On Tuesday, November 4, our class was fortunate to have group discussions about politics and media coverage in the U.S. and in the Middle East with several Middle Eastern journalists as part of the 2014 Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists.
I opened up the discussion with a question to the journalists: “How much freedom do you have in presenting news sources when the media outlets are influenced by governments and are owned by major corporations that want stories told a certain way?” In response, some of the journalists from Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, and Palestine acknowledged that their freedom is very suppressed by their government. They mentioned that many journalists currently fear for their lives when reporting on newsworthy events; many are arrested, beaten, and even killed for reporting stories the government doesn’t want exposed. The journalists also discussed that many reporters in the Middle East have many protest restrictions on their freedom of movement across their country. They also mentioned that they are prohibited from entering certain towns and neighborhoods where violations take place (such as destruction from war or other forces surrounding homes that prevent them from documenting events).
The journalists then asked the students how much freedom U.S. citizens and journalists have on commenting on news stories as well as releasing stories publicly. My classmates and I explained to them that American journalists significantly have more liberty to report factual and opinionated news through various mediums such as newspapers and online websites without government interference. The topic then shifted to a discussion about whether news content transformed from traditional hard news to soft news globally. Some classmates and I argued that it’s more ethical for journalists to report factual stories instead of releasing opinionated stories. A journalist is not doing their job if he or she doesn’t honor ethical norms and doesn’t remain objective when communicating to their audience. On the flip side, other classmates in my group claimed that some journalists are fulfilling their job to journalism standards even when they are actively involved with political movements while rejecting the idea of neutrality. Some of the journalists explained that they have seen more news content shift from hard news to soft news globally especially since there has been an increase desire for reporters to comment on news reports, blog posts, and social media without verifying their sources, leading to a rise of opinionated reporting. This topic reminds me of Kevin Barnhurst’s argument in his article: The Makers of Meaning: National Public Radio and the New Long Journalism. Barnhurst’s hypothesis for long journalism suggests that the role of journalism has become more biased and less factual. I agree with Barnhurst’s argument, and furthermore, I believe partisan journalism raises ethical concerns for the way media content is used today. Even though some students argued that objective journalism is boring and the public wants to listen to and read about opinionated news that interests them, impartial journalism indeed brings out the truth in political reporting.
Another question I asked the journalists was: “Do you use social media often to expand viewership and connect with the public about newsworthy events?” The majority of the journalists in my group said they consistently use Twitter and Facebook to engage their audience when reporting about newsworthy events but can only post or comment positive political stories about their government due to the limited amount of freedom they have. The biggest difference that became apparent was the amount of freedom journalists have in the Middle East as opposed to in the U.S. The journalists in my group said they usually comment or post on social media only if the content is positive but factual, whereas American journalists can freely comment or post opinionated stories on social media regardless if the statement is negative or truthful. Some of the journalists mentioned that there has been a rise of protests for communicating freely in repressive countries that are imprisoning journalists and controlling messages through media markets.
Kevin Barnhurst. (2003). “The Makers of Meaning: National Public Radio and the New Long Journalism.” Political Communication, 20(1): 1-22.