact. I invite him to write me and show me the “facts” behind this statement. I strongly suspect that he can not because they do not exist. What does exist is his taking his political views and then buying into the propaganda that has been offered to him. That is far better than seeking facts on his own like a true journalist.

    This comment pertains to Pilger’s alleged comments about depleted uranium –

    “Try to laugh, please, while you consider the devastation of Iraq’s health, once the best in the Middle East, by the ubiquitous dust from British and US depleted uranium weapons. A World Health Organisation study reporting a cancer epidemic has been suppressed, says its principal author. This has been reported in Britain only in the Glasgow Sunday Herald and the Morning Star. According to a study last year by Basra University Medical College, almost half of all deaths in the contaminated southern provinces were caused by cancer.”

    There is no proof that this “dust” exists. There is ample proof that it does not. An article that claims an unknown principle author claims that their study was not released is rumor, innuendo and hearsay, not journalism or straight forward factual reporting.

    The link in my name to Message 76 at the Yahoo Group DUStory will take you to UN and other international scientist reports about DU that contradict Pilger’s biased commentary. Go read them – start with UNEP in Boznia-Herzegovnia and IAEA in Kuwait. There also is a link to UNEP in Southern Iraq.

    Roger
    DUStory-owner@yahoogroups.com

  3. Hi Asher,
    nope, I don’t necessarily think Amira Haas’ definition is true either – or at least, I think it is true not often enough – but it is still something to aspire to, a way to imagine being, that feels like it fits with how I want to do this.
    Your news of her paper is sobering and sad.

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