Blair’s Attacks on Impact Journalism

Sirikit Syah
Bandar Seri Begawan

Last week, the outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair introduced us with “impact journalism”, a kind of journalism, strange even for a long time journalist like me. What I have learned from practice and theory of journalism is that there are precision and literary journalisms, which oppose each other in the language style they use, but bear the same old standard of accuracy and balance.

At the end of 20th century, some how, the journalism standard began to change. In peace journalism approach (which mission is promoting peace in conflict regions), journalists focus on peace effort and process. In this case, the criteria “magnitude” (big scale) is taken aside by criteria “small thing matters, as long as it is about peace”. Prominence doesn’t matter as much either, since the grass root is considered the genuine voice for the matter. In another approach, journalism of attachment (which allows journalists to be subjective and partial for the sake of truth and humanity), journalists do not wait for the second opinion or the other side when they see human tragedy. Most reports coming from Iraq and Palestine are acceptably one-sided.

It is quite interesting that, now, an important media source like Tony Blair is criticizing the media. He says that newspapers’ priority now is to boost sales and put truth and balance as secondary. He adds that newspapers are blurring news and comments, and even tearing people and reputations to bits. Is what he says true?

The name he gives to the way journalism is presented nowadays, the impact journalism, means that journalism gives strong impact to readers and –perhaps more importantly- to the sources; politicians and other public figures. The point is: what kind of impact?

The Press vs Politicians

Blair is following the steps of Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Jefferson on the press. They delivered satiric praises of the power of the press. Napoleon famously stated that “a pen is sharper than a sword”, while Churchill added, “The press worries me more than a thousand tanks”. Jefferson, who founded the First Amendment of US Bills of Rights (that there must not be any regulation imposed to the press), also put the glamour of the press by saying that he preferred to have the press without a nation rather than a nation without the press.

But different to them, Blair talks about the press not in satiric praise, but in a condemning tone. He forgets that for many decades towards the end of the 20th centuries, it was the elite who control the news. The elite here mean politicians. When the political elite are in power, they act as spin doctors. People cannot say what is right or wrong. Tony Blair won the British PM position because he was supported by a media baron. Rupert Murdoch, whose media moguls cover 4 continents, used his tabloid and TV channel in UK to make sure Blair won the election. Majority of British people read Murdoch tabloid and watched his TV Channel.

Now it comes the time when media no longer favor him, so now Blair says that the media is spinning against him and other leading figures in the government.

Attacks on Mass Media

In fact, national leaders do not help a lot when the press is under attack. A couple of years ago, a woman Italian journalist who was freed by its captors in Afghanistan even got shot by the US soldiers when her car approached the border. A number of journalists risking their lives for world reporting in dangerous zones quite often are attacked by the military personnel themselves, or if attacked or kidnapped, must survive on their own.

Alan Johnson, BBC correspondent in Iraq, is promised to be freed soon. Known for his fair and balanced reporting, he could be accused of being brainwashed if he didn’t talk bad about his captors as expected by leaders like Tony Blair and George W. Bush. Only a few months ago, 13 UK navy officers were released by the Iranian government and came home in healthy condition, as if they had been on vacation, despite the charges that they crossed national border without permit. And yet, some of them sold different stories to mass media, allowed by the Defense Ministry, a case that had never happened before. It looked like a negative propaganda against Iran, by using mass media.

The impacts of propaganda in the media by leaders like Bush and Blair, among others, is that people believe all Moslems are terrorists and that Indonesia and Malaysia are the breeding camps of them.

Now Blair is in his downfall. He accuses media as only focus on sales, not on truth and balance, ruining reputations. Prominent war journalist Robert Fisk and Martin Bell do not care about balance. Balance is not everything in news reporting now. Journalists have values, which will guide him to cover in balance or one-sidedly, if necessary. When Israel military bulldoze houses and gardens, you just report it as it is, no need to get the verifying voice from the military. When Blair is proved to be unpopular with his war on terrorism among Britons, you don’t need to ask for his counter comment/opinion.

June 19, 2007
The Brunei Times


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