How Powerful Is Free Press?

Upon entering the field of endless media, news coverage, and featured stories, we cannot get around the subject of free press and censorship. It is a common perception and it is praised in the West, that we have free media and freedom of speech.

Beautifully said, as a reporter or a journalist, your first obligation is to speak the truth, and then to be loyal to the citizens. You are an independent monitor of powers such as governments and corporations, and you’re providing with a public forum for criticism and compromise.

Recent events, such as the Panama Papers leaks, where 11.5 million documents of offshore accounts were exposed, showed just how big an impact media can have in politics. In the aftermath several heads of state were pushed to publically apologize, and some were even forced to resign.

In 2012, CNN journalist Amber Lyon, three times award winner, blew the whistle on CNN. She had been covering the Arab Spring from Bahrain, where she had documented abuse and torture of the citizens. CNN, like many other channels, have sponsors, and had prior to Amber Lyon’s iRevolution documentary about Bahrain, received a great amount of money from “Bahrain Economic Development Board for Advertising”. Needless to say, when Ms. Lyon’s documentary was canceled from CNN she accused the channel for being biased towards Bahrain, and she was dismissed.

When it comes to coverage of wars and conflicts, one of the most common ways of reporting is through “embedded journalism”. As a journalist, given access to relevant information and valid sources can often come at a compromise. The term “embedded” means that the reporter follows the military in a system, often laid down by Pentagon (USA) or Ministry of Defense (England). The reporter follows specific assignments and conferences, which are carefully planned for TV and the public. Few are daring to report independently.

One channel dared to let their journalists behind civilian lines during the Iraq war, as well as under the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. Al Jazeera reported some of the brutal losses on civilians, which come as high as 90% of the casualties, however – it did have consequences. Their offices were bombed in Baghdad in 2003, and in Kabul in 2001 where they even received warnings, before their buildings were turned into rubble.

To look at a large image, the coverage prior and during the Iraq war was disproportional. A study done by the University of Maryland showed that 71% of American media sources were showing pro-war features, while only 3% showed anti-war, and 26% of the sources were neutral.

Does sponsored channels and government controlled information equal free press and freedom of speech?

It is often interesting to look into how some stories make the final cut, in the editing room, while others are silenced out. 2015 seemed like a year, where we were flooded with images of Syrian refugees and drowned children.  Right-wing politicians were screaming out for tighter immigration laws and closed borders. However, behind this massive coverage of refugees, Saudi Arabia was, despite of their breaches of human rights, elected to sit in the Human Rights Council for the UN. A country, which is known for executing minors. It is hard not to question, why the fact that Saudi Arabia’s seated in the Human Rights Council in the UN, did not make the news.

The Danish government has internationally been under hot water, for implementing a new law which allows the authorities to confiscate valuables from the refugees, seeking asylum in Denmark. Just a week before voting on the bill, the second largest TV channel aired a piece, showing “ungrateful” refugees. They were complaining about the conditions which they lived under, and claimed that they had it better in their home country, and were all going to fly back home. It didn’t take long, before the Integration Minister (Inger Støjberg red.) publically shamed all the refugees, pointing out that they did not have a reason to stay.

There was a huge issue about this broadcast. None of the interviewed were refugees. They were Iranian immigrants who tried their luck, and therefore not escaping war nor conflict. The free Danish press did either not know the difference between the situations of Iran and Iraq, or they saw their opportunity to cooporate with the government, in order to find support for the “jewelry bill”.

It can sometimes be hard to read in between the lines. In the West, we are brought up to believe, that we have free press and freedom of speech. But is our media truly free, when they receive sponsorships from governments and cooperation? And what is the freedom of speech good for, when it is silenced out by louder voices?

It is up to the critical mind to judge how to perceive the media, and to look further behind the work of journalists and reporters. If the journalists’ first obligation is to tell the truth – search for voices on both sides. If their loyalty is to the citizens – look out for the sponsors behind, and who might benefit from the news. If they are monitors of governments and corporations – are they truly independent? And are you able to speak up and be heard, when the media do not follow the ethics of journalism?

 

This article was written by Simone Donvang.| Simone is a convert to Islam, and is mainly working freelance within marketing, graphic designs and photography. Most of her interests are with politics, sociology and journalism. She is regularly traveling and is on a yearly basis, going to at least three different countries. She is currently based in Vietnam.

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