Towards the culture of responsibility

Towards the culture of responsibility
The Higgs boson in Hrvatski Leskovac, “La Santa Maria” in the upper flow of the Vardar river, media integrity in today's newspapers

On the research study "Media Integrity Matters – Reclaiming public service values in media and journalism".

(Translated to English by Kanita Halilović.)

If my journalist colleagues find it easier, I don’t mind them thinking it is a bad joke to say that our media landscape is in such a state that news about a research study on something called “media integrity” in the countries of Southeastern Europe is more likely to find its way to one or another tabloid that regularly registers paranormal phenomena and bizarre discoveries than to the pages of so-called serious newspapers. And they are also free to think that I am being silly when I say that such a report is so unexpected that tabloid editors may feel challenged to publish it side by side with a story about, say, a discovery of Higgs boson at the secondary raw materials center in Hrvatski Leskovac or of  Colombo’s La Santa Maria shipwreck in the upper flow of the Vardar river.

At any rate, had the situation been different and had the so-called serious media cared about their credibility half as much as tabloids care about two-headed calves or silicone implants that explode in the midst of a video shooting session, well, in that case the research study described in the book Media Integrity Matters – Reclaiming public service values in media and journalism would be unnecessary. Unfortunately, since the media indifference to their own raison d'etre has reached such proportions that it is on the verge of turning into an epidemic of social stupor, the task of searching for the lost integrity – executed under the leadership of Brankica Petković and her assistants Jovana Mihajlović Trbovc and Maja Ladić of the Peace Institute, Ljubljana, by Ilda Londo in Albania, Sanela Hodžić in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Helena Popović in Croatia, Snežana Trpevska and Igor Macevski in Macedonia, and Jovanka Matić and Dubravka Valić Nedeljković in Serbia – proved to be an absolute necessity.

Local findings that point to the global problems

Even if journalists and editors who complacently opted for the oblivion of their human duty and professional obligation to be credible choose to ignore this research, it will undoubtedly be warmly welcomed by indestructible readers who will find in it what they most of the time seek in media but without success – a conversation partner ready to discuss the topics of essential importance for them, about problems that put them in jeopardy and about the processes that impinge on their dignity.  The fundamental value of this research lies in the fact that it challenges the media's civilizational role, i.e. the social, cultural and economic one, in the manner in which the media themselves should challenge the world around them. Equally importantly, drawing on the fascinating volume of collected data it speaks about the unsustainability of the existing state of affairs, about the danger that it will deteriorate even further, and about the opening of new channels for journalism to return to the service of the public.
Although the research team focused on the media situation in the countries where restrictions on freedom of speech had been imposed systematically for decades, ostentatiously in the name of the public interest, and where that practice was not abandoned even during the transition from unfree socialism to the none-more -free capitalism, the local findings point to the global problems. Indeed, viewed from the perspective of the countries with stronger democratic traditions, many things in this study may appear as transitional exotics, but numerous examples prove that the repression of media freedom in Southeastern Europe is inseparable from the global processes through which journalism is being transformed into a profession that serves the centers of political and economic power.

Witnessing the game in a global casino

If today the world functions as a casino in which the lords of the so-called free market are willing to gamble away the entire humankind, the blame should not be put only on foolhardy entrepreneurs but also the media that have been witness to the game from the very beginning.  Unfortunately, instead of making an effort to fulfill their task and protect the public interest and the public money that was used to pay back the debts of big players, they kept silent protecting in this way the privacy of gamblers so that the roulette wheel could keep on turning at the same expense, with successive governments fulfilling the role of croupier. The franchises of the global casino operate everywhere in more or less the same manner, including the countries covered by this research. Their media tend to be very loud critics of the events of 2008 but only in order to drown out their own silence about the game that takes place in front of their eyes. So when in this book you come across the statement of an Albanian journalist that „self-censorship has over time become an integral part of journalism,“ you will know that these words have been taken from the wide-closed mouths of his colleagues across the globe. Or, when you read a disheartening question asking whether today’s media texts still deserve to be called journalism, which reflects the „achievements“ of Macedonian gazdas and the outcome of the political bullying of Macedonian journalists, you can be sure that it calls for an answer not only in Macedonian but also in nearly all world languages subdued by journalists stymied by threats and blackmailing.

