How often do we pause and ponder about industry issues that have a bearing beyond just our rigmaroles? Share insights that can further the common understanding? Or, at the very least, point at things that need to be set right.
View Point - an exchange4media platform, will fill this void and become a source of understanding, action and perhaps some inspiration.
"Is there an insidious move to undermine the very edifice on which print is built? That of credibility. Is there an attempt to 'commoditise' news? "
Indrajit Lahiri, Professor of Broadcast, Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communications
US Supreme Court Judge Anthony M Kennedy. April 16, 2002. The 1971 American bill of Rights recognized this back in 1971. But much of these freedoms were being trampled upon and tarnished by journalists from both print and television for fifteen years. The long void, before 9/11, when journalists took a vacation from politics, rationality and the public sphere.
Earlier, American journalism has been a celebration of the free world, providing neutral, adversarial, objective, non-partisan, and most important, independent news and opinion. A genuine Fourth Estate. This new journalism began after the First World War with the rise of the progressive movement. The movement had two strands, one populist and the other scientific. Together, they helped create reforms, change the economic and political system, and lay the foundation for a modern culture. The economic dimension included the struggle of the middle class, salaried professionals- intellectuals, journalists, social workers, and government mandarins.
Modern journalism aided them to find a place in the national occupational structure and the national system of class influence and power. The needs of the press-commercial and monopolistic - merged with the progressive movement to create a reform minded journalism. The role of the press was to unmask interest and privilege, shine the hot glare of publicity into all the dark corners of the republic, search for expert knowledge from a welter of opinion by informing the private citizen. The press was to serve the interests of citizens not of parties, to serve as a Fourth state and a check on government, to investigate and seek out the truth "without fear or favor."
In this endeavor, modern guy of independent journalism was inscribed into case law. Supreme Court Justice Potter. Stewart gave this outlook official expression. He said that:" The primary purpose for the constitutional guarantee of the free press is to create a fourth institution outside the government as an additional check on the three official branches…The relevant metaphor is of the Fourth Estate. The free press guarantee is, in essence, a structural provision of the Constitution. Most of the other provisions in the Bill of Rights protect specific liberties or specific rights of individuals. In contrast, the Free Press Clause extends protection to an institution. The publishing business is, in that is given explicit constitutional guarantee."
To extend their rights further, courts and legislatures allowed journalists occasional immunity from giving testimony, the right to withhold sources, protection against libel claims, and access to government documents and information. These protections allowed journalists to serve citizens better as a check from an inherently abusive government. But two defining moments in the history of America, Watergate and the Pentagon papers changed the face of journalism. Water gate forced President Nixon to resign from office, as it was found that "burglars" had entered a Democrat headquarters office, and tampered with important papers. The information was leaked by a Smoking gun" source, a faceless member of the establishment. Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara had asked his staff to gather documents of the Vietnam war. He had doubts about the basis of the US's engagement in the Vietnam war. A member of McNamara's staff leaked the papers to a New York Times reporter when Elsberg left government. The NY Times published the papers, leading to a court case. The case was won by NY Times, after a long debate by US's Supreme Court.
One view was from Supreme court judge: "In the First Amendment, the Founding estate has to fulfill its essential role in democracy. The Press was to serve the governed, not the governor. The Government's power to censor the press was limited, so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York ton Post and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the working of the government that led to the Vietnam War, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do."
Chief Justice Warren Burger disagreed. He argued that as the papers were stolen documents, journalists were citizens and not above the law. He questioned the "public's right to know", and the journalists' right to question the threat to national security. Earlier, when Bob Wood ward and Carl Burnstein were investing the Watergate, they found that after the initial story, no one was prepared to talk to them.
They were told that a grand jury was to investigate Watergate. They found out the names of the potential jurors, and talked to a few of them as leads for evidence. One of them reported their meeting with the reporters, to the grand jury judge, John Sirica. Sirica reprimanded Woodward and Burnstein in the open court. Both reporters searched and found other sources to further the story. Watergate and the Pentagon Papers investigation were triumphs for US's free Press. But the press had indulged in anti-democratic practices, accepting stolen documents and tampering with the grand jury. This m
the press could disregard the welfare of other democratic institutions-the judiciary, the executive, a deliberative legislature, an active public, and go it alone. Public perception changed from the press being a champion of the progressive movement, with it's role to "afflict the powerful and comfort the afflicted," to being incorporated in the Establishment. Independent journalism works only if basic requirements are met. The public has to believe:
a). The authenticity of it's representative, crafted from a tried, tested and a responsible relationship.
b). The press was not in cohorts with the state.
c). The press was capable of representing the world, and rendering a reasonable, unbiased and factual account of it.
Heaped with honors, invited to the right parties, and consulted by the economic and political elite, the journalists were perceived as being unable to extricate themselves from the hypnotic embrace of the centers of power. The bombing of the twin towers helped retrieve the balance. It's was to return journalism back to the body politic. There was a sense of patriotism, a dependence and solidarity. Journalists felt the need for the protection of democratic practice. The New York Times, for instance, discovered a renewed connection with viewers. "Portraits of grief," where every day for our months, the newspaper wrote a brief sketch of people who died in the twin towers. Small, human tales, which helped retain the reader's sense of being. But, the other side of the coin was the growth of jingoism. And as the war on terrorism took flight, researcher Joan Konner felt that television made it look like another version of the O J Simpson trial. Now, as the US enters another stage of the Iraqi war, it is clear that rabid US propaganda (read lies) has taken a beating almost instantly. Even a decade back, the US 's lies could stick for a long time. Now, lies have a very short half-life, says journalist Paul De Rooij.
The barrage propaganda approach is not working and it is becoming increasing difficult. For instance, Marines "discovered" a camouflaged chemical factory. But it was discredited, and died a sudden death as soon as BBC and CNN reported its source - The Jerusalem Post. Despite it's brave front, while the US may win the Iraq war, it has lost the propaganda war. With Al Jazeera, and a host of counter visual voices, and hundreds of internet sites opposing the war, the US is being seen today for what it is: an invader and not a liberator. The question is: despite the defense-oil conglomerate supported government, who have encouraged US media ownership to reduce from 146 in 1988 to 26 in 2002, the free press seems to be finally doing what is supposed to do. "Afflict the powerful and comfort the afflicted." But given vested interests, with it's "off with your head policy"(Ex-CNN's Peter Arnett being one), it's unclear how long this new wave of press freedom will last.