The relativism of Truth & the role of the journalistic profession: Time of crisis or time of change?

Insights and thoughts derived from the event “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly/Press coverage in times of crisis” an initiative hosted at Impact Hub Athens, as part of the Athens Democracy Forum.

It is a bit confusing these days to speak for the role of the press and journalism. And that is happening not because of a lack for understanding about the importance of speaking the truth, the ultimate faction of the Press, but because different perceptions occur in the minds of the professionals and those of the audience about it.

The digital evolution has given more opportunities to multiple media players to publish content at the Web, resulting in too much information, unchecked for reliability and truthfulness. The audience is facing a constant dilemma for what to believe about the circumstances surrounding them. But on the other hand audience is capable of making choices for what to read and consume depending on their interests. This power changed the balance of distribution regarding the news side by side with the rise and preference of social media platforms. It is not an overstatement that the volume of the digital readiness that occurs speaks for a preference at easy and entertaining information. It is a fact that the life of the celebrities causes more attention than a fact regarding a socioeconomic issue, unless it is a cover wrapped in fear. It is a matter of content or context regarding the readiness of certain kind of news?

The technological evolution has given the tools to journalist to work more efficiently and differently, aligning with the contemporary environment. New forms of storytelling have been developed but still audience loses interest on news regarding important aspects of societal problems.

“Journalism as a profession and as a news industry has always been part and parcel of technological change, both in terms of responding to transformation and inspiring innovation”
Beckett and Deuze

The relativism of Truth

In these circumstances two similar and at the same time contradicting perceptions occur about the fact of reporting what is news. The facts are speaking the truth says the journalists, and the audience is asking, is the facts speaking the truth?

For the journalistic profession investigating on facts regarding an issue and synthesizing them in order to make sense to public is the ultimate anchor of the Press. But as Mathias Muller Von Blumencron quotes: “reporting what is happening depending on facts, doesn’t seem enough, we lose audience reporting the truth and that is happening because we face irrational reaction[especially regarding politics] depending on taboos, populism and feeling of anger”.

But how these facts are being exposed?

Brigitte Alfter gives us the other side of that matter that reflects the perceptions of a big proportion of audience (e.g. at countries like Spain, USA and Greece as data shows below). “A big crisis at the journalistic profession occurs. It failed to reflect on the serious and complex problems, falling into traps, not reporting on real causes of problems or pointing at them”. In a European level and the crisis surrounding it, an important question rises then for what kind of storytelling is appropriate in order for everyone to understand and a kind that do not express the national but European ‘feelings’.

REUTERS INSTITUTE DIGITAL NEWS REPORT 2016 p. 94

Speaking the facts or compliance with bias?

Alfter have expressed a second and very important anchor for the role of the Press and journalists; the connection to reader and their lives. “We have to reach out where people are”, she said and seems so profound. The digital disruption forces journalists to reshape how they report, as the interaction at social media give more opportunities for connections and people are liberating themselves sharing their stories and collaborating with professionals for them. If that is the good side of the social media era the bad is that of the level of debate that occurs there, as Simon Wilson argues. Facebook, Twitter and other platforms have become tools for propagandists and false reports, as the level of debate seems to just confirm the existed bias; an effort is missing for an actual debate on important things, not only at stances.

Last week an incident has happened here at Greece at the district of Oraiokastro. A group of parents have expressed their dissatisfaction the kids of refugees and immigrants to attend the same school as their kids, a decision that have been endorsed by Greek government. A lot of discussion rose up at social media and several political actors have taken a stance for this. The overall debate concentrated in two different bias. That either someone is a racist or not. Racist is the person that do not want her/his kids to be educated with the kids of refugees and immigrants and not a racist a person that defends solidarity and do not have a problem with that. But is that the question to be asked here?

Stereotypes exist to all societies and the role of journalists — and the Press- is to listen and act upon them educating not only the audience but the professionals too. If we want to speak for a role in Democracy, Press has the one to level up the debates in a way that do not enhance bias and stereotypes but explaining them and bypassing them to the actual problem of the matter. The second phase is governments to hear them and consider them thoroughly.

So in the incident of Oraiokastro and the debate for the right to education of the refugees and immigrants, the question is not who is racist or not, but if this policy serves the rights of both the parties, the natives too. Let’s dive a little bit into this. The actual matter here might be the right for education but some factors must be considered. Do the kids of refugees/immigrants know the language in order to attend? If not, in what way the communication will occur? We can argue that we could employ tutors that know the language and help those kids to educate themselves, but how all the kids will communicate with each other when a common culture do not exist? A policy of housing two different cultures in the same place what problems will bring? It is not only the language but all the other codes of communicating that bring close people and open the way for understanding and coexistence. The spirit of the natives is the right one to address this kind of policy? If it is not, that could bring several problems. Is there a policy for that? What is the stance of the municipality and that of the central government? In an environment of economic crisis, who is paying for it? Who should be paying for it and why?

That is a debate that could offer different perspectives of the matter than the categorization of people to racist or not, or all the other connotations that have been given. “If the main faction of the Press is a trusted source and people in time of crises still come to media sources in order to be informed’’ as Serge Schemann argues, then it is important to consider what is the context that the sources give in all the crisis, big or small. It is not only a professional act; it is about a philosophy of being close to citizens, as Pavlos Tsimas quoted.

I will close my thoughts with Simon Wilson interesting question:

Journalism must come from the streets and up, or the other way down?

And which is the right way for democracy?

Katerina Vlassopoulou

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