Everyone understands the sheer importance of a strong Press—governments and opposition, civil society, the public and military.
No wonder then that the Press is called the ‘Fourth Estate’, a term 19th century historian Thomas Carlyle attributed to Edmund Burke, an Anglo-Irish political theorist; and rightfully so.
I can’t think of a white collared job where people are so underpaid and overworked than journalism, and yet we see this human species work relentlessly, often long hours (and more often at ungodly hours) and in difficult terrains, to see that the world gets information that could mean life altering for many; giving voice to the distressed, oppressed and underheard sections of society.
And what do they get in return? Incarceration, abuse, harassment, and sometimes death.
Yet they march on!
Journalists are understood to be reformists; agents of change. And that’s why they should be people of high integrity, assertive, have a positive ego, ethical, knowledgeable, voracious, and inquisitive.
For the uninitiated, journalists don’t only mean reporters, whose names you get to read in the papers against their reports. There are photojournalists and editors too—the unsung heroes, who meticulously dot the i’s and cross the t’s in reports and stay back late in the night to put the paper to bed (meaning, send it to the press).
And yet after having done a hard day’s work, they still feel unfulfilled, having passing thoughts if they should have included a bit more on this or that report.
But we know our limits. We know the dangers that come with our profession. Not everyone who says they like a “free” press actually admires it when you write freely. And so journalists learn good judgment, wisdom and foresight early on in their careers.
In certain regions, members of the press exercise self-regulation (editorial decision driven by ethics). There is also a thing called self-censorship. This is when a news publication holds back information due to fear. Both have their places.
For me, the metaphor is “to stay on the crease for as long as you can, don’t hit every ball and risk getting out, and if possible carry the bat”. Those who know cricket will understand.
And if these opponents are not enough a threat, we have the digital media that has somehow vowed to make us extinct.
The exponential growth of digital media has posed a serious threat to legacy media—not only to its revenues and the organisations themselves, but also to the credibility of news.
It’s below a news publication of repute to publish something that is doubtful. But the digital world doesn’t stick to that discipline.
All that could be asked of people is to support legacy journalism by buying the publications. It’s your smallest form of support to quality journalism.
Coming back to Burke’s famous coinage. Although he is said to have uttered that famous term to mock at the Press (sitting in the galleries), that has actually turned out to be very true, much to his displeasure I would say.
And I have to admit that the Press is the most powerful force on earth after God.
I am seconded by Malcolm X, who said: “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
The writer is a Bahraini journalist and deputy editor of Gulf Construction magazine – [email protected]