The media was once considered a pillar that guaranteed a country’s democratic system. The role of the media was to provide a forum for freedom of speech, freedom of information, and scrutinize political leaders, policies, decisions, and actions. The media enabled citizens to make informed decisions on the selection of their leaders, once carrying great sway.
The expose of the Watergate Hotel break-in and its connections right up to the top echelons of the White House by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post in 1972 is heralded as the best example of the investigative journalism that exposed corruption in government. This was the golden era of journalism.
Since then, journalism has dramatically changed. There are now many laws hindering investigative journalism. Whistle-blowers are now more viciously sort out and punished by authorities, even though many countries claim to have enacted laws to protect them. Defamation laws are now tighter, journalists themselves are persecuted, and prosecuted under draconian laws around the world. Media companies themselves have become owned by organizations that pursue particular political narratives. The nature of journalists and environment they work within is very different from what it once was.
Journalism is a high-risk occupation in many countries. According to Reporters Without Borders, arbitrary detention of journalists in 2021 was 488, while 65 were held hostage in some part of the world. Forty-six journalists lost their lives in the line of duty and 2 are missing. These figures don’t include the number of journalists facing civil and criminal suits for defamation, news portals like Terry Xu’s Online Citizen in Singapore being forcibly shut down by authorities, and those investigated and charged under draconian laws like the Official Secrets Act. Police forces raid and intimidate journalists and treat them as they are criminals.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2021 focused on the worldwide suppression of the media and press freedom in their selection of Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia as joint Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.
One of the major threats to the integrity of journalism is coming from within. The media’s traditional role has been to inform the public of the facts. However, this has been hijacked by the media organizations themselves.
Most media corporations, including independent media, have allowed strong editorial lines to evolve over many issues. They have set positions over climate change, SARS Covid 2, Black Lives Matter, ‘woke’, and the EU. Journalists consequently must practice self-censorship to remain employed. Any investigative or critical articles researched by and written by journalists must carry their employer’s editorial line.
Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) journalist Tara Henley gave some insight into the culture of a major news broadcaster, claiming the CBC has gone from being a trusted source of news, to churning out clickbait that reads like a parody of the student press. Henley continues saying that the CBC pretends that the “woke” worldview is universal and pursues issues that provide and monetize outrage against views that social media platforms are hostile to. Sweeping societal changing issues like lockdowns, vaccine mandates, and school closures are largely left without any insightful examination or debate. Many critical articles rise little above ad hominem attacks or use anecdotes to justify arguments. According to Henley, journalists and staff are now employed according to qualifications and meeting particular profiles.
Many media organizations are suffering massive drops in ratings. Long trusted news networks including the BBC, CBC, CNN, and ABC Australia have all fallen dramatically in viewership.
Outside pressure groups have compromised media organizations, turning them into propaganda mouthpieces to disseminate specific editorial agendas. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave a grant to The Guardian of USD 3,499,032 in September 2020 to increase awareness on global health and public medicine.
With the ABC, BBC, CBC, and CNN on one side and Fox and Sky News on the other side, very few journalists within the mainstream media have been able to critically analyse major issues objectively. Networks were clearly partisan on the major issues of the era, the Iraq war and weapons of mass destruction, the January 6 riots, Trump’s Russiagate, and Hunter Biden hardisk, are just a few examples. This has not been assisted by social media platforms which have become clearly partisan, removing content that doesn’t meet their clandestine editorial lines. Facebook even has a blacklist of unacceptable organizations. Mistakenly banning information is becoming a growing problem.
Another major influence upon journalism today is the development of the journalism degree, turning journalism into a pseudo academic profession. Traditionally, cadet journalists would follow a career path after an apprenticeship in a media organization, picking up the skills of information seeking, research, writing, and editing, as they go along. This has now changed with a journalism degree being a prerequisite of employment within many media organizations.