It’s the age-old question: Can journalists really be objective? According to Ms Maria Ressa, former CNN correspondent and CEO of Rappler.com in the Philippines, the answer is no. And to say yes would be hypocritical. Every journalist carries a perspective based on his or her upbringing and beliefs and this would naturally feed into the way they report the news. I agree. Each of us looks at issues differently. There’s a difference between the way the Western media and those in Asia view events, as the Chinese government would be quick to say especially over coverage of the Hong Kong protests.
Here, too, politicians say the same thing. Don’t be too quick to agree with everything the Western media says.
Yes, the media lens is a coloured lens. Coloured by the journalist, and the organisation he or she belongs or the views of the paymaster or publisher. Indonesian Solahuddin, a long-time journalist and press freedom activist, said the same. He told of how Indonesian journalists were divided into Christian and Muslim camps when there was unrest in the Moluccas and how the media was divided into the pro-Prabowo and pro-Jokowi camps in the last election. Journalists had to abide by the wishes of their publishers, who had their own political links. No fault of the journalists; they had to do as they’re told.
What to do then? Read everything, he says.
So interesting. All this was said at a Singapore Book Festival event today. I was the moderator, and I felt very small compared to these two journalists who engaged in deep, deep investigative reporting and have written expert books on terrorism. Ms Ressa is a firm advocate of social media, as a way for every citizen to play the role of journalist and to do “authentic’’ reporting. The traditional journalist’s job is to take the “top’’ view, look at all the data provided by social media and discern and analyse trends. This sort of ground up reporting breaks the elite power structure, she says. It’s no longer a top-down approach. The mainstream media is no longer the voice of authority.
Mr Sola talked about how he started an alliance of independent journalists to protest against the Suharto regime’s strictures on press freedom. The media there organises itself to discipline its own. Sure, there were the religious and political affiliations of journalists and publishers but enough people know how the media is aligned to be able to pick and choose what fits their own view of the world.
So interesting. Yet disturbing to this blogger who has been so long in Singapore journalism that she still can’t get her head round the idea that bloggers and those who use social media are journalists. Eye-witness, maybe. Commentator, sure. But journalists? Only if the definition of a journalist is someone who publishes/broadcasts to a wider group of people. In that case, I am still a journalist, but not in the sense that I am employed by an organisation or paid by readers to do a job.
(This reminded me of a panel discussion I was on yesterday with a young blogger who blogs for a living. I was really interested to know how she managed to survive. She said she was paid to do interviews, got some traction and PR firms started calling on her to do more interviews. No, she didn’t tell readers that she was paid to do the interview nor did she tag her posts as “advertorials’’ that had been sponsored – because “readers don’t like it’’. Nevertheless, she said, she was robust in her reporting and reviews. She tells her sponsors that they were paying for her time and energy, not content. She told of food bloggers who eat for free and still get paid; and beauty bloggers who get skin creams and cosmetics. I guess there are bloggers and…. there are bloggers…)
And what of the exhortations we’ve been hearing from our politicians that social media is just so much noise, with people gathered in “silos’’? That it’s hard to sieve the wheat from the chaff and it’s best to depend on “reliable’’ sources which I guess would emanate from the traditional “power structure’’? Should we embrace a diversity of noises or stick to a single narrative? I guess much would depend on how ready we are to do our own thinking. We need to don clear transparent lenses to see for ourselves.
My problem with social media is that the dissemination of news is usually about the “what’’, and not enough of the “why’’. The “why’’ can’t be condensed so easily into a tweet or two, or one minute of air-time. It usually involves backgrounding; and the more expert your reader want to be, the more backgrounding is needed. That requires the long-form, which people don’t seem to have much time nor inclination for. Yet it is dangerous, methinks, to draw quick conclusions and make judgments based on merely the “what’’
Mr Sola is right to say we should read everything. Whether in MSM or online, all have bits of information and views worth thinking about. The G position is that it should have the biggest voice. I agree because everything about Singapore is so tightly-knit together. But should it be 100 per cent? Or 90 per cent? I think more like 60 to 70 per cent, with the people sector (including experts) contributing the rest. The G can, of course, argue that it represents the people and therefore can claim a much bigger voice. That is, if it thinks the people can’t think for themselves…