C. I. Angelopoulos
Publishers and journalists with vested interests, corruption in journalism, censorship and self-censorship: three seemingly distinct issues which in fact describe the same problem under a title which nowadays could read “Journalism and Power”.
By all means, I could not overlook the fact that in recent years any reference to “vested interests”, “corruption” and “journalists” widely inflames the majority of the society in every country, as the citizens of the world -justifiably- feel surrounded by forces in the public sphere which only serve from various positions the Rich and Powerful. Indeed, there is no doubt that mass media are by nature open to a kind of “exploitation” by the Powerful of this world, even more so in the last 25 years marked by continuous victories in the name of Globalization, against the defeated army of Politics. Information has been easily transformed from a public good to an instrument for cruel antisocial propaganda, for deceiving the people and supporting specific interests, when controlled by the dominant and well-organized powers where increase in profit is viewed as the ultimate good.
However, this situation, which is well-known to the people, has definitely been complex, even before the dramatic invasion of the white-collar vandals of economy in the field of politics. First and foremost, it is worth noting as a useful reminder that in any attempt to approach the subject of journalism exists a fundamental contradiction that has always been the core of the problem:
Information is an important good of PUBLIC interest, financed by PRIVATE interests, that is the publishing entrepreneurs and owners of mass media. As a result, the major enduring “challenge” has been to establish the extent to which a print medium, a radio station or a TV network could accommodate their duty to offer clear and objective information to the public in combination with the opposed – in principal rightful – purpose on behalf of the financier-entrepreneur to augment the profits and avoid economic loss. It goes without saying that such difficulties are further enhanced by the “interference” of political authorities to the publishing and journalism field.
The efficiency of any journalistic practice is therefore evaluated at this level. The intellectual and moral strength of a professionally employed journalist is often in conflict with the intentions, desires and power of his or her employers. Here can be found whether and to what extent a vested interest is involved. In all mass media, depending on the quality and objectives of each media business, journalists face circumstances which open up four different options:
a) To practice honest journalism
b) To work with tolerance in a “mixed” state (offer information, but with some “discounts”
c) To willingly sacrifice their journalistic conscience for the benefit of personal ambition and power fantasies
d) To fully and definitely submit themselves to the interests of publishers-owners and all kinds of “powerful” friends. Here we may find the case of pure “vested interest”.
Journalism is an individual sport and each of its servants bears personal responsibility for his or her choices. Personal education and the degree of intellectual education, the moral principles, the relationship with money, weaknesses and society’s complex problems determine the behavior of journalists in press, TV and radio media. If a journalist decides to join the “systems” of political and economic power, to align with the “bosses” and their “vested interests”, then he or she is integrally involved with corruption. Subsequently, censorship and self-censorship are either absent or flourish as appropriate. It is certain, however, that if a journalist is deeply disliked by powerful politicians and the rich and powerful altogether. Then there is no doubt he or she is doing a good job.
All this may happen, be observed, analyzed and evaluated in relation to both the national situation in a given country in a given period and the international reality. In the march of time, the mass media in each country have shaped their business structures, their form, their political and social attitude. They have developed their own virtues and flaws and have attracted their respective audiences, in relation to the base of productivity and its quality in each country, to the extent of proper functioning of democracy, the law and the quality of public education. The combination of all the above mentioned elements defines an “environment” within which the overall quality and function of journalism also takes form. Beyond that, the specific qualities and functions, the critical “details”, are defined by individuals, by the performance and durability of the servants of information as public good as well as the control of power.
Today, in the early 21st century, the dramatic invasion of the rich and powerful has not only limited politics to the roles of “data” management as imposed by globalization, but also led political leadership to embarrassing degradation and forced democracy to retreat in terms of its institutional and functional value. The invasion of the powerful new dominants, who are also intellectually coarse, affects the entire political, economic and social CULTURE, which the empire of the rich and powerful naturally despises.
Thus, it comes naturally and according to “plan” that the situation formed today in Europe and in all democratic regimes in the world encompasses the elements of distortion and abolishing of the principles and conditions governing the professional practice of journalism. Mass media are invited to “align” with the new economic “technologies”, with the needs of the “new era”, in other words the “needs” coming out of the uncontrolled desires of the new international speculation, which actually abolishes capitalism as experienced by the society so far together with the “ethics” capitalism could evoke in relation to production. Journalists must be either fully controlled or led to “exit” from “mainstream” media and restrict themselves to the narrow paths and roads of marginalized journalism.
These objectives are already achieved to a significant extent within the landscape of privately-owned TV, with the opponents of the powerful with vested interests being active with articles published in press media and web sites that still maintain their strength and independence aiming to provide the public with revealing new reports, analyses and commentary.
This is expected and totally explainable. In accordance with its voracious nature, the new empire is an avowed opponent of the bourgeois parliamentary democracy and the culture formed around it on the basis of a free, but not unrestrained, economy and on the basis of humanitarian values. Which set among other things the definition of the so called “welfare state” in every democratic country in Europe after the end of the Second World War.
In this bourgeois culture, mass media could preserve several free voices and several controls for the arbitrary acts and “secrets” of all powers. Certainly those in political and economic power have always sought to “influence” in many ways the mass media. But the function code of bourgeois democracy, the qualities of the established order and the publisher-entrepreneurs, all set some “conditions” in the conflicts between journalism and power as well as their “relationship”. “Vested interest” certainly existed, but were not accepted as a “normal” phenomenon in the relationship between the free market and political power.
They only existed as “extreme” and “exceptional” phenomena and when they resulted in scandals (almost always exposed by means of a journalistic research), they were always condemned by the ruling class in order to safeguard its position and power within the society and the market likewise. This situation was discontinued in the late 20th century with the establishment of neoliberal globalization.
And now, the collapse of “classical” capitalism and the explosion of adventurism by the rich and powerful. Which inflicts fatal injuries to bourgeois democracy, inevitably create a bleak landscape in the world of journalism as well. In this landscape, which hosts new groups of “influence” and quite a few “sinners”. The task of those who wish to practice journalism with integrity is extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible. The role of mass media has changed significantly, subjected to the control and demands of the rich and powerful. Meanwhile, private television networks, having established their dominance. Promote a “new journalism” directly connected to the quality and objectives of the forces behind its financing. Normal journalism is driven to an “exit”.