Gone are the days for reading every word in our favourite daily newspaper.
At breakfast, our trusted newspaper was more important than our coffee and eggs.
It was a noble profession. Editors were honest, reporters were accurate, and journalists were principled. Integrity and truth were the name of the game.
Radio sprung up in the 1920s, with daily newscasts that were widely popular, forcing newspapers to expand on news stories, adding details that radio’s limited time could not afford. It was a challenge well met and the written word remained a prestigious means for serious readers.
Then along came television in the 1960s, stealing away some of the radio buffs, but radio remained popular as TV sets then were not accessible to a great portion of the public. Again the TV newscasts, limited to twice daily, were the highlight of your news day. The 1970s, dubbed as the golden era for news, made stars of TV newsmen who were considered trusted friends, with responsible missions. They told us the truth and nothing but the truth.
Newsmen and women adhered to a code, unwritten perhaps but indubitably dedicated to the truth. Facts were checked and re-checked, before they were relayed to the public.
Inaccuracy was inexcusable.
This verification of truth gave the public a sense of security and a respect for journalism, during the 20th century. What happened in the 21st century, or even before?
Technology happened, turning this noble profession suspect.
“All men by nature desire to know,” wrote Aristotle. As far back as the Stone Age, they were curious about this world they live in. They wished to know about time, seasons, weather, floods, threats, etc, and they needed accurate information to live by. News therefore was relayed by word of mouth, travelling here and there, spreading necessary information.
They had their public watchdogs as we had our honest journalists.
True journalism is seen by many as the basis of democracy. Freedom of the press is one of the primary requirements of democracy, emphasised by the US Declaration of Independence. It was understood that this freedom was granted to an honest and truthful press.
News differs from opinion, but in today’s world the difference has been blurred, even non-existent. This is no simple matter. It is in fact a tragedy — a deliberate assassination of truth.
Why is that? It seems just as easy to tell the truth as it is to tell an untruth. In fact, the trouble to tell a lie is more difficult as you need to bend the truth, embellish it, re-write it, kill it or bury it.
There is a reason, if not many, for journalism to be so disfigured. It is no longer independent.
Journalists became pawns in the hands of big business, be it an individual or corporation that have no need for truth or integrity. What they do have is a cause, an agenda, an ideal, political leanings, interests, etc. These so-called journalists simply do their masters’ bidding. Only what serves their purpose is “all the news that is fit to print,” so to speak, nothing more, nothing less.
This is a deliberate distortion of the truth. Their aim is to fool us, lie to us, brainwash us, all in the name of fair and balanced news. They call it “spin”, we call it “lies”.
Here and there you may get a point and counterpoint, but the message of the corporate owner dominates, be it government, conglomerates, or one individual.
Without mentioning names, it is obvious to the public that a handful of corporate media giants feed us their news as in the US. At one time, there were 50 such media companies as in 1983, then they were six, then five, now four.
Is journalism as we once knew it a thing of the past? Has cable news, social media, and a myriad other anemic outlets free to say and do whatever is profitable to them?
And we dare criticise communist media? What is the difference? Both are run by the very few to serve their causes. Truth is available nowhere.
Only 24 per cent of the public watch news or read newspapers. Take an issue as the Muslim Brotherhood, they know the nature of this terrorist organisation, the matrix of all the rest; why is it that they are not declared officially as such by anyone?
Do you remember when Egypt’s 30 June Revolution of the people was declared a “military coup” when it was not? In fact, it may be the only revolution in history where the military acquiesced to the will of the people. Will this fact ever be acknowledged? How about Israel’s unjust occupation and treatment of the Palestinian legitimate natives — does any media admit that?
We quote issues concerning our part of the world, but surely it is rampant worldwide.
There was a time when we could not avoid news, nor did we want to. Today, with so many outlets blasting news 24/7 we, meanwhile, watch old movies.
“Journalism is the first rough draft of history.”
Professor Thomas Petersen of Harvard writes “The media is doing a bad job because it brings us untrustworthy, irrelevant or inaccurate news,” so why watch it?
We are not the fools they think we are. We want our trusted newspapers back, our honest journalists who will not deliberately deceive us.
Technology has turned news into entertainment. Can it not differentiate between both?
We want news. We want truth.
“The day you write to please everyone you no longer are in journalism. You are in show business.”
Frank Miller Jr (1957-)
A version of this article appears in print in the 16 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.