Ever since Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of the Thai Summit Group declared for politics and unveiled the Future Forward Party, the phenomenon has gripped Thailand, or more accurately, Bangkok.
More than once have I been asked by observers, “Voranai, will you support Thanathorn?” My answer is always a succinct “No.”
Why not? Well, I wouldn’t support even the Lord Buddha if he ran for office.
Here’s a quote from Malcolm X: “If you’re not careful, the newspaper will have you hating the people who are oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
If Malcolm X is too controversial for your taste, here’s one attributed to Mark Twain, whether he said it or not: “If you don’t read the newspaper you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper you’re misinformed.”
These are two prominent men from the two previous centuries pointing there is out something fishy with journalism. Now if even back in the 19th and 20th centuries there was something fishy with journalism, you’d better believe 21st century journalism is a toxic oil spill, washing corpses of tar-dipped sea life onto the beach.
In politics, there’s public relations and propaganda. In business, there’s marketing and advertising. These are cheerleaders with short skirts and pompoms delivering high kicks and gravity-defying summersaults. Fine professions that contribute to society, no doubt, but journalism doesn’t chant “Go team, Yay!”
Journalism’s function is to check & balance, and that means we must be critical of everyone and everything. Governments, political parties, big businesses, interest groups, civil groups, NGOs, book-of-the-month clubs – all organizations and individuals with power. It is the journalist’s job to put a check on their power through investigating and reporting in order to give pertinent, objective (hopefully) and truthful (say a prayer) information to the people.
Information is power. Give the people true and unbiased information, and they will have the power to make informed judgements.
However, intentionally dishonest or insincere news reports – the new F-word of today is “fake” – have existed since caveman learned how to draw squiggly lines on cave walls. It comes in many forms today, but pertinent to this discussion is partisan news.
If someone tells you partisan news isn’t false – just biased – then that person probably makes a living writing biased stories. It’s fake because it’s propaganda masquerading as news. Like buying a 500-baht Rolex from a street vendor. Sure, it’s a real watch. But no, it’s a fake Rolex.
If a news outlet has political slant, it’s fake news. Doesn’t matter if it’s liberal media or conservative media, because this is simply siding with one wealthy and powerful group against another instead of being critical of both groups.
In journalism, you squash your personal political ideology. Close the account on your emotional investment. Cut off your personal allegiance to any group or individual. Your job is to be everyone’s pain in the butt by being critical of everyone and everything, including democracy itself.
Democracy worldwide is in crisis for many reasons, not least of which, an important democratic function, journalism, has malfunctioned. Instead of being critical, acting as the check and balance, the news draws a line in the sand and chooses sides. When there’s a political divide, conflicts and upheavals, the news spurs the flame because the news has become a political tool for one ideological group to slice and dice into its rival ideological group.
Even if we were to have great leaders and wonderful governments, we would still be critical of them. The balancing of power is an eternal tug-o-war. There always exist the corrupted looking for opportunities, as such the news media must be eternally vigilant.
I’m saying all of this without ever having spent a day in journalism school or sat through one journalism class. This isn’t rocket science. It’s easy understand, even if it’s hard to do.