Can jour­nal­ists be ac­tivists?

Lesotho Times - - Leader -

Jour­nal­ism re­quires as­sem­bling and ver­i­fy­ing facts. Con­vey­ing fair and ac­cu­rate ac­counts is the jour­nal­ist’s job.

in to­day’s highly com­plex me­dia en­vi­ron­ment with peo­ple in­creas­ingly turn­ing to so­cial me­dia for news, the jour­nal­ist’s ba­sic re­spon­si­bil­ity has be­come all the more im­por­tant. The new ecosys­tem has also pre­sented a num­ber of chal­lenges to those in the busi­ness.

rig­or­ous fact-check­ing, col­lect­ing ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion and pub­lish­ing or broad­cast­ing with­out bias are still equally im­por­tant, but with the amount of data now be­ing gen­er­ated, news gath­er­ing has be­come a fraught en­ter­prise.

i may sound Dick­en­sian (“What i want is facts. Teach these boys and girls noth­ing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life,” one of his char­ac­ters says in the novel Hard Times), but fact is at the heart of re­port­ing.

a jour­nal­ist must pro­vide a bal­anced ac­count, re­gard­less of their po­lit­i­cal, so­cial or eco­nomic stand­ing. But the very no­tion of ac­tivist-jour­nal­ist poses threat to pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ism.

ob­jec­tiv­ity and im­par­tial­ity are the pil­lars of jour­nal­ism.

ac­tivists in­ter­pret facts to suit his or her agenda.

The jour­nal­ist’s job is to in­ter­pret, con­tex­tu­alise, and con­vey the nu­ances of a par­tic­u­lar is­sue. He or she must not ed­i­to­ri­alise, which can lead to ma­nip­u­la­tion.

Cre­at­ing an in­formed de­bate is at the heart of jour­nal­is­tic en­deav­our, whereas an ac­tivist’s aim is to in­flu­ence the de­bate.

in re­port­ing, jour­nal­ists should al­low as many voices as pos­si­ble - at least two sources for a news story - so that ev­ery­one has a say on the sub­ject. The voice of an ac­tivist should also be wo­ven into the story.

But jour­nal­ists should never priv­i­lege an ac­tivist’s view over the peo­ple in the story who are di­rectly af­fected, whose voices are rarely heard in the main­stream me­dia, which is largely based in cities and towns of­ten far away from their sub­jects.

a pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ist never shies away from rig­or­ous fact-check­ing and prac­tis­ing a high de­gree of trans­parency in news gath­er­ing.

But by na­ture, an ac­tivist would be se­lec­tive in his or her sources, ma­te­ri­als and facts. This will present a dis­torted and par­tial snap­shot of the is­sue. an ac­tivist tries to in­flu­ence the de­bate whereas a jour­nal­ist helps cre­ate an in­formed de­bate.

Ac­tivist-jour­nal­ists in Nepal if a jour­nal­ist who also wears the hat of an ac­tivist goes to cover a protest, he or she is ei­ther hated or loved. The ac­tivist-jour­nal­ist will be loved by peo­ple whose agen­das he or she high­lights through the work, but will fail on an im­por­tant as­pect: trust­wor­thi­ness by the au­di­ence.

Pro­vok­ing one group of peo­ple against another or ad­vo­cat­ing for a cer­tain cause can com­pro­mise the abil­ity to win trust. a jour­nal­ist is al­ways an­swer­able to his or her au­di­ence, but an ac­tivist is in­ter­ested in sup­port­ing the agenda of a par­tic­u­lar group. There is ev­ery pos­si­bil­ity that an ac­tivist-jour­nal­ist could do harm to jour­nal­ism.

in nepal, where i have been a jour­nal- ist for over 15 years, first work­ing at lo­cal mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers and later, cov­er­ing nepal for in­ter­na­tional out­lets, i have seen how the phe­nom­e­non of ac­tivist-jour­nal­ists has led to the ero­sion of pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ism.

in fact, there’s noth­ing sur­pris­ing about this in nepal, where un­til 1990, the press was driven by a mis­sion to over­throw the au­to­cratic Pan­chayat regime.

old habits die-hard. so, even after the end of the era of what was then called “mis­sion jour­nal­ism”, the weekly tabloid and on­line plat­forms con­tinue to pro­mote one or other po­lit­i­cal party in nepal.

