6 Pages, Grade: 13/20
It can only be safe to say that journalistic discourse has been and still is one of the most powerful genres of communication in contemporary society. Journalistic discourse has also historically been the subject of control by several, so-called, fascist and non-democratic states. It is a major institution through which ideologies are conveyed, taking for instances the examples of the “Pravda” during the Soviet Union or the “Volkischer Beobachter” in Nazi governed Germany or the “People’s Daily” in the People’s Republic of China. This means of communication can easily be - and is - exploited by different groups in power, resulting therefore in what is commonly referred to as “propaganda”. Yet, this concept of propaganda is a very complex one and has much to do with how “objectivity” is perceived in journalism.
Before getting into any discussion over journalistic discourse, it can only be useful to try to define journalism and its role in contemporary society. One of the most optimistic definitions of journalism would be the one suggested by Richardson (2007: 7) when he says that “journalism exists to enable citizens to better understand their lives and their position in the world”. This is indeed a very idealistic definition of journalism; because it often finds itself involved in propagating the ideas of the powerful, thus serving the ideological purposes of the powerful rather than doing its ‘role’ of ‘enlightening’ citizens. Nowadays journalism is seen as being more of a materialistic concept. As it is claimed by Blommaert (1999) journalistic materialism means “an ethnographic eye for the real historical actors, their interests, their alliances, their practices and where they come from, in relation to the discourses they produce and the social groups that the discourse is produced for” (Blommaert, 1999: 7). It is very difficult to give a clear definition of journalism and of its role in modern society. Yet, it is still clear that journalistic discourse has an immense impact on society. People tend to see and read what is said by the media as being taken for granted. Therefore journalism which is meant to report events ‘objectively’ finds itself propagating consciously -r unconsciously the views of the powerful.
Objectivity is a key concept to understand modern journalism. It is commonly believed that objectivity is related to what is external to the mind, that is what is uncoloured by feelings or opinions, and what is observable and verifiable. However, for journalism, objectivity has nothing to do with the dictionary definitions. In fact, as cited by Richardson (2007), for a journalistic truth claim to be objective, “the reported speech, included in whatever form - needs to be that of people other than the journalist.” (2007: 86). Therefore, we can say, as Hackett (1984) reported by Richardson (2007: 87) puts it that “an objective story is not one where claims and facts are separated from values and journalists act as neutral channels through which messages pass.” Objectivity in that sense is clearly a different one from what is commonly believed. The journalistic view of objectivity is what helps journalists to fend off any criticism, since they can claim that they were only reporting from other sources. In that sense news-agencies will logically (and even unconsciously) prefer to report the groups in power, such as the police, the government, etc. while other sources would be considered as mere exceptions to the norms. Thus, we can say that “access to the news is a power resource in itself” as cited by Richardson (2007: 87). In short, news media discourse is shaped by the elements in society that are powerful enough to acquire media attention.
Therefore, objectivity in journalism refers conventionally to the fact that the journalist should be reporting “someone” else’s truth fact and not his own. While we know that the actual social groups that are reported remain the same in every corner of the world, and are generally the social groups in power, we can understand that as journalism, which is believed to be objective, is in fact very much linked with hegemony, ideology and power, it must have a very important role in the construction of social reality.
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