Faced with differing sources who have varying agendas, what does the journalist do? Why, report them all fairly and in a balanced way, of course!
The problem with this compromising answer is that it doesn’t disclose the truth. “Balance” can mean giving equal play to all sides; or it can mean putting those who are bigger and louder on one side of the scale and all the others on the other side, to weigh equally. It can also mean abandoning all semblance of fairness by simply ignoring whatever the truth may be. Just let the story play out with he-said, she-said, they-said, we-all-said in a froth of opinions – and the hell with any solid substance.
It’s not good enough and it makes the media part of the muddle. That suits vested interests very nicely. It befuddles the public mind and allows the big boys to get away with what they are doing and not worry about indecent exposure. The media muddle through without a conscience, citing “objectivity” as their watchword.
Since the days that international news agencies realised that they could sell their copy to all comers if they avoided taking a position on issues, the cult of objectivity in journalism has meant balancing facts, evidence, guesses, spin, speculation, obfuscation and lies equally. Who knows where the truth lies?
Actually the journalist on the scene often does spy the truth. The famous American journalist Bob Halberstam – who had a part in exposing the My Lai massacre by US forces in in Vietnam – once said in a visit to the Rhodes University journalism department that one should “trust the victims”. That’s a watchword to beat cosy objectivity.
These thoughts are prompted by the experience I have just had in covering (or trying to uncover) the truth about energy in South Africa – the power that drives our lights, machines and lives. In another blog on SA’s energy madness I’ve reviewed the Powerlines workshop, concluding that what we are told about solutions to the energy crisis is generally far from the truth. One of the big “solutions” on offer, nuclear power, is neither safe nor affordable and is only sustainable if you believe that there won’t be accidents and we can deal with radiation waste effectively.
The “solution” of nuclear power is a lie. But because it involves huge outlays (R1 trillion) and large vested interests – government, Eskom, Russian suppliers and the construction industry – both safety and the environment are being ignored.
The victims in this case are likely to be all citizens, who first of all must foot the excessive bill for six new power stations; and then those living nearby to the power stations which are to be sited along our coastlines (for access to water). If, or maybe when, there are accidents, whole swathes of coastline could be ruined and uninhabitable for scores, hundreds, or even thousands of years.
Put that in your media pipe and smoke it. We are most of us, in fact, smoking our socks and willingly letting ourselves believe that the big boys know best and are solving our energy problem. They aren’t, and the media are hardly ever heard to say so.
It’s time we as journalists abandoned fence-sitting. The truth may not set us free. Some get imprisoned for it, like whistle-blower Bradley Manning who has received 35 years for his public-spirited disclosure of secret US correspondence. But truth should be told.