For several decades, journalists have held a privileged status as gatekeeper. As a gatekeeper it was their duty to decide which information enters the public and how (Trench, 2007). However, in the last ten years the role of a journalist has dramatically changed (Fahy and Nisbet, 2011). The audience do not have to rely on traditional media anymore, instead, they enter the web and look for specific information on web based platforms. A dizzying array of science information, misinformation and commentary that can be hard to sort through (Allan, 2011). How do we know which information is reliable?

Shifting roles
Journalists have shifted away from their traditional role as privileged ‘information couriers’. That is not to say that journalists no longer play an important role, on the contrary. Fahy and Nisbet (2011) mapped several unique typologies of journalistic roles, including the watchdog. This role is underwritten by the essential skills of revealing information in an objective, factual and critical manner on behalf of their audience. Because of their collaborative relationship with the audience, they are generally adopting a more critical and interpretative stance towards the industry and policy-oriented organizations.

Mind the gap
Will those watchdogs help you to gather reliable information? Mellado and Van Dalen (2014) argue that there is a significant gap between the journalistic role conceptions (how a journalist ought to do his job) and their role performance (how a journalist do his job). The factors explaining which journalists are more or less likely to put their ideals into practice, are based on political, economical and organization influences. The watchdog may be closely related to the professional ideal of the press as an autonomous fourth estate, but he experiences the most economical and political influences. This has led to an significant large gap, which can be explained by self-censorship1 .

However, the way political and economic influences are perceived by journalists is highly dependent on the national context (Hanitzsch and Mellado, 2011). This can be largely explained by the high levels of political parallelism, which refers to the fact that media in some countries have distinct political orientations, while media in other countries do not. Figure 1 illustrates these differences among countries.

1
The political and economic influences on journalism across countries

The international watchdog
Figure 1 points out that Turkey, as well as China, report the most political influence. Not suprissingly, after all the operations operated by the government of Erdogan. After the coup, for example, he imprisoned more than 30 journalists because they did not speak the “pro-Erdogan language”. It becomes even worse, when he wants to change the definition of a terrorist to include people who support the Kurds (including journalists).

 ‘It’s not only the person who pulls the trigger,
but those who made that possible who should also be defined as terrorists”

–  President
Erdogan (2016)

But how would it be to be an watchdog in an country as Turkey? An illustrative example of the situation in Turkey is the documentary of the Dutch journalist Fidan Ekiz called the “the pen and the sword”. It this documentary she points out the difficulties of being a watchdog under political influences. It reveals that watchdogs are being hunted by the institutions of Erdogan, while the citizens think that “there is no country in Europa, where you have more freedom of press as in Turkey”

2
        A fragment of the documentary “The pen and the sword” by Fidan Ekiz  

So, when there is so much press freedom, how can Ebru Umar (a Dutch columnist of the Metro) than being sued by the Turkish government? In the broadcasting of “De Wereld Draait Door” Ebru Umar confesses that she was sued by a Turkish man that felt insulted after reading her (somewhat critical) column. The man states that she insulted Erdogan, and therefore also the Turkish nation. But how about our “freedom of speech”?

Be the watchdog
In our country freedom of speech is so self evident, that you hardly wonder why it is so important. The documentary of Ekiz emphasizes the value of press freedom. For example, what if there where no watchdogs in Turkey? If we where only provided with news under control of Erdogan? Will their reality, become our reality too?

Not only in Turkey, China or Russia, but also in the Netherlands. How about the article that appeared on Vice (2016) after the House of Representatives abolished the medical confidentiality, silently? While we were all in discussion about the new donor law, the Dutch government changed the law so the health insurance companies can browse in our medical data. This could have an big impact on the covering of our insurance by health insurance companies. The question remains, why? To do something about a waste of 0.002% of the healthcare budget, which is two thousandths of one percent. Insane is a word that does not cover “the cargo”.

But how do we know that those conclusions above are not manipulated or out of context? How do we know that this journalist did not write for a company who will benefit from it? Like the newspapers in Turkey who are operated by Erdogan? How do we know that a source is trustworthy? In my opinion, the answer is simple: we don’t know. Every source of information is influenced, by certain people, with a certain view in a certain frame. Therefore, we have to rely on ourselves. Journalism of the future will be the audience who composes their one story. May this explain the exponential rise of crowd-checking(ING, 2014)?

 Self-censorship is the control of what you say or do in order to avoid annoying or offending others, but without being told officially that such control is necessary:

Crowd-checking means using public opinion to establish whether or not something is true (Campbell, 2011)


References

  • Allan S. (2011). Introduction: Science journalism in a digital age. Journalism, 12(7), 771-777. doi:10.1177/1464884911412688
  • Fahy, D., & Nisbet, M. (2011). The science journalist online: Shifting roles and emerging practices. Journalism12(7), 778-793.
  • Hanitzsch, T., & Mellado, C. (2011). What Shapes the News around the World? How Journalists in Eighteen Countries Perceive Influences on Their Work. The International Journal Of Press/Politics16(3), 404-426.
  • ING. (2014). Impact van social media op het nieuws. Retrieved from ING: https://ing.nl/media/ING_sming2014-rapport_tcm162-70316.pdf
  • Mellado, C. and A. Van Dalen (2014). “Between Rhetoric and Practice.” Journalism Studies 15(6): 859-878.
  • Trench B (2007) How the internet changed science journalism. In: Bauer M and Bucchi M (eds) Journalism, Science and Society: Science Communication: Between News and Public Relations. New York: Routledge, 133–141

