Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Vol #2, Col #17: No News is Good News

I’m a sucker for a good biopic. Though I can’t quite put my finger on why it’s the case, there’s something just more appealing to me about watching a film that’s based on true events and real life people that once existed.

While it was no grade A cinematic experience (ie: it was a “made-for-tv” movie), the other day I bore witness to “The True Story of Bonnie & Clyde”. Compiled from documents and narratives from those who knew them personally, the aforementioned screenplay detailed the borderline abusive and extremely manipulative relationship that existed between the couple. 

Now, if it weren’t for my chance viewing of this film, I still would very much be under the misconception I’m sure many of you shared with me that both Bonnie and Clyde were equally matched renegades who happened to find each other and spiral madly into a romantic affair based on their shared love of violence and crime. Well my friends, I hate to burst your bubble, but this media spun sensationalistic version of their tale couldn’t be further from the truth. All of this led me to question: “what has the role of the media (moreover “the news media”) become in modern society if recounting stories from purely objective factual stances is clearly no longer their strong suit?”

Now, it’s no new “a-ha moment” that the media (in all of its forms) sadly need to first and foremost appease their corporate sponsors and advertisers as said companies allow them to continue to exist. However, not so long ago I do recall the expression, “freedom of the press” being heralded when a controversial story broke, and investigative journalism being something one aspired to.

These days, on the contrary, the vast majority of Canada’s mainstream media is owned by only a handful of corporate conglomerates that regurgitate the same news items among themselves. Not only does this lead to a skewed perception of reality, but further it censors dissenting thoughts because it’d be “bad business practice” to out the conglomerate(s) responsible for keeping you employed no matter what their other business dealings may reveal.
With the upsurge of citizen journalism (ie: newstelling by the people) because of the blogosphere, camera cell phones, and sites like Youtube, despite its obvious flaw in that it lacks any sense of established “standard”, there was a growing sense of hope that the “news” would revert back to the reporting of factual events and happenings about which the public has a right to know as opposed to sheer propaganda for corporate sponsors. But, it would seem that nothing is sacred as marketers are now locking jaws onto any opportunity they can to promote their products and services on free-to-use social networking and citizen journalism sites.

While one could argue that what I’ve outlined above captures the very rationale behind and need for public government-funded broadcasters, in my experience, I hate to say it, but they typically aren’t much better in terms of business practises. With restrictive broadcasting guidelines and a similar bureaucratic all-seeing eye, the news that passes through filter upon filter upon filter before reaching the public is very much a “whitewashed version”; hardly what we should expect, moreover demand from those who are supposedly the “watchdogs of our nation.” This, of course, makes sense though given that many governments, in recent years, have allowed big businesses to bypass legislation (including laws associated with universal human rights, no joke!) purely to keep their economies a-booming. But I digress…

The point is this: as dictated by several associations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, there exists a code of ethics, akin to the Hippocratic Oath that physicians are to abide by, in order to protect the public and “professionalize” the field. “Truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability” are values that are supposed to be held paramount to all others if one chooses to undertake this line of work.

People make decisions based on the information with which they are provided. Said decisions lead to actions which have real-life consequences. While information is accessible through many outlets in the modern age, many of us still rely heavily on the news media in order to remain informed. If we are supposed to act intelligently as informed citizens, I don’t think it’s too much to ask of our news media to do just that (ie: inform us, NOT selectively and NOT with bias).

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