Friday, March 18, 2011

Future of Journalism ~ when does journalism intervene ?

A little boy lies cowered in the snow, destitute, cold without visible means that might help him survive the day.

Along comes a man wearing a coat; tucked in his pocket a number of energy bars. He talks to the boy, even takes some pictures before moving on. We don’t know what happened to the boy.

This may seem improbable that anyone could be so callous to abandon a child in need, but on TV screens, this is an exigent default act.

On  BBC's radio Media Show which analyses media events, Television News officials were questioned over the number of reporters and presenters sent to Japan to cover what one TV reporter described apocalyptically as a visit from three of the four horsemen.

Executives defended their positions. Yet there's something else lurking as the big question.

It's a philosophical statement whose time requires a rethink.  To what extent should the man described above be morally responsible to help the child?

Contemporary philosophy
On a macro level, today scores of reporters tread the scared streets of Japan doing what they’ve been trained to do; find and communicate a story.

There are more than enough. The mood is itself all the more difficult to comprehend - a show of the Japanese temperament to a Western society of how orderliness, respect can still be exercised at a time of deep crisis.

But do the media have a moral obligation to do what they can to help a desperate people? No, if an aged and mummified tenant of journalism is anything to go by.

Back in the 1960s, ITN reporter Alan Hart reporting from Nigeria’s Biafra war filed a piece, which for his bosses exemplified ITN’s prowess, however hart was angry.

Their feedback while laden with praise exalted Hart not to show any emotion next time, that is not to cry. Hart says he’s eyes welled up during his piece to camera.

The 60s and the shaping of media would have made such distinctions between reportage ( its role)  and media participation in extenuating affairs. The lines were divisible and stark.

Impartiality, objectivity, truth, realism, fairness – these were held to be unequivocal in framing the profession against the scourge of propaganda.

You could argue rightly so for a media finding its feet then this was not to be breached. The media like a wild-life camera person observed life, abject of any participation.

But what about now in an era of the world village, inter connected societies, shared experiences - the prevalence causality of the butterfly theory?

Can we be so sure that common sense overrides at all costs tradition?  ITN's Tom Brady (he clinched the William and Kate royal interview) speaking to students recently shared his concerns over journalists and photographers determined to get a picture of an injured Prince Diana,  rather than attend to her wounds.

Questions of Journalism
The question needs to be revisited. To what point in human suffering should the media seek to do more than its intended role of reportage.

This is not to say those who provide a special window on events in the world down their tools-of-the-trade to become rescuers, but to consider that the power they possess in exposing events brings collective consciousness together- at particular times, specific instances.

Again, the obvious response to this Luddite and ill-conceived thought of mine is: "That's what we do, we are journalists. We remain impartial in executing our work".

But could we fault any of the world media broadcasting with visible on air links to donate funds, or provide an accommodation so journalists reports are re-packaged to assist acts of charity. Does there lie a mechanism that facilitates a call to action?

Again the natural response is that's not the job of journalism. However look hard and there are signs editors and journalists are already complicit - albeit in limits.

From Libya yesterday, BBC Correspondent Ian Pannel gave a platform to an interviewee on a mobile phone awaiting the fearful arrival of Gaddafi's forces in Benghazi :"If you could speak to the international community what would you say?"

In the changing dynamics of journalism within social networks is there a new responsibility that renders traditional journalism's position arcane?

A former Masters student of mine from Ghana was adamant this was so: the media should not just report on issues, he said, but seek a way to instigate change.

It was, I remember thinking, a naive thought at the time.  But coming from Ghana, his experience were different, that is different to me - and I have lived and worked for the media in Ghana.

Fifteen years ago, in a ground breaking videojournalism co-production, Ghana TV sent reporters to South Africa to share, report on issues, common for each state.

Fresh look at journalism
Consider this within traditional journalism philosophy; how the act of  ITN's  Michael Nicholson a veteran journalist touched by a young girl in Sarajevo's war resulting in him adopting her.

Such deeds are to be eschewed. Why? Simply because journalism provides a voice but not a face that may in the minds of those that hold its divinity undermine what it stands for.

In a new age, a new era, I suggest we look further, that to start the news extolling independence followed by an announcement that if viewers want to help in anyway they can a link - which hold in perpetuity on screen is one that can be done.

In the long term, the profession requires Baroness Warnock figures, a fresh look at journalism, in a completely, radically different age from whence it came.

NB This author is not a broadcast journalist. He spent a fair few years in the profession and is now an academic. Yah! what does he know!