Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Discuss the role of the journalist in the modern political Scene and whether journalism allows a citizen to play a Wider or narrower part in modern democracy.

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Journalists have two main roles in today’s modern political scene. Robert W McChesney describes these two roles as “indispensable functions…within democratic theory.” He sets them out as such

First, the media system must provide a rigorous accounting of people in power and people who want to be in power… This is known as the watchdog role.

Second, the media system must provide reliable information and a wide range of informed opinions on the important social and political issues of the day. (McChesney, 00)

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Through these two roles journalists try to involve citizens in politics and issues affecting them with the goal of increasing democracy in Britain. Democracy is “government by the people, exercised directly or through elected representatives” or simply “majority rule.” (www.dictionary.com)

To have a democracy where “the common people [are] considered as the primary source of political power” (www.dictionary.com) citizens need to be politically active. Which after the lowest ever turnout of fifty-nine per-cent at the last general election they are clearly not. This is mainly due to apathy towards politics, which is seen as both corrupt and boring by many. The disinterest in politics is especially clear in Hartlepool where the football teams mascot, H’Angus the monkey, was elected mayor.

It is the role of journalists to give citizens information on politics, through newspapers, television or radio so to allow them to play a wider part in politics. The media is the only source from which most citizens can learn of many political issues. For example, many would probably never have learnt about the now famous Falklands event when ‘The Belgrano,’ an Argentinean ship, was sunk in controversial circumstances if it had not been investigated and reported by journalists. Citizens have the right to know about events such as this one, especially as it could affect whom they vote into power at the next general election.

Investigative journalism…contributes to democracy by nurturing an informed citizenry. Information is a vital resource to empower a vigilant public that ultimately hold government accountable through voting and participation. (McChesney, 00) It is vital to a democratic system that the citizens have as much knowledge as possible on issues affecting them. For example, it is essential that when in the next four years there is a referendum, the most direct democratic system possible, on whether to join the Euro or not people know the arguments for and against joining. The government, Labour, and the opposition government, Conservative, will release information on this but both will be biased. It is the job of the media to show the public both sides from a neutral stance.

However, this will probably not happen. This is because such media as newspapers are also biased, according mainly to the owners feelings. This is shown when newspapers continually back one party’s stance. Such as the ‘Daily Telegraph’, which has picked up the nickname of the ‘Daily Torygraph’ because of its bias towards the Conservative party.

This bias means that they will not print damaging articles against the Conservatives or many articles praising the Labour party and as such are not performing the second role set out by McChesney. To give a “wide range of informed opinions.” Therefore they are narrowing democracy by not giving its readers all the information.

There is a counter argument to this however

No single medium can or should be expected to provide all of this [McChesney’s two roles]; but the media system as a whole should provide easy access to this for all citizens. (McChesny, 00)

This is saying that it is acceptable that one newspaper, or one radio station has a bias view point on an issue and only prints arguments for or against the issue if there is someone else, another paper, to give citizens the other side of the argument. For example, the Telegraph gives citizens one point of view whilst the Guardian gives the other. It is questionable, though, whether many people would buy two, especially differing in opinions, newspapers and as such would not receive both sides of the argument.

Silvio Waisbord backs up McChesney’s first role

The press should make government accountable by publishing information about matters of public interest even if information reveals abuses or crimes perpetrated by those in authority… It is linked to the logic of checks and balances. (Waisbord, 001)

This argument is saying that it is the role of journalists to act almost as an opposition to those looking to gain power or who are in power, such as MPs. By doing this, many scandals have been revealed. Including the revelation that Tony Blair’s Labour party received a donation of almost one million pounds from Mr.Ecclestone, owner of a formula one racing team, soon after deciding against a ban on cigarette advertising on formula one cars. Which is a major source of revenue for owners such as Mr.Ecclestone.

The argument for revealing these ‘stories’ is that it is in the public’s interest to know who their representatives are and how they make their decisions, which are on behalf of them. Chasqui also argues this

Journalism in democracy should be critical, overseeing… and also varied so that it can offer the necessary checks and balances that modern democracy requires. (Chasqui, 16)

However, in Britain sensationalism seems to be more important than giving citizens information and so widening democracy. This is because stories such as Edwina Curries’ affair with John Major sell more newspapers or attract more viewers than a story about David Blunkett’s views on the state of education in Britain. Profit is the main goal for newspapers, not meeting McChesney’s two roles. However, it may be possible to have both.

In the respect that newspapers are profit orientated it seems papers in Britain are heading down the same highway as those have in the United States. In an era where our Prime Minister is being taunted by our own newspapers as a ‘poodle’ to the United State’s President, where we see McDonald’s on nearly every street and the up and coming ‘top’ music is R and B and hip hop from America it is worrying that our media and especially newspapers may go the same way. The very way that prompted McChesney to say

The media system in the United States does not exist to save democracy; it exists to generate maximum profit… [So, ironically], democratic interests of the many are undermined by the selfish interest of the few. (McChesney, 00)

Journalists are not widening democracy when their articles spend longer talking about the revelation that John Major wears blue pants than they do about the knock on effect his affair(s) must have had on his role as the Prime Minister.

Journalists have a vital role in today’s modern political scene as it the only access most people have to knowing what is happening about certain issues. Journalism can and does widen democracy. It does this by challenging, through investigative journalism, those in and around power and by letting the public know what is happening in their government. Journalism, and reporting the news, is vital to democracy, but only works to widen it if journalists report the accurately, fully and about issues that matter. If journalism, as a business, becomes to obsessed with profit, sensationalism and gossip rather than ‘proper’ news then it will just serve to weaken democracy. Journalism definitely allows citizens to play a wider part in modern democracy but could do more to make it easier for citizens to play.

Bibliography

Chasqui (16) Periodismo, Democracia y Transcioun. (Ecuador)

McChesny, R.W. (00) Journalism, Democracy…and Class Struggle.

Waisbord, S. (001) Why Democracy Needs Investigative Journalism.

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