[Outlook]A noble professionJournalists tend to be criticized and condemned due to the nature of their job. Being “unpopular” is said to be the primary requirement to be a journalist. In every country, there have been measures aimed at “killing journalists.”
Thomas Jefferson once said if he had to decide whether to have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, he would choose the latter. But later he became disillusioned with partisan journalism and claimed that newspaper articles must be categorized four ways: One for the truth, one for what sounds probable, one for what is likely and one for lie.
Walter Lippman, one of this era’s most respected journalists, called the job of journalist the final shelter for those with ordinary talent. Mostly thanks to his suggestions on the further education of journalists, the Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, a midcareer fellowship for journalists, was established.
The basic logic behind “killing journalists” is that without professional knowledge, they spread bad news and make the world bleak. They make assumptions and put them into stories, thus distorting the truth. And they are motivated by money and status rather than by a sense of duty. On top of this, Korean journalists are accused of confiscating documents, threatening people and producing more or less similar articles while hanging out in pressrooms.
Journalism scholars say that in Korea, journalists only deliver what sources say so there is no journalism in the truest sense of the word. If the government shuts down pressrooms in government offices, even this shallow journalism would disappear. What comes next? Must all Korean journalists be killed?
Last semester, I had a chance to teach a course called “Global journalism and Korean journalism” at Sogang University’s Graduate School of Mass Communication. It was an attempt to assess the present state of Korean journalism amid the rapid globalization of news coverage, reporters and management of media outlets. Are there global standards in journalism? If so, where does Korea’s journalism stand? Is it possible to have a Korean journalistic model?
Golden standards for accuracy and balance do exist in the world, but the environment to realize them varies from society to society depending on the philosophy of journalism and the development of journalistic and cultural practices. There are no standards to differentiate advanced and underdeveloped journalism.
It is not only in Korea that the media criticize or attack the government. American major dailies, such as the New York Times, which has a liberal bias, have lowered President George W. Bush’s approval rating to 20 percent.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair likened the media to a feral beast who lives with people but suddenly becomes aggressive. But he stepped back, saying that no matter how vicious the media attacks he suffered were, it was still a small price to pay compared to the enormous privileges that he has as prime minister.
Britain has a variety of media outlets with different characteristics. The British Broadcasting Company is a public service broadcaster, and for newspapers, there are a wide range of choices from first-rate to tabloids. There is a funny saying about Britain’s newspapers. Those who lead Britain read the Times, those who believe that they lead Britain read the Daily Mirror, those who believe they are the right people to lead Britain read the Guardian and those who own Britain read the Financial Times. The Sun is read by those who think it doesn’t matter who leads the country as long as photos of young women’s chests appear in the newspaper every day.
In a country with a presidential system, pressrooms in government offices are respected as a place that the people provide for journalists to monitor the government.
The media are also part of the social system, so news and events are delivered in a way that is defined by society’s prevailing values and interests. It is narrow-minded to say that mainstream media outlets have furthered despotic military rule, rather than resisting or criticizing it.
The incumbent president said that those journalists who quit their jobs during the military regime protected the pride and honor of all journalists. This remark naturally offended many who have been working for decades in the field.
James Reston, a renowned journalist in the 20th century, stressed that he was not a philosopher like Lippmann but a reporter who delivers someone else’s ideas, a journalist who finds the best resources when something happens and delivers the news accurately and faithfully.
A fact is not necessarily the whole truth. The process of finding the truth from facts is journalism.
A journalist bridges the world of actions, the world of experts and the world of laymen, one of the most important jobs in the world. Despite condemnation and prosecution, journalists never die. They just fade away.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun