The constraints in the Practice of Journalism Profession
By Hon. Arop Madut Arop, Nairobi, Kenya
March 29, 2017 (SSB) — As the whole article is entirely about the abuse of journalism profession, it would be important to look at the work and constraints journalists encounter as they go about their work and their relations with the management of the news organisation they work for. As the central theme of the article discusses about the abuse of the journalism profession and the need to rectify it, we will now discuss the constraints that do confront reporters in their daily practice of journalism. It will also be useful to mention the set of categories that are involved in the operations of the press/media industry before we delve into the subject matter. Basically, there are four set of categories involved in the practice of journalism profession.
In the first category, are the news players (politicians, Executives). In the second category, are the news organisers (media houses). The third category consists of the news producers (Journalists/reporters). In the fourth category, are the news consumers (the general public). The war between these sets of categories involved in the operation of journalism practice, does make it necessary to discuss the role each one bring to bear on the other. This move restricts the free flow of information to the intended: reading, listening and viewing audiences. I must stress that, the skill in collecting information is never a smooth running affairs because journalists face lot of difficulties between the news organisers and the news makers on the one hand and the news organisations on the news producers on the other hand.
One of the most important constraints in the practice of journalism, according to mass communication theory, has to do with the agenda setting function of the print media (newspapers). This theory suggests that newspapers organisers and managers often set news agenda for readers by concentrating and carrying in their papers news stories about significant events for the benefits of their businesses. To realise fullest expression of this theory requires the contribution of both journalists and the owners of the news organisations. However, evidence from day to day practice points to the fact that, newspapers are not capable in carrying news reports about all that goes on around the world, as expected. In essence, news organisations do arrange things in such away so that staff and resources available could meet the expected flow of news. Where possible, news reports are therefore managed to fit the needs of the news organisations, regardless.
Looking at it, in this perspective, the news organisations construct the picture of reality which only suits their needs. The role of a journalist or reporter in this context just becomes more or less like the sheep than the gate keepers as suggested by the mass media communications researchers. Reporters, like sheep are just herded towards the press conferences given by politicians, businessmen, union organisation leaders and the pressure groups so as to gather only information that they want to be published.
In such a situation, useful news stories are almost impossible to find as the reporters or journalists are just directed by their employers to go to specific places, in the parliament lobbies, hotels a few miles from where they could get good scoops. It is a known fact that, in this scenario, journalists have the licence to use, if they are allowed to get the best news stories, both formal as well as informal methods of collecting information. Basically, the more journalists develop informal contacts with the sources, the greater is the possibility that they will glean the information the news organisations do not want disclosing, a sheer abuse of journalism as a profession.
There are other reasons why the work of journalists has become difficult. The first constraint relates to the editorial policies laid down by the newspaper managements. Many a time journalists have to contend with managerial policies which prevent them from running useful stories. It would be useful to call to mind an incident which once involved the editor of the London Observer Newspaper and the Management. While the editor found it useful to carry a story about the trouble in Zimbabwe, the Management of the Newspaper (Lonrho), a company which had large economic interests in Zimbabwe, was not in a mood to allow the publication of the news stories that appeared to threaten their other interests in that country. At another level financial pressures, have always compel newspapers organisers to lay down policies that restrict the publication of stories in their newspapers, stories that may harm their business interests at all time, regardless to the public interests; another sheer abuse of journalism, as profession.
In a similar note, the British Royal Commission (watchdog) report, once found out that between 1965 and 1976, the Times, the Daily Telegraph were forced to cut back seriously, on their foreign operations as a result of financial pressures. The financial pressures did in the past also affect seriously adequate foreign news coverage in the French Newspaper, Le Monde. The point to be made here is that, while journalists may want to offer much more information to their readers, financial and operational costs often times force them to overlook the employment of qualified domestic as well as foreign correspondents. What can be deduced from this discussion points at the ugly hands of the management in newsgathering and the production process. Restrictions of various types are applied by the management of what constitutes news or what goes into certain newspapers leaving their journalists become helpless.
To the supporters of the liberal press traditions or advocates of free and independent press, the agenda setting function of a newspaper appears to be a corner stone of sound journalism. However, evidence shows that, the agenda setting is in practice, is a freedom, for a small elite of powerful business interests groups, to impose their views on many. The newspapers, therefore become, in the process “both the expression of a system of domination and a means of reinforcing it. A caveat, at this point is useful to look at. Big businesses, in the case of the newspaper organisation action, could necessarily destroy the possibility for reflecting the whole truth but compromises, in so many ways.
