Saturday, August 18, 2007

what's wrong with journalism today?

From the series of interviews conducted by David Barsamian, which appear as a collection in the book Louder than Bombs ...

[November 2002]
DB: What's wrong with journalism today?

John Pilger: Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what Orwell called the official truth. They simply cipher and transmit lies. It really grieves me that so many fellow journalists can be so manipulated that they become really what the French describe as 'functionaries', not journalists.

Many journalists become very defensive when you suggest to them that they are anything but impartial and objective. The problem with those words "impartiality" and "objectivity" is that they have lost their dictionary meaning. They've been taken over. "Impartially" and "objectivity" now mean the establishment point of view. Whenever a journalists says to me, "Oh, you don't understand, I'm impartial, I'm objective," I know what he's saying. I can decode it immediately. It means he channels the official truth. Almost always. That protestation means he speaks for a consensual view of the establishment. This is internalized. Journalists don't sit down and think, 'I'm now going to speak for the establishment." Of course not. But they internalize a whole set of assumptions, and one of the most potent assumptions is that the world should be seen in terms of its usefulness to the West, no humanity. This leads journalists to make a distinction between people who matter and people who don't matter. The people who died in the Twin Towers in the terrible crime mattered. The people who were bombed to death in dusty villages in Afghanistan didn't matter, even though it now seems their numbers were greater. The people who will die in Iraq don't matter. Iraq has been successfully demonized as if everybody who lives there is Saddam Hussein. In the buildup to this attack on Iraq, journalists have universally excluded the prospect of civilian deaths, the numbers of people who would die, because those people don't matter.

It's only when journalists understand the role they play in this propaganda, it's only when they realize they can't be both independent, honest journalists and agents of power, that things will begin to change.


Anonymous said...


I completely agree. The views and direction that the american media has taken towards Afganistan, Iraq has been quite one sided and can hardly be called objective. America was portrayed as a saviour that would bring freedom, democracy and equality and now that things have gone wrong it is portrayed as the mediator stuck in a civil war not the one who started the war in the first place.

I have found it amusing at times that even in 2003 when the media basically built up public opinion for the war there wasn't any analysis/discussion about what might happen, about possible sectarian conflicts, civilian casualties...nothing! Nobody talked about the fact that there wasnt really a plan, the media was content just showing footage of planes bombing iraq.

Public opinion about the war is negative now not because of the hundreds of people who are killed every day but solely because of the american soldiers killed/wounded.

It seems the media also believes some lives are more important than others apart from the people in power. That American lives are certainly more important than those of people in Afganistan, iraq and sudan.

Sudan is an interesting example, after the genocide in Rawanda(during which most of the discussion in america was whether to call it a genocide or not) there seemed to be a sense that this would be stopped if it ever happened again. And now look at Sudan. Ionically, the only time mainstream media brings up the genocide is during presidential debates where candidates are given a couple of minutes to outline their strategy towards it.

I am beginning to believe that the media is not only unobjective and partial but that it also believes that the american lives are more important than any.


Puru said...

If you get your hands on the following books on this topic, they are worth a read---
1. The Media Monopoly by Ben Bagdikan
2. The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting by David Barsamian.

On the issue of the media is delivering what the people want, Ben Bagdikan has to say the following ...
"One of the most damaging stereotypes in journalism is that people are not interested in serious subjects. That's nonsense. They are intensely interested in serious subjects that affect their personal lives in a serious way. There is absolutely no question about it.

The guy who is in danger of losing his job in the buttonhook industry will read and listen to something about what's happening in the buttonhook industry. The person who's afraid that he's not going to keep up his payments on his mortgage because credit has dried up and he maybe losing his job, he's very concerned about interest rates.

The person who has a kid in school who is excited to be there and then suddenly half the courses which excite him are going to be cut out is intensely interested in educational policy.

If you know that and if you respect that, you can put out a good radio program,a good newspaper. You can deal with serious things. You don't need to be 100 percent solemn, but you can put things that really mean something to people's lives, and they will pay attention."

... the situation in India is no different. All mainstream media (newspaper, radio and TV) dish out only dumbed-down and sensationalized news and reports. I believe (as Ben says) that serious programming/content has viewers as it affects them ... only DD and a few local newspapers have some semblance of serious content. And as content generation and distribution gets more and more centralized, the situation can get only worse!

Smita said...

I would also add Samantha Power's book to you list ..."A Problem from Hell: American and the Age of Genocide". It is an eye-opening book dealing with how the US dealt with the hidden genocide of the Kurdish people in Iraq, covering details that did not even make a blip in any sort of headlines anywhere.

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