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.