Independent journalism

Independent journalism

Independent or objective journalism is a difficult task to achieve.

Perhaps there is a need to underline one fundamental reality. In the Anglo-Saxon style of journalism, “tainting” a news story with individual comments might be the worst mistake a reporter could do. Very much like the “forbidden fruit” which might taste great, including individual comments in the story might give great self-satisfaction to the reporter. The end result might be a serious reprimand from the editor, even though not as painful as Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. A repeat might produce more serious consequences.

Editorials, commentaries, analysis and such, however, are different and cannot be restricted with such limitations. To start with, the essence of a commentary or analysis ought to reflect the standpoint or the viewpoint of the writer and therefore cannot be objective. It must be subjective. Even if no individual comments are included in the article, the facts and details the writer selects reflects their subjective choice and cannot be objective, even if the writer claims so.

I ought to say in all clarity, after my 40-year journalistic career, (almost half of which has been in editorial positions), that it is a lie if anyone claims they have written an objective comment, analysis or editorial article.

On the other hand, even though “objective” news writing is possible and indeed is the duty of every reporter, achieving it is very difficult if not impossible. For example, deciding on which issue to focus on is a subjective move. Among many developments in the journalistic profession, deciding on what to focus on is a choice. Similarly, in the editorial office, news stories pour in from news agencies and reporters. Most newsrooms might deny it but they receive ready-made “news stories” produced by some PR companies. If a newspaper could use a maximum of 100-120 pieces of news items, or a news bulletin might include a maximum of 50 news items, what will happen to the hundreds of others filed in? The editor of each desk selects some of the news items and throws the rest in the dustbin. While working at the Anatolia News Agency (AA), we would joke that half of our stories were transmitted on the “ç” wire, meaning “çöp” or “dustbin” in Turkish. That is, an editor “positively discriminates” some news, compared to other news stories, which are discriminated and deleted. Thus, news selection itself eradicates independent reporting as editors tell people what to look at and how to look at it.

This positive discrimination process naturally produces the “ideology” of the media outlet, as well as reflects in some way the “expectations” of its audience or readers. If readers of a newspaper stop buying it when it stops reporting on the barbaric murder of dolphins or ill treatment of some other animals, then editors learn the need to be attentive on animal rights. It could be said that one of the leading editors of every media outlet is its audience or readers.

The problem does not end there. Media ownership is also a very serious issue. Business affairs as well as government-media bosses’ relations are all instrumental in the way a media outlet might look at an issue. If an issue is against government interests and if the media boss has some important expectation from the government, the likelihood of that issue reaching the audience or readers might be rather exceptional. If the media boss is also involved in egg exports or cement production, would it be possible for the paper to publish news criticizing the quality of eggs or the cement produced?

The country’s atmosphere of freedom, the government’s approach to free press and the general democracy level of the country are all related, as well as to how independent a media outlet might be. If, for example, civil society leaders are persecuted because of a view they expressed criticizing the government, what might be the likelihood of developments appearing on TV or newspaper pages that are not perceived well by the government?

Free media is a must in democracies in order for the public to learn the pros and cons of every development to make intelligent choices during elections.

yusuf kanlı, hdn, Opinion