This is a paper which is going to discuss whether or not the journalist serves the public interest. The work will look at what authors are saying about the ideal situation and what is actually happening.
According Brian McNair, there are two paradigms which explain the role of the media. In the competitive paradigm, which looks at the ideal situation, he said, “within it... the journalist is depicted as the servant of the public interest” (McNair, 1998:21). Journalism should represent the interest of the people but in the dominance paradigm where there are inequalities, it becomes difficult to say that the media is interested in serving the public. Fengler and Rub-Mohl (2008) found ‘the increasing commercialization of journalism has been sharply criticized by scholars of mass communication and observers of the media business alike’ (p.667). Ideally the Journalist must serve the public interest but in reality the journalist has not served the public interest well.
Journalism which “is often seen as a way of informing society about itself, in all society’s diversity” (Franklin et.al, 2005: 129), has so many definitions but McNair (1988) sees it as “any authored text, in written, audio or visual form, which claims to be a truthful statement about, or record of, some hitherto unknown (new) feature of the actual, social world” (p.4). A journalist is that individual who is engaged in the activity of gathering, processing and dissemination of the information. According Organisation of New Ombudsmen, the Press Complaints Commission Code defines the public interest as including but not confined to detecting and exposing crime or serious impropriety ... and preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual, or organization. It also said that there is public interest in freedom of expression in itself.
Chomsky and Herman (1988) acknowledged “the mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace” (p.1). The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2007:12). They also said “The news media serve as a watchdog, push people beyond complacency and offer a voice to the forgotten (ibid). This is the ideal situation but is it not like that in the real situation. Henry H. Schulte said, ‘holders of political office have always tried to put reporters in their pockets’ (1981: vii). They are the powerful and the journalist makes the society hear them and their ideologies more that the voice of the forgotten. As McNair (1998) puts it, ‘Journalism in this model serves not in the public ... but the dominant, private, selfish interests of a society stratified...” (p.22). In Ghana, most media houses talk more for the politician than to check them. Again there are people in the rural areas whose voices have been forgotten and most journalists too neglect them. They are concerned about the powerful and always spreading their ideology. If journalists are good at their job, they hold government and institution to account. This is what real Journalists do. They scrutinize the executives shine light on dark places and dig where others do not - all in the public interest.
Brain McNair’s definition mentioned that the journalistic product must be truthful so that the media win the trust of the public (1998:5). Kovach & Rosenstiel (2007) agrees “Journalism’s first obligation is to truth” (p.36), and ‘everyone agrees journalists must tell the truth ... (ibid). The point of verifying or confirming material is to try to guarantee its truth for the reader or listener’ (Mencher, 1996:94) and “most reporters understand that they should seek out truthful material” (ibid: 40) so that the public will trust them. The Journalist must be truthful but in the ideal situation where there is competition, inequalities and exploitation, they are ready to tell lies to impress the powerful in the society and also to put money into their pockets. This is not in the public interest. The Journalist is no more serving the public interest but the powerful. This is not serving the public interest.
Ideally, Brian McNair stated that, journalism has to give a platform that gives equal competition to all social groups. The journalist has to create a platform for people to discuss political and ideological issues. ‘The press provides the forum in which all sorts of ideas are presented; it becomes a marketplace of ideas’ (Ferguson & Patten, 1993:29). People will have to share their ideas and it will be in the interest of the public but according to William Melody, as a result of economic conditions or circumstances, access to the marketplace of ideas is restricted to a privilege few (melody, 1978, as cited in the Meier, 2000: 298). As citizens of the world we should have the right to access most diverse opinions and the accurate truthful information but with the concentration of media ownership, this information is heavily regulated and biased which decrease its investigative nature. The information we receive is adversely influenced by the interests of media organisations which provides it. If the media become overly concentrated it allow abuses of power, lack of diversity of opinion, conflicting interests and suppression of journalistic freedom. The consequence of this is a poorly unformed public and this definitely cannot be in the public interest.
There are some very good media houses and journalists out there doing a wonderful job for the society but a lot them are serving the interest of the powerful, owners, advertisers and themselves. A whole generation of journalists has now grown up never knowing or experiencing the creative ability to report in the public interest.
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MA in JOURNALISM,
GHANA INSTITUTE OF JOURNALISM.
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