It’s not about the flags. It was never about the flags. One half of the fuss about a story lately peddled by the British media claiming Nicola Sturgeon had ordered every Union flag in Scotland to be seized and ceremonially burned (or whatever it was) totally missed the point. With characteristic shallowness, British Nationalist politicians and commentators and social media outrage-addicts foolishly supposed that flags were central to the issue. Tweets from the likes of Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale revealed that they thought the First Minister’s protests were about flags. They seemed to have got carried away with the notion that Nicola was defending her decision to order the confiscation and incineration of every Union flag in the land. Being endowed with all the intellectual prowess of plastic cutlery, it never occurred to them to ask whether she actually had commanded her flying monkeys to scour the whole of Scotland for offending flags in order to have them consumed in cleansing fire.
They never thought to ask. and that is the point. Nobody whose sympathies lie with the British Nationalist cause thought to ask the pertinent questions. Or they asked entirely the wrong questions.
This failure of scrutiny is particularly deplorable in the media which initiated the story. Questions are the fundamental tools of journalism. It’s all about the “who,” “what,” “where,” when,” “why” and “how”. If you’re not asking those questions, whatever it is that you’re doing, it’s not journalism.
But those are just the basic tools. There are more probing questions that good journalism. demands be asked. Questions which go beyond names, dates and locations. Is the story true? Can the facts be verified? Are the conclusions justified? Is the story even credible?
If called upon to defend the story, can I do so without resorting to accusations of unwarranted attacks on free speech?
The ‘flags’ story was not subjected to any such interrogation. If even one of these questions had been posed, then the story would have evaporated. So the questions were assiduously avoided. The journalists responsible decided not to do journalism. They chose to do something else instead. They opted to do something that is as close might be possible to the opposite of journalism. I’m not sure there’s even a name for it.
If any questions were asked, they were the wrong questions. They were not the sort of questions a professional journalist would ask. Or, at least, not the sort of questions that should ever be the first and only ones asked. It is perfectly legitimate for a journalist to ask whether a story serves a particular editorial line or political agenda. They are, after all, mercenaries. They are paid for their skill in presenting stories in particular ways. With the exception (in theory, at least) of certain parts of the broadcast media, there is no obligation to be unbiased. Newspapers, in particular, are not required to provide balance. The media are not a window on the world. They are a lens through which the world can be seen only as the owner of that lens wants it to be seen. In general, journalists do the bidding of whoever writes the cheques.
It would be naive to suppose that journalists are there simply to provide the facts. It’s not facts they care about, but effect. They shape a story to have the impact they – or their employers – desire. The better a journalist is at massaging the story in order to manipulate perceptions, the more saleable their skills.
All of this is perfectly OK. But only so long as the basic questions are satisfactorily answered first. It’s fine for a journalist to keep their paymaster happy by applying the right spin. Putting a particular slant on a story is perfectly legitimate. But it’s only ‘real’ journalism if the spin and the slant are subordinate to considerations of veracity and accuracy. When the agenda takes precedence the result is something that current fashion dictates we should call ‘fake news’. I just call it bad journalism.Views: 3687
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