In their attempts to come to terms with their professional commitment and the demand of the ownership, many journalists do, either accept the managerial policies and compromise their ethics in effort to eke a living or get sacked from the news organisation concerned. That is why many highly qualified journalists prepare to become freelancers for their satisfaction and interest of their profession.
To be able to resolve this dilemma, much more democratic measures, have to be evolved. In the first place, I think, the greater involvement of journalists in the editorial policies and in decision making could help. At another level, concentration of ownership in the newspaper industry by a few businesses should be prevented. In this respect anti newspapers monopolistic laws must be enacted and enforced so as to prevent newspapers business conglomerates from owning several newspapers. In my opinion, public ownership of newspapers may remove some of these constraints the businesses pose for journalists, when it is not possible for one group of similar minded persons to wield power and influence of the big businesses.
Essentially, journalists should be given the responsibility to define the areas of news coverage which should be organised systematically and explore, then report objectively, whatever turns up—that is the game of fair play. In other words, journalist/reporters need to muster the best sets of criteria they can in deciding what information they can relay to their readers and should stick to these criteria despite pressures and despite human tendency to report what other correspondents are reporting which may not interest his readers.
In concluding this part, one can say that, the greater involvement of reporters and editors in the ownership, management, decision making and production of the newspapers, is the central issue at stake. It is therefore advisable for journalists, as individuals or as unions, not to wait but strive harder and participate much more effectively; but in a democratic fashion in the newspapers industry, if they are to fulfil, in the least sense, their responsibility toward the society they would like to serve. In the following discussion, we will look at the most controversial part of journalism profession, ‘’The Freedom of The Press’’.
PRESS FREEDOM, DOES IT REALLY EXIST?
As we continue to discuss the difficulties journalists confront in their effort to report events that directly or indirectly touch the lives of the majority of citizens in the society in which they live, it will be instructive to discuss another controversial aspect which affects journalists in their operations, whether as foreign correspondents, as war reporters or domestic reporters. This controversial issue we are about to examine, has to do with the freedom of the Press, partiality and impartiality in the operation of the press or mass media in general. But before we get into the issue at stake, it will be instructive to define the word freedom.
Basically the word freedom the process of being free is a lopsided word. Generally speaking it connotes the freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom of association and worship. In this context, it connotes the freedom of the mass media in general and the print media in particular. To tell the truth, there has been a controversy particularly at the news desks and the newsrooms as to whether there is a press freedom.
In fact, newsmen and newswomen do complain and are complaining around the world and around the clock that their operations to inform the general public and educate them about their rights and what they believe they should know, is largely being impeded by the dominant authorities who imposed regulations and rules to restrict their work. Lack of freedom to inform the public is then referred to as censorship of the press. There indeed, arises a controversy over whether there is freedom of the press and whether there should be an absolute freedom of the media in general and the press in particular. Many media men and women do agree and others do not. I tend to agree with the latter position as discuss subsequently.
In my humble opinion, and basing my argument on the experiences I gained through the long practice in the art, there is no absolute press freedom at all. Some of my colleagues in the media industry and who may have had better experiences than my own, may be tempted to suggest that there is media freedom in the western world. To support their argument, America and Britain are given as good examples. My advice to those colleagues is that they should not be tricked into believing that there is absolute media freedom in the western world.
If for instance, media men and women were allowed to write and tell the truth about leadership in the western countries they would bring the leadership in those countries to shame. What is in the western world is some amount of media freedom. To support this argument it would be worthwhile to look at the journalists at work in the western world.
Importantly, it would be instructive to refer to the practice of western media and what some researchers say about it. In their arguments researchers are of the opinion that although the media industry, in the West (UK/US), continued to flourish for centuries; preaching and boasting about the existence of bills of rights; and absolute freedom of the press, it appears to have become a myth. Because, at a glance at the British papers, both Tabloid and Broad Sheet national daily newspapers and the wires media, one is struck in the face to see the main objective of the media; profit making. Experience has shown that only during elections time do the western media concentrate glaringly about things that directly affect the peoples’ lives.
