Touria Prayag's Blog

L’express Weekly, 13 May 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on May 13, 2011

pdf Weekly 13 May

The flipside of the press

In this edition, you will come across an interview given to us by
Craig White from the U.S. Embassy. He is not a journalist and is
not particularly critical of the hostile relationship government has
adopted towards the press. He thinks it is part of the game. However,
his verdict about the prime minister’s recent attack on the press,
particularly on our colleague, Raj Meetarbhan, is different. Couched in
diplomatic terms, the tone of the confl ict is qualifi ed as “disquieting”.
Before anyone jumps at our throats with the same mantra that the
U.S. has no lessons to give on a number of press related issues, we hasten
to say that it doesn’t. Craig White is the fi rst to admit that the press
in his own country is not perfect. He denounces the lack of critical
analysis it demonstrated during the Iraq invasion, for example, when
it followed the herd and went with the fl ow to avoid confl ict. Once
frenzy had been whipped up over the issue of weapons of mass destruction,
everyone had to ‘see’ them or face the consequences. Anyone
who has been in journalism realises how diffi cult it is to go against the
fl ow, question and rationalise. Confl icts are generally a good outcome
of that questioning. The confl ict here, however, has gone beyond the
acceptable norms necessary between two discreet bodies which often
relate to each other confrontationally. It has become frightfully personal
and has reached a point where something has to give.
One has to understand that until such time as automaton-operated
newspapers are invented, asking the press to be totally objective
is asking its journalists to let go of their humanness. When it comes
to expressing opinion, a degree of bias is inevitable in every position
editors take, in every thought they express, in every word they
put to paper. And, considering the diversity of newspapers, views,
opinions and interests which express themselves in a totally free
environment, the outcome ought to balance out in the end. The
prime minister has to accept that and live with it.
Naturally, no one likes to be criticised. Our elected representatives
are happy to use the press to improve their public image and
be in the public eye, but they abhor the fl ip side of it. Being in the
public eye implies that you may be criticised by the same media
which, at other times, celebrated other aspects of you. Hard as it is
to accept, it comes with the territory.
As a profession, we also have to do our mea culpa. We don’t often
do that. We are in the public arena: we question, criticise and demand
accountability. We accept that those holding the levers of state power,
who are regularly the object of our criticism and from whom we demand
accountability, can and do hit back. But personal attacks which
degrade human beings are unacceptable, particularly when proffered
by a prime minister who wants the press to publish the “truth”.
We can’t do that. We can aim for a higher degree of professionalism,
fairness, accuracy, rigour and respect for journalistic ethics. We can
condemn slipshoddiness, approximation, lack of checking one’s facts
and score settling. But we can only publish the truth as we see it for the
simple reason that we do not hold the “truth”. Nobody does. That is
the fi rst step towards mea culpa. It is a big lesson in humility. And we
all have so much to be humble about.


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