Thursday, August 20, 2015

Too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing

In India, the recent horrific deaths of Jogendra Singh (in Uttar Pradesh), and Sandeep Kothari and Akshay Singh (Madhya Pradesh) are only reflective of how unsafe the country has become for journalists who dare. Jogendra Singh, in a declaration made before a judicial officer shortly before he died, identified his assailants and charged they had carried out the attack on behalf of a local government minister. Clearly, investigative journalism is a risky venture these days and if your work antagonises people (those in power) within and outside government, then you are in dangerous territory. Yes, too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing for journalists.

Trends in Newsrooms 2015, the annual report published by the World Editors Forum, lists ‘source protection erosion’ as the rising threat to investigative journalism. It used to be possible to promise confidentiality to sources – guaranteeing the protection of their identities, even on pain of jail – in countries where legal source protection frameworks were robust. But these protections are being undercut by government    surveillance and data retention policies, and it may no longer be ethically possible to promise confidentiality. These developments have an enormous impact on investigative journalism and are giving rise to increasing attention to risk assessment, self-protection and source education, says the report. 

It was quite by coincidence that I chanced upon a report in the PressGazette, UK, stating that parents in the UK would rather their daughter marry a banker, marketer or teacher than a journalist. The article by William Turvill refers to a Yougov Survey which found that 3 per cent of 1756 UK adults would like their prospective son-in-law to be a journalist. Women journalists (as prospective daughters-in-law) fared slightly better, with a 4 per cent score. However, the rankings fell way short of other professions. The most popular son-in-law profession was doctor (38 per cent), followed by lawyer (24 per cent) and architect (23 per cent). Even teacher (15 per cent), entrepreneur (11 per cent), banker, musician (both 6 per cent), and nurse, soldier, athlete (all 5 per cent) ranked higher. Doctor was also the most popular choice of profession for daughters-in-law (35 per cent), followed by teacher (26 per cent), lawyer (24 per cent), nurse (16 per cent) and architect (14 per cent). So, is there a story here? Is it because journalists are losing jobs and are considered rolling stones, because journalism has become dangerous, or because people are slowly losing trust in the media? Perhaps it’s a combination of all this and more. 

Trust. Which brings me to the BBC’s annual review. The report shows that BBC News has “yet to fully recover from the scandals of 2012 in terms of perceptions of trust from the public… Audiences continued to rate BBC News much more highly than other news providers, although perceptions of trust in BBC News have not returned to the record levels of 2012.” BBC still scored with 53 per cent for “impartiality of news”. 

Overall, the situation is rather grim. It’s a trying time for journalists worldwide. Apart from the daily pressures of the job, you now have to contend with danger at every corner. And when your job is to expose, without bias, the misdeeds of those in power, the harsh realities on the ground are making it well-nigh impossible.

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