The media has often claimed to be the fourth estate of democracy, the self-proclaimed defenders of freedom of speech. In a bygone era, that claim may have held some truth. The media was then largely impartial and thoroughly informative, giving the profession its credence. The same cannot be said today. That is a woeful shame; the ongoing media war between the American presidency and the American media is a disgrace. The left-wing crowd bemoans of the injustice and intolerance of the Trump administration, but in condemning the right as illiterate, foolish garbage with no right to a view, they are no better. If the leftist media truly believed in protecting democracy and promoting progressive views, they would work towards opening up discussions that include a wider range of political views.
Ethical, impartial, and reliable information is necessary – and yet, the media seem to be more concerned with churning out stories with the primary aim of financial profit. In that vein, they pursue divisive stories that spread fear and hatred among society. This is true not only of notorious right-wing media such as the Daily Mail and Fox News, but by the indignant and self-righteous left. Such partisan and inflammatory content must be removed. Ethical journalism needs to prosper in order to restore faith in the media and the democratic process. The current knowledge deficit needs to end. Journalists and media organizations should consider the political and social impact of their work on society. Quality instead of quantity ought to be the media’s motto once more.
During the White House Correspondent’s dinner in April 2017, Hassan Minaj stated that “trust is more important than the truth,” and the media has lost the public’s trust. As a Gallup poll confirmed, Americans’ trust in the media has fallen to an all-time low in 2016. In 1976, 72% of those polled trusted the media; today, that number is 32 per cent, a dramatic downgrade. Another 2017 Gallup poll also found that 6 out of 10 Americans believe the media has a partisan bias, with the majority of those believing the bias to be democratic being Republicans. However, many Democrats also believe that the media is more supportive of the Democrats. This highlights two issues: firstly, people across the political spectrum do not feel as though their views are heard, represented, or respected. This leads them to feel angry and alienated from their society and nation, ultimately culminating in distrust and division. Secondly, to protect our right to freedom of speech, the views people disagree with must also have a platform and be heard. All sides of a debate must be expressed accurately through the media and respected. Besides the media bias, another reason the media is not trusted is because, according to the Gallup 2017 poll, their information is perceived to be inaccurate by 55% of Americans. When journalists project their opinions as facts, portray themselves as experts, and pursue divisive stories to gain larger audiences, this sentiment is understandable. Instead of feeding sensationalism to sell papers, the media must focus on distributing impartial and factual information.
Most critics agree that the media should produce well-researched and properly-evaluated information that avoids “hostile rumours and fearful narratives,” as the UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief decrees. Former war correspondents speaking at a joint ICRC and Australian Red Cross event in Canberra, Australia last month also stated the critical importance of having journalists who are informed about political, social, and historical circumstances as well as reporting. Both the report and these war correspondents argue that this is currently lacking. Reputable and ethical media organizations are few and far between. As a result, the media has not been able to successfully carry out their roles of educating and informing the public and providing a medium for public discourse. Given the nature of instant communication, the media creates a constant flow of information. The public is thus often confused by the excess information, having no way of discerning what is true, and what is not. They don’t know what is opinion or factual information. This lack of journalistic knowledge is impacting the public and weakening public dialogue, thereby misleading people and deepening divisions.
Thus, the journalistic code must be reinforced, and media organizations must agree to employ knowledgeable and unbiased journalists. All views, no matter how contentious, must be listened to, analysed, and understood. Giving fair representation to all views and ensuring that people do not feel marginalized is crucial in ensuring that democracy functions properly. After all, failure to do so has led us to a Trump administration and Brexit. These two events and the ensuing lack of trust in the media has made the need for ethical and trustworthy media even more important.
Not only should journalists be well-informed in order to educate the public, they must also be as impartial as possible. Many papers and TV channels have established certain political slants. Bias, to a certain degree, may be unavoidable. Consequently, central and neutral media organizations ought to work towards expanding their platform and reaching a larger audience. Such media organizations should present both sides of arguments and explain the rationale behind different viewpoints and behaviours in order to establish cohesion. This is the most effective way of mending social wounds, educating the public, and enhancing communication. Without such a large-scale concentrated effort by all media organizations, existing cleavages and issues will only be exacerbated. This is the ultimate duty of all journalists, media industries, bosses, advertisers, and business partners. If the situation remains as it is, the political crises we are facing across the West will only worsen.
While the media has a key role in educating the public, governments should also educate their citizens regarding democracy and politics, and citizens across the world should keep themselves informed about the political spheres they live in. Every part of society must help remove the knowledge deficit, reignite trust in the media, and restore the distribution of more reliable and impartial information.
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