The regional overview that takes us on a research trip across the devastated media landscapes of Southeastern Europe clearly exposes the generator of global problems: the ruling political –economic constellation in which media are viewed as „capitalist enterprises par excellence“ whose „primary task is to support the capitalist system.“ And this system, by virtue of the logic of self-preservation, “literally enforces the media to establish 'incestuous relations' with various centers of power.”
In the economically devastated and democratically deficient countries like the ones covered by this research, the humiliation of journalists is only more obvious. “Professionally reduced to a ‘microphone holder’ and economically reduced to a precarious worker without rights,” a journalist usually receives the salary that is not only miserable but also irregular. Therefore, it is not surprising that “in such circumstances of predatory capitalism, ethical issues in journalism are considered a ‘luxury’ by many interviewed journalists,” but it is also ethically unacceptable that journalists, practically without resistance, have waived the “luxury” of taking professional responsibility towards themselves and the public.

Betraying freedom of speech for freedom of market

Journalism has always and invariably been inhabited with clerks and hirelings, sycophants and cowards, mediocrity and mediaocrity, but it is unlikely that they have ever propagated on such a large, global scale or have been as much part of the system as they are in the 21st century. The cause is not a conspiracy of some idiots or dastards, but – as this book clearly demonstrates – “a result of predominant economic relations” which create a legal framework that prevents and crudely restricts the media from serving the public interest. Nevertheless, it is necessary to remind the readers that in creating such economic relations, an essential role was played precisely by the media which betrayed genuine freedom of speech in the name of the professed freedom of the market, some of them through passivity and others through intense activity. In so doing, they made themselves economically dependent on their own silence that was even larger than the power figures whom they flattered expected.  

This moral bankruptcy could not but be followed by the economic one. The public was successfully scared away and the money lords promptly realized that media servility no longer needed to be greased ether by advertising or under-the-table money. They understood that the media placed themselves in a position in which they were willing to serve them even without payment.
It may appear paradoxical, but it is precisely this kind of situation – when the media are left naked, the journalists utterly humiliated and media owners frantic with worries caused by financial traumas, pre-bankruptcy negotiations or a very understandable fear of punishments for frauds, tax avoidance and evasion – that creates a chance for the public to reclaim the media and for the media to start again earning money in an honest way. That is to say, earning money in the way chosen by those journalists who, in the words of the Albanian colleague, Artan Hoxha, perform their tasks with “passion and courage,” and “not only refuse to succumb in difficult circumstances but even step up their efforts and enhance their professional level.” While it would be illusionary to expect from those rare individuals to fix the catastrophic state of the media on their own, we should also not be deluded to think that anything can be changed without journalists possessing such moral integrity. Therefore, if there is anyone left out there who feels responsibility and who is aware that their further fall into the abyss of barbarism, helped by both the intractable overlords and conformists without power, cannot be prevented unless we have free and non-corrupt media, then it is their duty to ensure for the journalists – as this research has concluded – to ensure basic conditions “if journalists are to fulfil their fundamental mission – act as citizens’ representatives and guardians of freedom of speech.”.

Refusing to look at the mirror

Media Integrity Matters – Reclaiming public service values in media and journalism is an intellectually courageous, professionally honest, methodologically demanding and primarily socially valuable project that works towards the culture of responsibility. Many threats and obstacles to free and responsible journalism have been probed, but with the same fastidiousness examples of good practices that open new avenues were identified and researched. Many questions have been asked and none is superfluous. Those who care and who want to make the world a more worthy place to live, with the help of credible media among other things, will find worthy answers and solutions. Certain solutions have been suggested by the project team in this book, and these are not of the kind that is today commonly preferred – ready-made and superficial media recipes for all kinds of maladies, ranging from sex and diet problems to healthy life even after death. The present, miserable image of the media took a long time to form, and conversely, a lot of time and effort must be spent to change it.

There are too many reasons for which the contemporary media – corporate, corruptocratic, public service, private-subservient, ostensibly serious and forcefully entertaining – will behave as if this study has never been conducted and its findings never published. They will fly from this book in the way they fly from themselves. Because the contemporary media are a mirror into which their creators – editors and journalists – refuse to look lest they could see their own reflection. Perhaps they would be ashamed at what they saw.

It is precisely this confrontation with shame that is necessary if this mirror is to reflect at some point in the future something of which an honest man would not be ashamed. This book takes us towards that something honest.


Media Integrity