Are journalists opinion-makers?On several occasions, I have been referred to as a journalist. While I have never identified myself as a journalist, I have been writing about my personal views as a political analyst.
On several occasions, I have been referred to as a journalist. While I have never identified myself as a journalist, I have been writing about my personal views as a political analyst. This triggered in me an intention to view the concept of journalism through a broader perspective. Is every opinion maker a journalist? Conversely, is every journalist a writer or an opinion maker? It can be debated.
Development of journalism
I want to draw a broad parameter. Political science deals with the affairs of the state. The state’s affairs are broadly divided into three major components of the government: legislative, executive and judicial. But, in the modern world, several other important components have emerged as vital forces, with public opinion gaining recognition as a major factor. Public opinion consists of the creation and dissemination of information. So from the 18th century, the state was pressured to accord top priority to deal with an increasing flow of information. The press was recognised as the vehicle by which this increasing information could be transported from the source to the general public. Over time, it became an important force in the running of the state. So the press was regarded as the fourth estate of the state.
The press started as a printed information source, but the gradual growth of other audio and visual modes of information dissemination has transformed the press into an extensive multi-media based concept. The radio reached a larger audience as an audio medium, thus broadening the foundation of the fourth estate. But the advent of the television as an audio visual medium transformed the very structure of the fourth estate into an impregnable empire. The latest intervention of social media has transcended the recognised boundaries of the past. Earlier the governments tried to keep the media under control. But now, the governments are visibly influenced by the media.
The press originally consisted of printed versions of information that took different forms such as newspapers and magazines. These forms of print media came to be known as journals, and they required different sets of people for different functions and roles as publishers, editors, news collectors, etc. The term journalist derived its name from this nature of work, whereby this set of people performed different functions and roles to form a concrete whole that enabled the dissemination of information.Currently, a journalist is one of the most informed persons in society. The entire process of spreading information through print media is recognised as journalism. It is part of the state function in an indirect sense, but not a government function. In effect journalism is the first among a series of non-governmental entities.
How it functions
For the purpose of this article, I am using journalism and media synonymously. Healthy journalism rests on the condition that there is full freedom of expression. Journalists should have unrestricted access to sources of information. Likewise, they should also have full freedom to disseminate the information for public consumption. Such freedom is antithetical to a totalitarian regime. Healthy media can co-exist only with democracy. That is why the media is part of movements to establish democracy, on occasion creating public opinion against orthodox regimes.
Journalists face grave risks. A source of information is not always secure. The nature of the event may itself be full of risks. Wars, natural calamities and communal conflicts are always fraught with danger. Even the remoteness of the source is full of unseen troubles. News reporters have been victimised with threats and acts of revenge.
Journalism can be good and bad. There are various ways to ensure good journalism. They entail making sure that information is accurate, unbiased and untwisted. So, before dissemination, information needs to be verified to see if it is truthful and unbiased. Credibility of the medium rests on these qualities. Furthermore, in the modern world, media has the power of knowledge and can pose a threat to powermongers. A recent example is the clash between the new US President Donald Trump and the American media, where the President called the media the enemy of the American people. While this will not negatively impact the media in a country with established democratic credentials like the US, in countries with trends of regimentation, such clashes can cause considerable harm to the media.
Bad journalism is characterised by an absence of the credibility indicators summarised above—mainly by an absence of objectivity and neutrality. The common term used for bad journalism is yellow journalism. In one extreme form of of bad journalism, the media eulogises repressive authorities just to gain their favour. In the other form of bad journalism, there is a tendency to hound authorities to such an extreme that it leads to character assassination. There is no neutrality if the media us influenced by governments or other repressive authorities. Likewise, neutrality is always suspect in media owned and operated by political parties.
Apart from information dissemination, an important function of journalism is to create views and reviews. This is partly done by the media itself in the form of editorials and alternate views, and partly by professional experts who voice their opinions on platforms provided by the media.
The growth of journalism in Nepal was under state control until the end of the Panchayat system. But it has made spectacular growth after the restoration of democracy in 1990.Different forms of media are spread throughout the country. The media supported the democratic movement and had an impact on the public. Though king Gyanendra tried to suppress the media, it withstood thisrepression with remarkable resilience. The media had an even broader impact on the public in the course of the second popular movement to end the age-old monarchy and herald a republican era. Seen from a broad perspective, the media growth has far exceeded the speed of political transformation in Nepal. I salute the media as an unsung hero.
Sharma is a political analyst