The purpose of the media has become an ongoing question since the conflicts between the consumers and the media continue to grow every day. Why is the original purpose of the media so difficult to figure out? It is time to confront this issue instead of blowing it off by saying, “We can never change the media, so why bother?”
That statement is wrong, if there are so many people with so much power, surely one of them realizes the downward spiral of the ethics of the media. In my studies and research, I have come to the idea that only censor of the media will minimize the unethical media ethics. But censorship always seems a bad word in journalism when used in the same sentence with media.
So many people believe censorship is a bad thing, but there is no other solution in stopping the bad press. When I read and look at stories especially bad ones that are offending to some people, I realize something needs to be done. The media is out of control especially in Sierra Leone. True, there are many informing and needed stories, but, my god; how many times a day do we need to hear and read about how the government has done so much in 20 months to alleviate poverty, the opposition does not accept they lost the elections in 2007, or president Koroma is very popular. What is the point of hearing or reading these stories?
Back to the censor issue I, as practicing journalist, do not believe in total and complete censorship of the media, but also, I am embarrassed by some of the stories that are published, for instance when Standard Times produced a photo of the Awareness Times publisher, was there not anyone, an editor, a writer, or even a custodian in the organization who thought, “Uh, oh. This photo may get us into some trouble.”
Was there not a single sole that had enough ethics to try and stop this picture from being printed? This is where censorship comes in. If I could do anything in the world, I would first, stop hunger in Sierra Leone, and second set up some guidelines and laws that the media must obey.
Guidelines such as, no digging through peoples trash and no peeking in windows. Of course, we know that by law, there is to be no peeking in windows, or over fences, but there is no one at the editor’s desk to implement these laws.
There is supposed to be someone there to prevent these stories from running, but remember their paycheck depends on how many copies are sold or how high the ratings are. This ‘censor person’ needs to have a set wage. If there was someone to stop these types of occurrences, half of my problems with the media would be taken care of. This may sound like a lame solution, but we need to start somewhere.
Obviously this is not a complete solution to these problems with the media, so the next step would be to start using the editors for weeding out the stories that are not giving some type of information that the consumer wants and needs to hear or read. This is also easier said than done. This solution also brings up questions like, how does the editor know what stories the consumer wants to hear or read about. That is the responsibility of the media.
Let us take polls and make every effort to find out what we want. Journalism will only survive if it establishes a more valuable and clearly defined mission.
I want to see changes in our media. There should be a line drawn so that the media can be punished for their wrongdoing. Many people agree that there should be a line drawn and whether we like it or not, that line is called censorship. Our founding fathers did not want censorship on the media, but they probably did not think that the media would be doing such a crummy job. I do not want to say that all media is doing a bad job. Overall, they are doing a good job, but there is still a large amount of dirty press that needs to be cleaned up.
When the founding fathers sought to create a country that was for the people, yet free from the risk of being deadlocked in political indecision, they conceived a balance of power.
The powers needed to complete the objectives of the constitution were divided between three levels of government: legislative, judicial, and executive branches. Yet there is another factor of power that doesn’t appear in the constitution, one that the founding fathers used in order to convince the masses to approve their document to form a stronger nation.
Our founding fathers ensured that mass media would become an extra balance to keep all the various levels of government in check. News media tells you that they are your saviors, your voice of truth when the government covers up its actions. They claim to be unbiased, on your side, and always telling the truth. Yet they decide what goes on the air, and what topics matter to ‘you’. How can we really be sure that what we see is unbiased, since few people are actually themselves, unbiased?
The first challenge one faces when they wish to find an unbiased media source is telling if a source is biased in the first place. Jim McFlarlane a renowned writer in USA says “So now, millions of Americans, all of whom are biased one way or another, have thousands of viable news media sources to choose from. “In sifting through them, trying to find that magical and elusive unbiased media, we’ve let ourselves be conned into believing that the media venues that are most agreeable to our personal viewpoints are unbiased is trying to give examples of two reasons why unbiased media is impossible: because both writers and viewers are not unbiased, and that any authority that would evaluate the bias of a media source is also not unbiased.
Every media organization want us to believe that they are good journalists. If they weren’t, why would you waste time watching their news broadcast or reading their papers?
Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel, writers of The Elements of Journalism: what News people Should Know and the Public Should Expect write:
The first among them is that the purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing. To fulfill this task:
1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.
3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.
4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
Really, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t feel a bias. If we know enough about a subject, we tend to have an opinion on it. That opinion need not be extreme; indeed to feel indifferent on an issue is to have an opinion: the issue isn’t important enough to you to take a side.
And since media organizations are after all a business trying to buy the precious time of viewers and readers by telling them what they want to hear or read, it is no wonder that being biased is profitable, especially lately.
That is why most of our newspapers in the country have split into three parts; the first part is pro-government as many journalists are hoping they would be appointed Attaches in the future. The second part is linked with the opposition fighting to regain power and the third are sitting on the fence enjoying both sides in their boxing gloves battling for supremacy come 2012.
It is safe to say that a truly unbiased source of mass media is non-existent. Is this mass media’s fault though? Is not all information, created by biased humans is biased in nature. To be biased is to be human. It is therefore our jobs as citizens to understand this fact and know that nothing you watch, read, or hear will be completely without a slant. But we should work in line with ethics and not outside.
You must use that knowledge to cut through the rhetoric and get to the truth underneath. If a good journalist seeks to report the truth, then a good audience seeks the truth from the journalist.
Note: This is an article was published last December and Awoko has been asked to re-publish it.
By Austin Thomas