 

 

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “

  1. Funny you chose that Vice article to discuss in your blog, I actually know the journalist who wrote it! So I trust that he wrote his article wholly independently and the views expressed are indeed his own. But oftentimes this is not the case; you never know why a journalist wrote what he or she wrote. I’d like to think that almost all journalists write independently, only censored by their editor and then only when they are for example being offensive or incorrect. But the thing is, even when there are no direct influences on the content, there are always indirect forces. Journalists are people, and people can get lied to and mislead. People can be lazy. People have their own subjectivity. Somebody who is sympathetic to the politically left, will be more critical towards right-wing politician from the onset. Right-wing readers will be immediately dismissive or clear left-leaning opinion articles and content published by what they perceive as left-wing media. In this sense, there is no such thing as truly independent journalists, be they watchdogs or not, as there are no truly independent people.

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  2. Interesting essay! I agree that readers should alway be critical and not believe everything that is written both offline and online. Nevertheless, I think it is mostly journalists who should be trained better and should value their journalistic code of always speaking the truth more. Above all, readers just want to open their apps and comfortably read their news without having to do a lot of work for it. It’s the journalists who chose this profession and should take this job seriously. They have a huge influence and I think it is their job and responsibility to tell the truth.

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  3. Thanks for your interesting blog! Though, I don’t fully understand your point of view. In your blog you focus on the freedom of press and political influences on the press in some countries, which I agree is bad. As for Erdogan, I think everyone agrees that locking away those people shouldn’t happen. Though, the reason we know this is happening, is because of the watchdogs. If we don’t believe the watchdogs, how can we ever be sure?

    As you say, you never know if something is true and when it is influenced by some factor. But does this mean we cannot rely on journalists in general? In that case we cannot rely on the audience either, because we all have our motives. So I’d rather keep relying on journalists, because I think in any case they have more knowledge than me about several topics, and just be a bit critical towards it.

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  4. Reading about the contradictions that exist between the freedom Turkish people feel and the freedom we perceive they have was very interesting. Personally, I find the structure of the blog as a whole a tiny bit messy, as the last point of the health care privacy is introduced a bit abrubtly. This is a very good example and I would have loved to hear more of your views about the matter! I do agree with your conclusion that we literally do not know whether a source is trustworhty. On the other hand, relying on our selves, as was discussed in the workgroups as well, seems a bit of an easy way out. Or actually not easy at all…

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  5. I agree with Toke and Roos on the fact that I also didn’t fully understand some parts in your reasoning. I had to read your blog several times to understand it. You tried to focus on reliability of the press in relation to role conflicts, and there is a lot to say about this topic. Try to delimit yourself to one issue within this topic and focus on that, for example Turkey / Ebru Umar / Erdogan, and structure your text like a ‘funnel’. Start with some context and don’t end with too much different examples.

    Your point of discussion is a very nice one. I agree with you that a reader can’t know for sure by what means someone writes an article. I don’t agree with the solution you give, not thrusting journalists at all (at least not in the Netherlands). I would prefer to keep in mind you should read multiple sources in order to get the full image. In that case you can get multiple perspectives on a certain topic, hopefully as independent as possible.

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  6. The examples you provide in your blog lead to something we have been discussing throughout this course: the public should have a critical point of view on journalism. This conclusion flows naturally from your examples and the other examples in the course, but it bothers me. Not because I disagree with you or the points made in class, but it bothers me that we cannot trust journalists anymore and that we have to be active in deciding whether something is true or not. I am not a journalist and I don’t have the resources at hand to find out whether a story checks out or not. If I cannot trust the news anymore, where do I get my information? Where will everyone else get their information? Should we all be personal journalists and find our own truths? I think we have more to do than find news and check it. It’s a sad thing, really.

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  7. I think that one of the reasons for the exponential rise of crowd-checking as you described, is the growing distrust of people in news channels. It is a good thing that we become more critical towards news stories, but journalists should be aware of their influences and roles. In this case, I find it very odd that there are so many countries where there is no freedom of press. In these countries, you basically always have to check important facts. To react on your statement, I agree that we have to become even more critical to news ourselves in the future.

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  8. The findings presented by ING in his study are quite controversial. I’m shocked that journalists expect more crowd-checking than fact-checking in the future. For me, it should be the opposite. With all the possibilities and data new media presents itself to people, journalists need to become a guide in different topics. People may agree or disagree with an article, but that news piece needs facts to be useful. Citizens can express themselves through Social Media, but that doesn’t make the content reliable. Every argument needs to be contextualized. For instance, Donald Trump presidential campaign is showing us how facts could be easily overshadowed by false claims. Unfortunately, the press becomes a tool for politicians to promote saying whatever they feel like to. Journalism needs to change in that aspect. Now that every person and company can publish is own news, journalists needs to be an agent of filtering the truth along with facts.

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  9. Your questioning of the watchdog role poses an interesting chance for debating on the need for updating traditional journalistic roles. Nowadays a watchdog might not only be the journalist actively working in a particular story but also the one who moderates, curates and verifies reports from other sources or fellow journalists to ascertain the veracity of the information. This is a challenge and the consequence of not succeeding at it might be an increase of the lack of trust in journalism you express in your views. In a rapidly changing post 9/11 world where traditional geopolitical narrative attempts become obsolete almost before being formulated and technology improves exponentially, a weekly column at the end of the newspaper means next to nothing.

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