Recently I’ve been thinking about the concept of truth.
Famed journalist Hunter S. Thompson once said “When the truth is so depressing, the only working alternative is wild bursts of madness and filigree ” Is this the eternal temptation of journalists?
It is widely known that the world of journalism frequently veers off the platform of truth. For centuries, newspapers have blurred the lines between truth and propaganda. Calling to mind the days of the Second World War, its world rife with censorship and half-truths, one would assume that society had evolved since then. But perhaps this is the hardest truth to print: it hasn’t.
George Orwell, writer of Nineteen Eighty Four, the famous dystopian novel about a world in which the government rewrites history, once said “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” But surely even if one does print what someone else does not want printed, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the truth? Amongst the recent onslaught of news about the conflict in Ukraine, it’s difficult to glean who is telling the truth and who is spreading propaganda in order to fulfill a political agenda. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, repeatedly the object of controversy, has said coverage of the conflict in Ukraine has been “exaggeration” and that everything’s fine and dandy. But how do we believe it when there is such apparent evidence of unrest and devastation? With constant images of Independence Square is in ruins, it cannot be contested that the conflict is real. But to what extent is the conflict due to Russia’s incursions into Ukranian territory? How much do we know about the politics of it all? How much is being kept from us? A scourge for the honest news can only result in frustration and dead ends. Once upon a time in the modern Western world, we liked to believe in the freedom of the press, but that illusion came crashing down in the hands of Edward Snowden, former employee of the CIA and former contractor for the National Security Agency, who, by no stretch of the imagination, revolutionised the world of journalism. Call him a hero, a whistleblower, a traitor or a war criminal – by releasing thousands of classified governmental documents, he changed the scope of the news world for the better. More than ever, citizens questioned their government in all its supposed wisdom as it abolished the delusions that President Obama was the next coming of Jesus Christ and brought the government to its most transparent state.
So the question arises: who can we trust to tell the truth?
The most obvious perpetrators of propaganda don’t require much introduction. Papers such as the Daily Mail spin stories to favour the Conservative party’s values: NHS scams, slut-shaming of female celebrities- basically sensationalist bullshit to distract the average citizen from real political issues. When people are busy reading about Katie Price’s new nose job, how will they have time to think about their rights to privacy being breached? Meanwhile, the Sun offers a good old healthy dose of sexist, racist, often prejudiced blather concerning whatever was on TV/the football pitch that week.
More than anything, one must consider the relationship between media and the public, and how they influence each other. The relationship is that of a cyclical nature, as media is fueled by public interest and public interest is fueled and influenced by the media. Thus it is an exaggeration to say that the media solely tells the public “what to think about.” In the capitalist free market, the media must gauge what is popular and their “agenda setting” is influenced simply by what people “like.” They rely on sale figures to discern what sells the most newspapers (and thus what to print), and this is why a lot of papers abandon integrity and “hard” journalism in favour of sensationalism. Therefore this cannot be a reliable form of information, because it is altered in order to attract the public through exaggeration of the truth and fabrication of facts.
Which brings us to the papers of the “intelligent citizen.” Both The Guardian and the Independent are respected journals who claim that their sole purpose is reporting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but that. But how can this be regulated? How far can newspapers convince us of their integrity before something inevitably makes them cave to the economic strains of funding and the pressure to print what is in the interests of the government?
Frankly, I think pondering the world of journalism and its integrity will inevitably get you lost in a minefield. I feel that the only thing one can do is try and consider each news story from different sources and use their own intelligence and intuition to separate the truth from the lies. As for whether there is any point in following the news when it’s so difficult to keep up with it and question its legitimacy, I say this: knowledge is power. As citizens, we can protect ourselves from the corrupt intentions of the powers that be by arming ourselves with information and refusing to consume the drivel that is served to us every day on a black and white platter.