Comrades, it is absolutely understandable that media performance in the pandemic should come under intense internal and public scrutiny. At times like these, people legitimately consider the media’s role to be pivotal in either empowering societies to come to terms with extremely difficult circumstances, or to play a hand in failure.
Rest assured, this is the same in every other democracy in the world and is characterised by remarkably similar benchmarks – both informed and uninformed.
Everywhere, it seems to me, the discussion centres on a variety of metrics associated with objective professional journalistic standards, industry-focused dynamics - including profits and viability – academic research (the paucity of which is tragic in our case), scepticism and cynicism, and political preference/disfavour.
It is useful for us who have stayed the course to know precisely what we are dealing with in order to ensure we remain focused on delivering news, analysis, entertainment, and information capable of contributing to enlightened decision-making and sound behaviour-change/reinforcement.
Commentary emerging from chronic cynicism and sheer political preference are easily recognisable. Do not ignore them though. Read and listen carefully. They are useless for any serious re-framing of professional approaches and are never wholly beneficial for purposes of serious introspection. But they should not escape your critical attention, however insidiously cloaked as expert commentary of one kind or the other.
One tip would be to note the minute you witness monolithic reference to “the (amorphous) media.” It does not matter the purported credentials of the messenger, including tangential and even past (typically unremarkable) engagements in the profession. I have heard, for instance, of deals between “the media” and “the government.” What deals? To save lives?
Be aware, though, that at the same time ours is not a perfect professional discipline. Do not be touchy and defensive. There are indeed some from among us who cannot contain our enthusiasm for people and interests, others whose malpractice is indefensible, and those who enter the industry with eyes exclusively set on a variety of other goals.
Yet, most of us start our day every day with only the thought of diligently and competently doing our jobs. For example, poll any newsroom for views on the role people see for themselves in the financial fortunes of their newspaper or broadcast station, and the vast majority would tell you that’s not what’s constantly on their minds on assignment or at their workstations.
The thing is, we are in the middle of a crisis in which the foundations of our professional practice are being tested at every level, even as there is an undeniable reliance on mainstream “legacy” media to validate the outputs of Wild West social media frontiers.
Sadly, some deem it a losing battle in the face not only of contentious virtual content, but of wilful vandalism. Lift the lid and you will find a teeming nest of vapid, busy under-achievers – many of whom have transacted the woefully low entry requirements of the social media space, but even some of whom employ this other territory we call our own.
However, this is an old set of circumstances on a new field of play. The practice of politics and the agendas of preference/disfavour have always challenged the value of facts. Media submission is also a longstanding passion of both the powerful and their unwitting subordinates.
The media industry here, and almost everywhere else, has tried to play a leading role in promoting awareness of pandemic realities. Our industry bodies – the TTPBA and MATT – have engaged in addressing the destructive impacts of COVID denial and the incomprehensible designs of increasingly active anti-vaxxers.
Media houses have routinely interrogated the integrity of pandemic management measures and now openly, and correctly, support the programme of national vaccination.
It has been said that the presumed “power” of the media has two razor-sharp blades on either side. The truth (or the pursuit of truth) can indeed undermine and defeat as much as it can satisfy the public interest. But urgency is not panic, and caution is not fear.
Dear comrades, there are many things we can do better, but there are numerous positives to claim. Good journalism may yet save the day again.