Monthly Archives: October 2009

A Question of Democracy.

“This could be the key moment that propels the BNP into the big time.” These were apparently the gloating words of notorious British National Party leader Nick Griffin before BBC programme Question Time was aired last Thursday.

Whether or not he is still this optimistic remains to be seen, but in The Times (Tuesday 27th October) speculation regarding unrest within the party is mentioned. It claims supporters have “called for Nick Griffin to step down as leader after his performance”, and thus it would appear people’s concerns over Mr Griffin gaining support from BBC airtime were perhaps unwarranted.

Anti- BNP demonstration.

Evidently there were mixed reactions to the party leader’s presence on mainstream TV, with Mr Griffin claiming he was ‘victimized’, much to the concern of critics. Some argued that due to his abhorrently racist policies he should not have been given a platform from which to speak. Others believed to deny him airtime would be denying democracy, and essentially all that Britain stands for.

In my opinion it is fundamentally wrong to refuse minority groups a voice within the media, and I believe this applies to everyone, regardless. This is not to say I agree with anything the BNP says, I certainly do not.

Instead of demanding the news be censored, or being outraged that the BNP are allowed on primetime TV, perhaps we should ask ourselves the bigger question; why people are turning to the BNP? I do believe to a certain extent Labour may share some responsibility in this recent BNP success, having stigmatized immigration within their policies and creating yet another ‘moral panic’ situation. People seem to have become overwhelmingly concerned about ‘bogus’ asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, and the BNP has latched on to this idea and promised to help maintain the ‘British identity’, perhaps exploiting people’s irrational panic.

Although this may have fooled some, to many others the BNP is still an organisation of ignorance and hatred. Most newspapers the next day screamed “Bigot”, and “disgusting”, and the Daily Express even featured a public vote; “Is Nick Griffin the vilest man in Britian?” (Friday 23rd October 09).

I couldn’t help but be amused by the desperation of Mr Griffin’s attempts to ‘win over’ the general public. His tactic was to say anything he thought the audience might want to hear, and at one point even claimed, “skin colour is irrelevant” whilst arguing with Jack Straw. Surely this statement is a fundamental contradiction to his way of thinking, considering law has only recently ruled the BNP must accept non-white members, on the grounds that they are otherwise being racist.

In a nation that prides itself on free speech and democracy, Nick Griffin and the BNP have every right to voice their views on national television, and similarly we have every right to show him up for what he really is. I certainly don’t believe Question Time has helped the British National Party to gain the respect or justification it craves.

BBC Question Time can be viewed here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00nft24/Question_Time_22_10_2009/

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Bad News For Journalists?

Local journalists are becoming increasingly passive within their reporting and are over reliant on a narrow range of sources, at the expense of objective reporting. These are the allegations explored in O’Neill and O’Connor’s journal article, ‘The Passive Journalist’.

Upon reading the article I initially felt inclined to agree with this critical representation. Having had work experience on the Reading Evening Post, I felt confident I could apply my own personal experience to the article’s findings. I was right, and true to the article’s suggestion, I did rely predominantly on press releases when writing. And yes, my eyes were opened fully to the arguably mundane reality of what I had previously considered (perhaps naively) an ‘all action’ investigative job. I am consequently not surprised by the article’s somewhat damning statistics, and agree with the suggestion that there is a “significant, unquestioning reliance on council press officers or press releases”.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting other sources are completely discarded. I do believe other research is carried out by the journalist but there is usually one primary source that, intentionally or unintentionally, defines a news story.

I would argue that there is a symbiotic relationship between source and journalist, and my newsroom experience of regurgitating press releases no doubt supports the increasingly common idea of ‘churnalism’.  It is suggested that, “As a passive recipient of information rather than an active investigator, the local journalist is not keeping an ear to the ground and interacting with the local community.” It seems obvious that if a journalist is a passive receiver of information then evidently they are not carrying out their responsibility in serving the public with objective news.

The study examines a cross section of news stories published in four daily West Yorkshire papers over the period of a month. With the findings suggesting an over reliance on official sources and a lack of secondary perspectives, can journalists be accused of ‘lazy’ reporting? Well, despite 72 potential news sources suggested by Harcup (2004), it would appear that journalists fail to utilise these opportunities into their daily practice, with 76 per cent of stories relying on just one primary source.

“If an unquestioning and uncritical culture is emerging in newsrooms, this is highly damaging to journalism.”

I took it upon myself to look for more ammunition proving journalists are out of touch with their local community, and scanned the front page of the South Wales Echo (October 20th 2009) to find the primary source for the front page story (‘Is this the end for the weekly bin run?’). True to form the article centred on Cardiff Council leader, Rodney Berman, an authoritative source if ever there was one. It smacked of press release information, and the whole article was primarily defined by his perspective. Hardly the most exciting example of local news, but news nonetheless, and clearly conforming to the idea that one source usually dominates the way stories are reported.

So far the case against journalists is looking relatively strong; we have established journalists are passive to an extent, overly reliant on press releases and restricted to a narrow range of ‘authoritative’ sources, as the articles findings suggest. I therefore felt smugly justified in my personal opinion on the decline in journalistic practice.

However, also included within the front page featured in the South Wales Echo was the local public’s opinion, a reporter had actively taken to the streets to ask for opinions in Canton, Riverside and Pontcanna. Hardly the work of a ‘passive’ and inefficient journalist one could argue, and so conflicting with the increasingly common perception that today’s journalists are neglecting their duty to pursue other perspectives on matters of public concern. I discussed the notion of passive journalism with a friend of mine, a reporter for the Reading Evening Post, who said she firmly believed “the quality of newspapers has not declined” and from her experience as a local journalist, “we would always balance the story if a press release may be biased through further work on behalf of reporter”.

I therefore propose that whilst it is extremely important to consider the types of source used within news stories, it is not necessarily damaging to reporting. Of course journalists are going to rely on particular sources, but as mentioned in the journal article, “The potentially mutual benefit of this journalism-source relationship is not problematic if it does not affect the journalist’s ability to act in the public interest”. Perhaps alternative views are being overlooked, but to include all angles on a single story would just be unfeasible, given the time and resource restrictions journalists face.

Journal accessible at: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all?content=10.1080/17512780802281248

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