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Blurred Lines: Can Journalists Be Activists?

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By Antara Mukherjee:

In traditional definition, a journalist is a person who writes for newspapers, magazines and broadcasts news. It is a profession, a coveted one at that and requires hefty academic and personal contribution. An activist is someone who may or may not have academic titles but only the will to report and act about events. Presumably one would believe that journalism is a different strand of information broadcasting than activism. With the coming up of new technologies, one can become an activist by just talking about certain issues that plague the well-being of people/ places and information. The question then is that does that talking not qualify as broadcasting of information? Doesn’t that do the same in a more casual and immediate manner without the editing and tailoring of a professional journalistic piece of news?

journalists and activists

Different histories have shown us the power of media and it’s squirming in the hands of the powerful few. In countries where media is owned by governments or powerful families, the news is built to support oppressive regimes and doesn’t do any good to the society it acts to serve, for example North Korea, and Italy in the beginning of Berlusconi’s rule. Journalism is a compromised profession, a journalist has to speak a made up truth many times, and the nation has to turn to activists.

With the current storm in the world of technology, every John Doe can claim to be an informal journalist and spread news and awareness at their own cost and propagate their agendas in a not so subtle manner. Activists do not hold back the gory details of what they represent and aren’t always righteous.

Journalists have respect in our society since we rely on them for our dose of present knowledge. They have access to important documents, they have the ability to speak to thousands and thousands of people. And so I wonder why shouldn’t they turn into activists? Across India, there are hundreds of activists who voluntarily put themselves in danger to report and fight in areas where the threat to their lives is always present. They have no money to rely on except their own. In such a case, why shouldn’t a journalist do the same and report the truth, and maybe demand for public action since they can afford to do so monetarily?

In our current time, journalism is no longer a safe profession, speaking truth is a risk and broadcasting it is an even bigger risk. Media as a collective tries to be independent and removed from propaganda, but whether it remains safe from it or not is a bigger question to ask. I feel it is better to then lose the ambiguity of who is or isn’t a journalist. The task of a journalist is definitely a lot more solid and informed because they have training that activists might lack. But in work, they have the same idea of responsibility. To inform and to divulge.

The process of news broadcasting is a lot different in journalism and activism. Certain strands of Journalism profusely claim to be just informers and thus not blatantly try to create social revolutions. They prefer to stand in between and talk about facts and events, which I think is not enough use of knowledge and power. Being a journalist gives power, the power to write and to invite people into doing something by using their training to bring hard hitting facts into light, because they have access to them. So for a journalist to stick to “objectivity” is a true example of having all the power but not doing anything but talking about it. The problem then becomes that how long does one stick to “objectivity” when the need of the hour is subjectivity and hard actions?

What activists do is unparalleled in the ways they talk about things, with the aim to overthrow regimes that are oppressive and to gain attention on issues of importance. They make good use of freedom of speech even if it means unparliamentary language to tell things exactly as they are. Isn’t that more helpful than an edited piece of news that only talks and is held back due to external forces? Of course one can make the argument that all activists do not do good deeds hence it can be very ambiguous as to who is productive and who isn’t. But that can be said for both parties.

I feel journalism shouldn’t go back to what it was and separate itself from social activism. With their conviction and connections, they would be a good tool to keep in check a nation’s power and rule. If they join hands, then media can become a force to reckon with and chances of compromising it would be lesser and weaker.

Journalism is a profession and it should remain so, but the struggle for awareness is everyone’s. And hence maybe a partnership between the profession and that of the will should be encouraged. That way, news and information becomes multi-faceted and open for debate, a good way to encourage social development. That will also involve blogging, vlogging, youth pages, chat rooms and debates.

In conclusion I can only reiterate that a sense of activism has to be inculcated into journalism. Both have qualities that will benefit each other and hence make social development a faster and cleaner process. And maintaining a stoic difference between the two and concentrating on that will pull away from the aim and not be a good option in the current scheme of things.

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  1. Meher A. M.

    @ Antara: At first I would like to thank you for creating space for this topic.
    Journalism is and has always been in the hands of a powerful few who is using it according to their usefulness. But these can also be powerful tools for the masses if used properly with constant scrutiny of the self. Therefore, for me, journalists who want to work for masses have to be activists as per his situation permits. For we all have social, economic and other constraints.
    I vehemently oppose the concept of full time worker at the present scenario in India.
    Rather, I request our journalists to study more and more so that their ideology gets more consolidated, roots of the social problems become clearer, and can guide the working class to fight back.
    For me, this is what “activist” means, not being in the first line in a protesting rally.
    Lastly, there is no neutral standpoint; either you are with the working class or you are a hired intellectual working for the capitalists. My journalist friends, you decide!!

  2. saloni

    I like your conclusion- I do agree that activism should be inculcated in journalism, and that journalists should not be manipulated by a few.
    However, being objective is a very important duty of a journalist. A journalist’s foremost duty is to report the information as it is, so that people can form their own opinions. Just because I’m a journalist and biased towards something, I have no right to project it in such a way so as to enforce my opinion on others. Changing mindsets and creating revolutions are important, but we have so many mediums to achieve this like editorials and schemes.
    For example, a very popular show on Times Now by well-known journalist Arnab Goswami is seriously a pain in the ass. Mr. Goswami adopts a particular attitude towards a piece of news and enforces his opinion upon others, even when things aren’t yet properly investigated and no one is sure of the facts. Journalists cannot afford to make mere hypothesis just because they are inclined towards a particular mindset. If opinion has to be given, it should be done so ONLY after investigated and proved in the court of law. A journalist has tremendous power to influence the society, and he/she should make wise use of this power, because as it is said- with great power comes great responsibility.

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