JOURNALISM is a political activity, for any information it produces, any analysis it provides or any opinion it offers to its audience serves to some or the other political school of thoughts — if not some or the other organised political forces of society in any given country. Journalism, in that sense, is never a politically neutral, or an ideologically innocent, exercise; it is rather very much a political activity. Politics, again, is always about power. Journalism, therefore, is also related to power.
Power, legitimacy and uncritical journalism
POWER, organised political power that is, is always asymmetric, for power is always exercised against or over some people. In most societies, the wealthy sections of the people politically organise themselves as the ruling class in order to protect and promote their interest by way of exercising power over the rest of the people. The rulers, again, usually retain and perpetuate their dominance over the ruled, marginalised in other words, by using coercive forces of the state in the times of political turbulence while in other times, they maintain the dominance by perpetually producing and reproducing the ‘legitimacy’ of their rule by intellectual means — uncritical journalism, along with other political and ideological tools, remains one of the effective means to do so.
The mainstream intellectuals having political and ideological allegiance to the ruling classes perpetually propagate, very subtly, the ‘inevitability’ of the existing social, political and economic orders, which, in turn, ‘legitimises’ the political oppression, cultural subjugation and economic exploitation of the people at large. In a ‘democratic’ dispensation, even in pseudo-democracies such as Bangladesh and the likes in South Asia, organised political forces of the rulers, notwithstanding their maximum command and control over the coercive forces of the state, cannot continue to dominate the masses without creating, and sustaining as well, a sense of legitimacy of its rule among the masses — no matter how politically marginalised the masses in question are. The ‘journalists’, who are consciously committed to the pro-establishment politics and ideology, do the bidding for the rulers by way of providing the audience with ‘selective’ information that hides anti-people deeds and misdeeds of the governments, presenting pro-establishment analysis of events that stands in the ways of the public in forming truly informed opinion, and offering ‘views’ uncritical of the incumbents that blunt people’s intellectual ability to look deep into the affairs of state affecting the interests of the marginalised multitudes. This is not the variety of journalism that the marginalised sections of society need, for this is nothing but pro-power propaganda in the guise of journalism, which deliberately misleads the people at large by providing them mostly with half-truths to serve the purposes of the rulers, and thus reduces the great profession of journalism to a job of public relation officers of the powers that be.
Power, democracy and critical journalism
DEMOCRACY as an idea, from the point of view of its political, historical and philosophical origin, is primarily about the equality of human beings, which, with the emergence of modern republics took the name of ‘citizens’. In a democracy, the ‘equality’ of the ‘citizens’ is, therefore, expected to be a pervasive phenomenon, manifested in the political, economic and cultural lives of all the citizens irrespective of their gender, ethnic and religious identities. Understandably, the level of democracy a state has attained is to be determined by nothing else but the level of political, economic and cultural equality its citizens have achieved in societies of the state.
Be that as it may, ‘power’, which is asymmetrical as noted earlier, is inherently arrogant — no matter who holds it. The rulers of any political orientation holding state power, therefore, always tend to exercises the power over the ruled millions arrogantly, which, if not checked and controlled effectively, marginalise the multitudes at all the political, economic and cultural spheres of national life. It is, therefore, essential for a people, which aspires to complete the cherished political journey of truly democratic transformation of its society and state, to keep constant vigil on the rulers against the latter’s inherent tendencies of the arbitrary use of power, and put up democratic resistances, as and when necessary, to ensure the rulers’ perpetual accountability to the people at large. And here arises the importance of critical journalism, the kind of journalism that seeks the truth, the full truth that is, about the ruthless exercises of power over the people, presents in-depth analyses about government’s political, economic and cultural programmes that enhances people’s understanding about the direction of society and offers critical views of the actions and inactions of the state that sharpens people’s intellectual ability of look into the thick of things that affect the lives of the ordinary millions.
Journalism and the marginalised
LIKE various kinds of political-ideological activisms representing interests of different classes of a people, there are different kinds of journalism, dedicated to the interests of different classes of society in any given country. Journalism without a political philosophy is an impossible proposition, for every journalist has inside him or her a political ideology — be it shaped sub-consciously under the conventional politico-cultural influences of family, educational institutions and social associations, or by cultivated consciously by studies of social sciences through subjective intellectual efforts.
While it is of enormous importance for journalism to regard ‘facts’ and present to the readers/listeners/viewers as to ‘what it is’ without any prejudice, it is also of great journalistic importance to tell them as to ‘how it should be’. The critical journalism remains an essential tool to get the people educated and mobilised to implement the ideas of democratic equality of the citizens — the reason why the powers that be often react sharply to critical journalism. What the powerful quarters like the journalists to do is to disseminate the kind of information, produce the type of analysis and publish category of opinions that help produce and reproduce the social, economic and political status quo, which is obviously detrimental to the interests of the people at large. The powerful quarters, thus, reduce journalism’s role as social ‘watchdog’, which, on seeing any abuse of power, is supposed to bark at the abusers and, in the process, draw the attention of the society to the abusers to be taken care of, to the role of a private ‘lapdog’ – a submissive pet, which, in the process of rather enjoying the comfort of the establishment, losses the ability to bark at the abusers of power. However, journalism incapable of generating sharp reactions of the powerful quarters does not qualify to be journalism. The responsibility of journalism is to take on the powerful abusers, and when powerful abusers are taken on, there is always a bad reaction. Hunter S Thompson (1937–2005), an American journalist, had rightly observed, ‘Unless there’s been a reaction, there’s been no journalism.’
Understandably, different genres of journalism have different objectives. Rupert Murdock (b 1931), the don of the western corporate media, rightly observes, ‘Journalism feeds the mind and move the heart’. The democratically oriented sections of the journalists, therefore, need to understand as to what they are feeding the minds of the readers/viewers with, and as to what direction the journalistic works are to move the hearts of the recipients, for instance, in a country such as Bangladesh, where income inequality among citizens continues to rise every day or politics becomes more expensive every year further pushing the marginalised millions away from the national political processes, so on and so forth. This is the point where journalism becomes a political exercise, no matter who takes which side of the socio-economic divide. The kind of journalism that takes the side of the marginalised millions, in fact, takes the side of human history, which ultimately holds high the flag of the oppressed majority.
Nurul Kabir is editor of New Age.
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