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Media Beat

A pledge of loyalty to journalism


 

 

For good reasons, many people have grown skeptical – even cynical – about “journalism.” The word has a way of sounding pretentious, especially when measured against what commonly passes for it these days. But journalism is, or at least can be, a principled and valuable calling.

For a few column inches, anyway, let’s give voice to the higher aspirations of journalists who aren’t in it for the money and have just a low-key interest in renown.

We believe that the public has a right to know and that journalists have a responsibility to expose secrets – in government and in corporate machinations – rather than keeping them.

We believe in wide-ranging debate: so that readers, listeners and viewers are exposed to an array of voices, perspectives and sources of information.

We believe that difficult communication is much better than suppression, whether overtly imposed by centers of power – or implicitly accepted by employees of media outlets – or regarded as patriotic by some media consumers who prefer the prevalent illusions.

We don’t believe that a few professionals, no matter how wise they think they are, should be able to decide what the public needs to know. Withholding timely information about policy choices facing top government officials is a way of short-circuiting the democratic process rather than assisting it.

We don’t believe that the limits of debate should be determined by the top officials who wield power along Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital. History continues to teach us, if we’re willing to learn, that the conventional wisdom of politics – and media – is often grievously wrong.

We don’t believe that cozy relations between influential journalists and elected officials are helpful to shedding media light on the inner workings of governmental engines. On the contrary, the tight friendships of so many massmedia journalists and government movers-and-shakers is a blight on the political landscape that often impedes the media scrutiny needed to check the power of politicians in office.

We believe that the First Amendment is a potential safeguard against all manner of tyrannies and not a nuisance to be discarded when it’s needed most. Supporting the rights to free speech that we appreciate is easy, but supporting the rights to free speech that we abhor is the essence of what tops the list of the Bill of Rights.

We believe that journalism loses its usefulness when it becomes too easy and renders itself inoffensive.

We don’t believe that the First Amendment should be reduced to a platitude that collapses like a deflated balloon when adversaries turn up the heat.

We don’t believe that journalists serve the public interest when they cave into pressure, be it from owners, advertisers, underwriters or government officials.

We believe that – despite all the unpleasant and sometimes infuriating examples of journalistic complacency and even outright cowardice – there is no more important protection for democracy than the free flow of news and information in the body politic.

In the Internet age, we’re told, concern about free speech may become an anachronism. But all through the history of media technologies, recurring issues have emerged anew. Who is able to allow – or block – information and expression? Does centralized power end up acquiring a megaphone so powerful that it drowns out the unauthorized voices? How meaningful can public debate be when certain voices are heard again and again while other voices rarely get a word in edgewise?

And, perhaps no question is more stubbornly relevant than this one: If big money equals media power, what does that portend for media and democracy?

In spite of all the obstacles, some old verities remain central to the quest for genuine democratic news media.

Call it magnificent or call it old hat, the principle that operates under the concept of “freedom of the press” is vital. Truth is not a destination or a place to stand; it’s a quest and a process. When that process freezes, we may still call it journalism, but saying it doesn’t make it so. The First Amendment: Use it or lose it.

©2007 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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