Valley News – Column: Suppressing News, Disinformation and False Stories
Journalism is a glorious but hazardous vocation.
In June, Hong Kong police arrested top journalists from the city’s largest pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, who had relentlessly criticized the government of Hong Kong and mainland China. His bank accounts were frozen and the newspaper was forced to shut down. Its intrepid owner-activist, Jimmy Lai, is in prison.
The Committee to Protect Journalists presented Lai with the 2021 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award, which is awarded to journalists imprisoned, assaulted or killed.
Hong Kong’s draconian action against press freedom was in line with China’s National Security Law, passed last year, which aims to silence Hong Kong citizens and fully integrate the island into the mainland.
Under the new law, courts sentenced pro-democracy activists and artists to prison terms. Free speech and independent journalism are anathema to President Xi Jinping’s autocratic regime. China’s suppression of press freedom in Hong Kong is blatant and cruel. The pretext “one country, two systems” is dead like the dodo.
Journalists around the world have disappeared and some have never been heard from again. Some have been imprisoned, tortured and killed.
In 2020, 274 journalists were jailed and 32 killed around the world, including two in India, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. “China, which arrested several journalists for covering the pandemic, was the world’s worst jailer for the second year in a row,” the report said.
In the United States – the land of the free – 110 journalists were âassaulted or chargedâ last year during the Black Lives Matter protests.
Yet journalists have never stopped reporting the facts as they see them, whatever the consequences. Former CBS News correspondent Lara Logan suffered a brutal sexual assault in Tahrir Square in Egypt in 2011 while covering the turmoil of the Arab Spring in the country.
In 2014, an Islamic State video showed the beheading of Kimball Union Academy graduate Steven Sotloff, an American journalist held hostage by militants. Daniel Pearl, a the Wall Street newspaper journalist, was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan in 2002.
Since the military coup, many journalists in Myanmar have been imprisoned. Some have disappeared or left the country, but some are still reporting clandestinely, according to Reporters Without Borders.
A good society founded on democratic values ââcannot survive without a free, courageous and robust press. Journalists have played an important monitoring role due to their ability to cultivate confidential sources. For example, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post depended on a confidential source, Deep Throat – FBI agent Mark Felt – for their groundbreaking investigative reporting on Watergate that brought down President Richard Nixon.
Corporate whistleblowers disclosed corrupt accounting practices, dangerous products (Big Tobacco, for example) and other wrongdoing to journalists, who dug deeper to authenticate their sources and published stories that saved millions of lives. .
But today, journalists face a new kind of threat to their profession: state-sponsored disinformation propelled by social media, disseminated quietly by countries like Vladimir Putin‘s Russia and Xi’s China; non-state actors such as far-right conspiracy theorists QAnon in the United States; and bogus news websites, which threaten to undermine the legitimacy, authenticity and reliability of long-established news organizations.
For four long years, the White House man has used the intimidation chair of Twitter and every other platform to demean and intimidate journalists. But the more Donald Trump denounced journalists, the louder their voices became.
There is another grim challenge for journalists. Most people get their news from their smartphones. But the smartphone has removed the space between news, opinions, advertisements and âsponsoredâ news.
On the Google News platform, for example, the scandalous tabloid National investigator and the nation’s paper, The New York Times, are indistinguishable. The brand does not seem to matter to consumers rushed for news online. Instant, unfiltered and uncontrolled social media ‘journalism’ negatively impacts legitimate news media. The New York Times The motto “All news worthy of printing” is being supplanted by today’s social media platforms, on which all crap can be printed.
Some organizations, with their political agendas, publish leaked information and classified information from anonymous sources. Some challenge the traditional media by launching their own surveys.
Sometimes they collaborate, as happened in 2010 between Wikileaks and some major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, concerning the publication of classified documents on the war in Iraq.
Now we have new media players on the world stage. Russia, China and others can disseminate selective disinformation to affect political discourse, especially in times of crisis. These non-media foreign agencies have been instrumental in US politics, and may also do so in other open democratic countries, such as India, by spreading disinformation.
To restore confidence in an age of suppression of information, false narratives disguised as journalism, and state-sponsored disinformation efforts, the news media must deliver honest, courageous and vigorous journalism. Journalists should call him if there is a “reckless disregard for the truth.” Excessive deference to authorities can be corrosive to democratic values.
Now more than ever, as China and Russia try to control global narratives by spreading disinformation, journalists must provide in-depth reporting – whether it’s the Xinjiang internment camps, the role of the laboratory of Wuhan in the coronavirus pandemic, of Russia’s crackdown on policies, Trump’s deadly January 6 insurgency or the existential threat of climate change.
When journalists spotlight the facts and tell the truth, the people listen and the powerful behave.
Narain Batra, of Hartford, is a contributing columnist for Time from India, author of The first freedoms and the American culture of innovation, and professor of communication and diplomacy at the University of Norwich.