As for news about the developing world the western media do not write about things that directly affect the people of those countries. When, for instance, out of mere courtesy in efforts to fill up pages for domestic consumption, the Western Media report only crisis of man-made or natural disasters. Most of the times, western journalists only report about things that affect western commercial interests in their former colonies. I stand here to be corrected by those better informed about this assertion. The case of Zimbabwe of Robert Mugabe is a classic example to cite in effort to back up my argument.
When President Mugabe, in the past, nationalised the British owned farms it was met with utter outcry by the British Government. In response the UK press declared all-out war on Robert Mugabe, as the enemy of Britain. Even today, the UK journalists and reporters for instance do not write about anything good about Robert Mugabi’s Zimbabwe. Should our press not also make a joint crusade against the western media for neglecting reporting of thing that affect most people in Africa lack of socio-economic development?
In Africa, where most of the countries are ruled by military and civilian dictatorships, the problems are different. Under harsh conditions, media men and women should not waste time crying—lack of media freedom! Lack of media freedom! And down with the media censorship. My advice to young media men and women in the developing countries in general and Africa in particular is that, they should not waste time chasing the wind; but develop new ways of making the media industry work.
In this regard, the credibility gap between, news organisers and news producers, on the one hand and news makers and news consumers must be bridged through reasonable legislations and regulations. If we are to secure a true freedom for media men and women in Africa, there should be laws that regulate the rights of the categories involved in the operations of the mass media. In other word, there should be interaction among all the categories involved in the practice of media industry namely: News organisers, newsmakers, news producers and news consumers. Precisely, there should be laws that regulate the rights of these categories that are involved in the media or press industry
Unfortunately there seems to be no political will to change things in that direction which is indeed a challenge to all media men and women in Africa today. What is actually required is free flow of information from the government to the governed. The public must be given details about things that concerned them otherwise they will have all sorts of imagination, which may lead to troubles with the dominant authorities.
Coming back to the issue raised in this discussion, freedom of the press/media, it is my opinion, that Africa in particular must not import the capitalist or Socialist brand of journalisms. Rather our press/media must base their journalism practice on the time-honoured African tradition and culture.
To make this feasible, the new vision as envisaged by late Dr Kwame Nkrumah, about what the media should be in Africa, must be included in the states constitutions. The governments that are ushered into office following elections must make laws regulating the relations between the media and the Executive branch of the governments. The existence of elected democratic governments in Africa and in the developing world in general should not make people lose sight of the main objective; that the governments any government, in office, must guide the people toward good governance.
In the meantime African media men and women must be patient and try to cope with any type of government of the day. Until all the countries in the developing world reached democratic maturity, the war to obtain meaningful freedom of the press, will continue. In brief, the New Vision about media in Africa must be guided by one main objective, that there is no absolute freedom of the press in any part of our today world.
Arguably, the media in Africa must neither be for profit-making nor king-making only. It must be a media of the people by the people and for the people. This must not be made to construe that there should be no private newspapers. The safer way for journalists and reporters in Africa, in my humble opinion must base their operations on Investigating Journalism. They must investigate and alert the dominant authorities about discrepancies in any of the branch of the establishment by way of investigating journalism. In brief, journalism is a profession of fair play. In publishing one sided story without making a fair play of giving all the parties involved to air their views about the issues in which they are implicated must be outlawed.
In conclusion I would like to alert my colleagues in the media/press industry of two very important things they should not disregard in their daily practice of journalism. The only one person who is absolutely free to say what he/she wants to say; is a medically diagnosed lunatic, because he or she is not conscious about the effect and the impact of what comes out from his/her mouth. Secondly, Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden because they exceeded their right given to them by the Creator; to enjoy all the fruits in the Garden of Eden, except the Tree of’ Knowledge (more to come).
Hon Arop Madut Arop, currently an MP for Abyei at SSLA and an international media consultant, holds a Diploma in Socialist journalism – International institute of journalism (East Berlin); Advanced Diploma in Liberal Journalism International Institute of Media Studies (West Berlin) and Masters of Arts Degree in International Journalism (City University of London). He is the author of two books: Sudan Painful Road to Peace, a full story of the founding and development of SPLM/SPLA (2006) and The Genesis of political consciousness in South Sudan (2012). He is also author of a number of unpublished books. He can be reached at email@example.com
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