While there are no­table ex­cep­tions of press ful­fill­ing its duty of mak­ing the pow­er­ful ac­count­able, a new crop of ac­tivist-jour­nal­ists has emerged in re­cent years.

When chal­lenged about their uneth­i­cal prac­tices, they couch their de­fence in ex­cuses such as: “i’m not a reporter, i am an op-ed writer” and “You can’t be ob­jec­tive when so much in­jus­tice is be­ing done”.

This group sup­ported the anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign of an or­thopaedic sur­geon­ac­tivist, who staged a se­ries of hunger strikes in au­tumn last year.

Hun­dreds of protesters co­a­lesced around Dr Govinda KC, whose Gand­hian dis­sent bol­stered the bat­tle against lok­man singh Karki, the chief of an an­ti­cor­rup­tion com­mis­sion, who abused his author­ity iron­i­cally pre­sid­ing over a body that was tasked with com­bat­ing abuse of power.

But Karki’s down­fall was a di­rect re­sult of the coun­try’s supreme Court rul­ing. which dis­missed him early this year on the grounds of lack­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the post.

The ac­tivist-jour­nal­ists marched the streets of Kath­mandu car­ry­ing plac­ards and shout­ing slo­gans. They urged me, and count­less other jour­nal­ists, to join their move­ment. Con­tin­ues on Page 14 . . .

They ex­pected the jour­nal­ists like me to lend their voices to the cam­paign, which to me seemed a po­ten­tial mine­field for con­flict of in­ter­est.

The clos­est I came to the rally was when I drove past the protest one Satur­day af­ter­noon in Oc­to­ber last year.

Ul­ti­mately, it was a bunch of muck­rak­ing jour­nal­ists, an in­trepid lawyer and a fledg­ling po­lit­i­cal party that helped top­ple the an­ti­cor­rup­tion czar. It also helped that an im­peach­ment mo­tion against Karki was be­ing de­lib­er­ated at the coun­try’s par­lia­ment. ‘We need to go back

to the ba­sics’ I have al­ways thought of jour­nal­ism as a pro­fes­sion that con­ducts its busi­ness in the pe­riph­ery, never aspir­ing to be at the cen­tre of the news event.

A jour­nal­ist watches (and is wit­ness to the un­fold­ing drama) from the side­lines, never wad­ing into the murky wa­ters, but al­ways at a safe dis­tance so that he or she can re­port the in­for­ma­tion, nuggets and in­sights to the pub­lic.

In an era of fake news, click-bait jour­nal­ism and pro­pa­ganda mas­querad­ing as re­port­ing, the need for pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ism has never been more ur­gent.

What we need is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist who is not driven by any agenda, but is a truth-seeker and a cham­pion of core val­ues of jour­nal­ism.

In these dif­fi­cult times, we need to go back to the ba­sics of jour­nal­ism and strive to de­liver cred­i­ble, ev­i­dence-based and en­gag­ing re­port­ing.

While fel­low jour­nal­ists in the western world have re­cently faced with the chal­lenges of deal­ing with politi­cians for whom ly­ing is a sec­ond na­ture, the fab­u­list-politi­cians here are le­gion.

News­pa­pers are of­ten sus­cep­ti­ble to their lies, of­ten pub­lish­ing their false state­ments ver­ba­tim. But a small non-profit has shown how such false­hood can be chal­lenged. South Asia Check, a web­site sup­ported by Panos South Asia, a non­profit based in Kath­mandu, coun­ters false­hood and de­bunks myths and mis­con­cep­tions.

Per­haps such ini­tia­tives should be repli­cated across the world so that politi­cos who make out­landish and ex­ag­ger­ated state­ments do not get away with it.

And, of course, stick­ing to the time-tested, old prin­ci­ples of jour­nal­ism that have en­dured over the years will go a long way in fight­ing so-called al­ter­na­tive facts.

Ad­hikari is a free­lance jour­nal­ist based in Kath­mandu. He cov­ers Nepal for in­ter­na­tional out­lets.

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