May 3 is International Press Freedom Day. On this day we are used to recalling the fact that, in many places around the world, freedom of the press is violated, journalists are murdered or intimidated and the critical press sidelined or strongly contested.
This occasion is absolutely necessary and worthy. What’s more, we would also ask ourselves how it is possible to take place today, in 2021. How could it be that the media cannot carry out its job of information and criticism that addressed them as the “fourth power”?
But, on this day, I would like to highlight another aspect that makes the fight for press freedom more meaningful and urgent.
I’ll just steer clear: since in the modern world we have begun to talk about journalism, the access to information has progressively increased to the point of undergoing an exponential surge in recent years, due to telematics and the internet, particularly the web.
This liberalization of news and information is a phenomenon that we have probably not yet fully understood.
What has certainly radically changed is the reliability of the news: technology allows us to spread news at an amazing speed and to a large audience but it cannot ensure the reliability and truthfulness of the news itself.
It is a very much debated topic academically, but above all, it is a topic that concerns everyone: those who work in the field of information and those who use it, as well as media editors, associations, parties or bodies that use or make information.
We usually talk about “fake news”, but this phrase is absolutely misleading and more and more misused, especially to discredit other people’s work.
Before giving any political, ideological, professional or whatsoever meanings to some news, a careful journalist should verify that news. Well, this task is failing.
The question is: is it failing due to bad will, bad working conditions or to other reasons? And, secondly, how much of this lack has to do with the growth of propaganda?
We all, as Pressenza’s team, have on several occasions given incorrect, inaccurate or incomplete information and our readers pointed it out to us, sometimes kindly and sometimes a little bit enraged. We thanked them for that and rolled up our sleeves. It can happen to trust too much a certain source, to sympathize with a certain situation, to be in a tremendous hurry, to want to be the first to talk about something.
All these motivations can mislead us, causing us to make mistakes in good faith, even if mistakes should teach us to be more careful, to check the “friendly” sources as well as the others, to learn that haste is often a bad adviser as regards competence and truth.
But, alas, what we are witnessing are not mistakes about dance, but a way of interpreting the dance which is far from being real information, in fact, it is increasingly resembling propaganda.
I mean: say you’re watching the TV news; the edition ends and a little bit of advertising starts. You will notice the difference between information and propaganda. There is nothing wrong with the propaganda itself: someone wants to sell a product, to vote for a party, to take you to a concert. There is nothing wrong as long as the propaganda takes place in a proper propaganda space: no one blindly believes in advertising, nor what politicians say during the electoral platforms.
The problem we are experiencing at the moment is that propaganda has been taking part in information programs mostly stealthily.
We know that the media have their own point of view, they have an editorial line with people and companies that support them in different ways. This should be clear when I read an editor’s publication or an in-depth editorial. It’s also obvious that you can’t talk about everything. But when news coverage somehow occurs, I think we can no longer speak of information, but of propaganda.
We are witnessing that entire continents are missing from the news reports, that a certain type of news is deliberately cut out, for example, multiculturalism, solidarity, human rights and the status of the outcasts.
And it’s not due to the irrelevance of the news. Here is an example which is dear to me above all: do you know how many people on average are starving every day, according to FAO and to the main international associations fighting this terrible problem? It’s fifteen thousand. We have correctly
referred to the pandemic from covid-19 as an emergency, but in the last year, covid deaths have hardly exceeded fifteen thousand units. So what is the most “relevant” news?
In spite of this, hunger, which would be an easier topic to cope with, does not get the same attention as the pandemic; and journalists who write about it are very few. We declare hunger the first emergency and we’ll readjust our agenda on it. In a mediatic and political way. And if someone says that poor
people do not matter, do not move money and do not vote, then hypocrisy will be definitely revealed.
In this regard, let’s think about the informative and educational value of media activity and its usefulness for social progress. That is another reason why we will take part in the event of the National Day of Constructive Information.
Let’s leave the propaganda to the advertisers and let’s keep on dealing with information, criticism, instruction and creation of a better future. Not just on Press Freedom Day but every day of the year.
Translation by Roberta Mereu, from the voluntary Pressenza translation team. We are looking for volunteers!