Maybe a huge problem of today’s journalism is the fact that almost anyone will claim to be a journalist. The other day, I wrote about how Sierra Leone’s Media Regulator, the Independent Media Commission will require newspapers and broadcast stations for example to have communication and media graduates only as editors and managers, but then, happenings on the ground continue to suggest otherwise. With this and a lot more other issues, we really and truly have a long way to go.
Sierra Leone’s Justice Dr., Abou Bakarr Mohamed Binneh Kamara is on record to have said that ‘there is no place for falsehood in journalism.’ In fact, he has even joked on countless occasions that anyone who attempts to write the above and quote him for example would get some free 5 Marks. Colleagues that have studied or are still studying Mass Communication at Fourah Bay College may have some understanding about this. So, like he’d almost always say again, ‘let me forge ahead.’
I approach this topic from the standpoint of not just a journalist, but as an educator that has practiced and is still practicing the craft, profession and or trade; depending on the position one chooses to hold up to light. There have been endless theories on what journalism is all about and what is expected of journalists. Three journalistic models that have stood out have to do with the watchdog, attack dog and lapdog functions of the press and newsmen.
Sierra Leone’s case is clearer on what journalists are expected to do. One of such expectations is that newsmen have a duty to self and to society by ensuring that accountability and transparency take center stage, but could this be the case for Sierra Leone’s under resourced media profession? I will argue that as a people, we still have some catching up to do. Our country has lived and is still living in times where a good number of media entities and establishments are owned by politicians, business entities, corporate organizations etc. With this in mind, one may be left to assume that these entities cannot afford to go against their pay masters for ‘you cannot bite the finger that feeds you, you cannot urinate against the wind.’
That is why editorial independence is very essential. Tsedu (2009) has noted that the absence of editorial independence negates the platform on which journalism is based. What could this platform be? Ken, did state that the duty of journalists is to get the facts right and that the golden rule of journalism is to allow the people and facts to speak for themselves.
Whiles this happens sometimes, it is but fitting to assert that it does not happen all the time. Ideally, media theories have it that journalism has to work by the notion of ABCs. That is to say, at all times, newsmen are expected to accurate, have a balanced perspective and that they should be clear about matters. The challenge in matching the demands of this assumption is that and like Lance did argue, the value inherent in political events is one of the obstacles to objectivity. He also noted that the rush to meet unreasonably short deadlines and the deception of newsmakers could be other challenges.
Maybe it is necessary to agree with the learned scholar in many respects. For Sierra Leone’s case, majority of our countrymen either sympathize with the APC, SLPP, NGC or PMDC and the other ‘minor parties’ now have their own share of the cake too. In such circumstances, it is hard for newsmen to stand out and uphold the actual principles of journalistic professionalism. No wonder, we always have some sensational headlines in some publications, and yes, some broadcasters already have their positions even before the agenda is set.
So, we still have a long way to go. In the 2016 Sierra Leone’s State of the Media Report, Isaac Massaquoi takes on the controversial concept of “objectivity” and argues that the professional world of journalism should ‘ditch’ the concept to save the profession. For Isaac, ‘the concept of objectivity has remained one of the great confusions of journalism since it appeared in journalistic discourse in the first half of the nineteenth century. In fact, in modern times the meaning of the word in theory and practice is lost. When the concept originally evolved, it was not meant to imply that journalists were free of bias. It emerged in the 1920s out of a growing recognition that journalists were full of bias, often unconsciously.
To deal with that objectivity required journalists to develop a consistent method of testing information – a transparent approach to evidence – precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of their work (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2001p, 73).’ According to Tuchman (1972) to Journalists, like social scientists, the term ‘objectivity’ stands as a bulwark between themselves and their critics whenever they are attacked for a controversial presentation of ‘facts’, journalists defensively use objectivity as a ‘strategic ritual’ to protect themselves from their critics.
Dr. Massaquoi noted that ‘the idea of maintaining objectivity even as a so called strategic ritual is coming under serious threat from many sides – from a significant body of practitioners who find the insistence on journalism being slavishly loyal to the dictates of the prescriptions contained in media.’
Professor Ritchard M’Bayo did make a case that ‘the new media, the Internet and, most significantly, social media, have not only expanded the public space and public discourse, they are redefining journalistic practice and introducing new players – citizen journalists, bloggers, fake journalism, fake news, etc. He added that members of the public are mobilizing around issues and affected interests in ways that we have never experienced before. A rich array of alternative voices is now part of the mosaic of public discourse. In Sierra Leone, and anyone with access to a computer/laptop or smart phone is potentially a journalist. There is excitement and personal gratification in the brave new world of communication! To be able to add one’s voice to the plethora of voices in the market place of political communication gives some people a personal sense of gratification, but a false sense of empowerment.’
The itinerant Prof. concluded that the mainstream media should begin to endeavor to regain credibility in the eyes of the public by being mindful of the role of journalism in contemporary democratic societies 4, as outlined by Christians, et al: (1) the Monitorial or Watchdog function – collecting, processing, and disseminating genuine and factual information, (2) Facilitative Role – contributing toward improving the quality of life for all and promoting deliberative forms of democracy, (3) Radical Role, focusing on exposing abuses of power and corruption and aiming to raise public consciousness of wrongdoing, inequality, and the potential for change, and (4) Collaborative Role, collaboration between media and state under unusual circumstances of crisis or emergency, or threats to the society from external or internal sources.
In concluding, maybe this debate would be unending, but one thing that newsmen may need is critical thinking. Critical thinking might be described as the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking.
In essence, critical thinking requires you to use your ability to reason. It is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information.
Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding that they do not.
Critical thinkers will identify, analyze and solve problems systematically rather than by intuition or instinct.
Someone with critical thinking skills can:
Understand the links between ideas.
Determine the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas.
Recognize, build and appraise arguments.
Identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning.
Approach problems in a consistent and systematic way.
Reflect on the justification of assumptions, beliefs and values.
Critical thinking is thinking about things in certain ways so as to arrive at the best possible solution in the circumstances that the thinker is aware of.
In more everyday language, it is a way of thinking about whatever is presently occupying your mind so that you come to the best possible conclusion.
So, let me end by noting that we may not always be right, but we should be mindful that our duty is to get the facts right. As journalists, let us strive to put away our emotions and report the news as it is and not to please paymasters. We may not be there just yet, but let us try as best as possible to amend what we could.