Media responsibility vs the impulse to explore Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
January 22, 2004

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THE controversy brewing in the media over allegations by informant George Bacchus linking Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj with a phantom squad is once again blunting the distinction between moderation and extremism that has drenched Guyana's media landscape since 1997.

It has also sharpened awareness of self-interest as political themes.

As was elegantly demonstrated by some media houses before and after the March 2001 general elections, partisan political interests epitomize the operations of those media where anti-government sentiments run high.

Hence, the subjective use of the media to sully the character of any Cabinet minister or senior official about whom allegations of wrongdoing abound.

The targeting of an opponent through the media even in the most venomous manner is understandable.

The so-called "fourth estate" occupies a privileged position in modern society. "But more than simply seeking out truth and reporting it to an otherwise ignorant populace," notes Chuck Flynn in the essay, Media Responsibility in the Modern Era, "the media themselves have an active role in influencing and shaping public opinion. That is why it is so very disturbing that any media, much less the entire aggregation of media, might choose deliberately to mislead their consumers in full knowledge of the ramifications of that decision."

Consequently, Flynn says, when the media distort information, subjectively pre-judge an individual or lie to consumers, "they undermine a fundamental trust. This is not to say consumers and readers should be free to forego critical thinking and swallow whatever opinion the media generate, but there is a fundamental difference between opinion mongering of the sort that goes on in the Op/Ed pages of every daily newspaper and the sort of abject lies or misrepresentations that pass for news."

The temptation to substitute the impulse to explore for media responsibility can be dangerous. Especially when political opponents demonstrate little regard for virtues such as ethics and morality, their rhetoric is suffused with that sense of complexity and dialectical contradiction that is central to an unkind, insensitive opposition.

So are the pages and air time of the media whose animosity toward government means that anything negative is good.

Unfortunately, the return of democracy to the media has led to a corresponding proliferation of information that has all lowered the bar for journalistic integrity. With media accountability and a refusal at self-censorship at an all-time low, the urge to pander to "marketable" news is prompting some media houses to stoop to levels that would make even know skeptics blush.

We can only hope that good sense will ultimately prevail and that media/journalistic responsibility will prevail, no matter what the issue of the day may be.