Thursday, 15 August 2013

Media Lens - the truth of advocacy journalism

The latest excellent Media Lens Alert, All Journalism is 'Advocacy Journalism', helps expose not only the mythology of 'objective reporting', but the conformist interpretation of motives within that corporate-dominated field.   

It offers, in particular, a neat dissection of the actual motivations behind Amazon-owning billionaire Jeffrey Bezoz's recent purchase of the Washington Post, highlighting many journalists' ready-reading of the takeover as some kind of 'noble', 'benevolent' act.

As Media Lens and a few notable others show, Bezoz has appropriated the paper not only as a profit-seeking concern, but as a platform for disseminating and protecting his own corporate interests.

This shouldn't come as any major revelation. But, as ML illustrate in, for example, the BBC's coverage of the deal, not only is the main motive conspicuously absent, so too is the most basic recognition that a corporate media in itself will always mean an advocacy journalism safely suited to corporate-establishment interests.

Thus, note ML:       
on the BBC website, Tara McKelvey's ostensibly 'objective' journalism reported that Jeffrey Bezos, the founder of online retail giant Amazon, had bought the newspaper Washington Post [.] What is Bezos' motive? 'Is it vanity, philanthropy - or good business sense?' The possibility that Bezos might be driven by greed for influence, power and profit did not appear on McKelvey's list. Instead, she gave credence to the benevolent explanation:

'Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?, says he hopes Bezos will shake things up at the Post and help it adapt to a post-print world. '"In some ways it has to be a philanthropic act," says Jarvis of the purchase. "Bezos is trying to protect an American institution."'
McKelvey had nothing to say about the implications for democracy and truth-telling of the fact that a major 'free press' newspaper can be bought by a billionaire worth $25.2bn as though it were a car or a football club. She did not question whether media corporations owned by tycoons and oligarchs can report honestly on a world dominated by tycoons and oligarchs.
Again, a seemingly elementary truth, yet one which most editors and journalists will rarely engage - even if they actually see the issue.  

One might add here (as ML have discussed elsewhere) that just as all journalism is, in whatever form, advocacy journalism, so too is most advocated training in journalism.

Just as dominant ideas and interests largely prevail in the production and filtering of journalistic reports, comment and analysis, so also does 'journalism school' teach a selectively-advocated version of career-promoting and institutionally compliant journalism.

Thus, there's an almost blanket absence of such Media Lens-type perspectives - which, by its own logical admission, is also subjectively-offered advocacy journalism - in academic and 'in-house' (like the Guardian's) journalism courses.

This is vital in serving to reinforce and perpetuate the standard liberal myth of 'free and objective' journalism.

One can readily see how, exposed at the outset to such 'rudiments', the entire pathway of any emerging journalist will be 'signposted' by such warnings, directions and understandings. 

Imagine the new student being given ML's kind of critically-stimulating material as preparatory thinking on what constitutes advocacy journalism and the reality of 'objective' reporting.

Of course, even were it to be encountered, included or discussed, it would be flagged as 'controversial' and, with perverse liberal irony, marginalised as 'just advocacy journalism'. 

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