“The ones who write can also wipe” At least in Greece that is the case
A title bearing a deep dynamic, in principal as far as the “servants” of the world of journalism are concerned. This is a whole other “world” we are dealing with; a world which sways between revelations and cover ups, while discovery comes second to journalistic duty before public, private, political or economic interests. At the same time, all this is happening within a globalised network of production, distribution and consumption, which is constantly developing and changing form; sweeping along the structure of mass media and mass media relations.
The fundamental objective of journalism, according to B. Kovach and T. Rosenstiel, is to provide citizens with the information they need to function in a free society. Therefore, the first obligation of a journalist is and will always be to verify information. This, of course, is only one side of the Euro coin. The other side is that the journalist is potentially an “independent” unit, under the supervision of a team, company or group. Subsequently, just as “within the everyday conflicting societies of free people the conflict between collectivism and individualism prevails”, it just so happens within the world of mass media, where the ambitions of companies, business objectives, government censorship and side politics set the basis of the dilemmas that journalists face – at least those adherent to the profession’s fundamental objective.
“Sharks are known to also attack each other”
The definition for “revelation” in M. Triantafillidis’ dictionary reads as follows: the act or event which brings to light, which exposes, something deliberately kept secret. Whereas, “cover up” is the concealment and deliberate suppression to prevent exposure of something. The application of these notions, notably in the mass media world, goes further beyond the above definitions, comprising, as it has been observed, a process which is much more complex; as is the very nature of human beings.
In Greece, it is acknowledged that both national and regional traditional mass media do not offer unbiased information. This is by and large true as far as political issues are concerned. At this point, it is worth looking at the past in brief and making a mapping of the political stage and its substructure to which journalists have to respond. On one side there is an established, persistent party ideology; on the other side there are a few mass media “barons” who dominate the market; in between lies constant competition for greater profit, which is the actual weighing machine in this clientelistic system.
As Noam Chomsky notes “any form of coercion must be justified”. As a result, we move from the weighing machine to the precision weighing of those who are liable as opposed to those who are victims; those willingly coerced and those unwillingly connected. The former are typically the ones who stand in high positions and behind vested interests, while the latter are unavoidably involved.
First and foremost, it is made clear that both traditional and new mass media do not produce their own “original politics”, but instead reproduce what is already stated in another form. Journalists in the former group are usually hungry for news stories; and politicians help them build these stories. In this context, news is agreed upon, “the information is subject to assessment as far as its truthfulness is concerned” and mass media manage to define politics, with journalists playing a supporting role namely in “depicting its supposed true meaning.” Besides, as Alexandros Filipopoulos expressively argues: “Five journalists and fifty idiots are enough to produce a newspaper.”
Let’s now analyze the case of political news reporting as regards the latter group of journalists. The late Malvina Karali, a master of words for the open-minded only, stated in her interview to Manos Lamprakis in relation to her disagreement with PASOK, the Greek Socialist Party, and her exclusion from the TV world: “From the first day I entered this bewildered world, I always knew who would call my manager to have me shut out. In recent years, there has been a terrible replay of this threat each time under a new surname. Besides, one has got little to hope for in a country and within a society where all cards are dealt in a way to make all mediocrities seem equal to Dionysios Solomos or Aris Velouchiotis. My gift to them was one journalist less.”
A more recent example is that of the journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, who worked briefly in television and press media before resorting to his own web page; the new medium for interactive journalism, which offers at least the opportunity of multiple truths being “heard”. This is how the long lost “Lagarde list” came to light, while the journalist was immediately brought before Justice for breaking personal data and public interest protection laws. Paraphrasing a famous quote by George Orwell, K. Vaxevanis stated: “Journalism is revealing what someone else does not want revealed. Anything else is public relations.” In this instance, of course, many questions are raised; how the journalist came to obtain the list in the first place is one among many. However, this is a whole different discussion, based on various different factors. What is certain is that legal sanctions are imposed at will, especially within a society such as the Greek society, where “bonds dictated by mutually vested interests cannot be magically broken on the spur of the moment”.
“The best way to test the truth is when the power of thought
becomes accepted by market competition”
What is news? “A mirror of reality; a representation of the world, and all representations are selective”. What is a news journalist? “A cog in an ever widening communication machine”. Is there objectivity in journalism? “The interpretation therein involved, even the simplest description, abstracts any form of subjectivity”. And the public? “The receiver demands that the journalist passes judgment on everyone and everything else, except of course himself and his own party”.
Mass media, viewed as interpretation machines, are primarily large companies driven by money fetishism. As for the journalistic task, one of its main criteria is covering up, while “revelations have long replaced discovery”. As James Curran aptly points out, “The market does not encourage independent “guards” who serve the public interest; on the contrary, it supports all those corporate “lackeys” who adapt their criticism according to specific purposes”.
And since the truth offered to consumption is really a drop in the ocean, a passage from Nikos Kazantzakis may shed some light amidst this dubious landscape: “You have the ears, you have the eyes. Paint the truth and get inside”.