The Journalist - an Endangered Species - Challenges in a Globalized Media World
20.06.1997By Jens Linde
First of all, on behalf of the International Federation of Journalists I would like to congratulate the Danish Gymnastics and Sports Associations on the occasion of their 100th anniversary of its weekly magazine "Dansk Ungdom & Idraet". Anniversaries like this should have been everyday events these years, because worldwide 100 years ago great people pushing for the democracy movement created newspapers, weeklies, monthlies and magazines as an integral part of the process to spread the message, to educate and enlighten people. It was opening doors and ringing a new dawn of peace, liberty, prosperity and social balance for the masses previously so impudently exploited.
However, unfortunately there aren't that many 100 years media anniversaries these years as we would have expected some 10 or 20 years ago. The reason is not, that democracy has run out of fashion. The problem of democracy is, that even though it is worldwide regarded as the less worse of ruling systems, it is very vulnerable to individuals and groups, that reject accepting the rules of the game. And contrary to sports, for a long time these players have ignored the role of the referee. Secondly I like to congratulate The Danish Gymnastics and Sports Associations for organizing this first international press seminar on the economic, cultural and political aspect of massive sports participation. This dialogue is very much welcomed by the international Federation of Journalists. Because we journalists as a whole are acutely conscious of the challenges facing us by multimedia companies and the globalization of especially world television. One could add: Surprisingly late this dialogue is to appear - and then of all places in Denmark. But as Shakespeare wrote, there is something rotten going on, and we probably haven't identified all the players - and especially their strategy for the future down to details - yet.
What we have recognized, however, is a fierce game taking place between highly powerful financial groups of the advertising industry, the sport multinationals and the consumer-goods multinationals. They have all developed into incredible money-machines and their gambling mania to treble the winnings leave most athletes - and now the public spectators as well - more heavily exploited than ever before. "Give bread and entertainment to the people" one Caesar stated in the Roman Empire. He would have recognized what takes place towards the second millennium. Cause entertainment has reached new perfections: You pay the best, exploit the rest and suck the consumers in all ways possible. From paying extra to cover advertising costs buying a Coca Cola to paying for the sports-channel, where you see the commercials. Some may think these are extracts from a comedy. They are basic elements of modern business life. How you start a TV-station: Public service of news? Not to start with. Point 1: You have money for space on satellite transmission. Good. Point 2: You have money for sports, or even to buy a whole league. Splendid. Point 3: A little extra for shows formatted the illiterate way "guess three consonants", perhaps even a share in a Hollywood-studio. Couldn't be better. Public service. Yes, if there is some money left when the shareholders have had their piece of the cake. The whole media-branch has changed within the last 10-20 years. Media-moguls have changed the public value of information into a commodity to the extent, that even the best of serious media have felt a pressure to change for survival.
Unlike athletes, sports business professionals are not subject to penalties, yellow and red cards. On the contrary, they are highly rewarded when going to extremes by the shareholders. The question of the explosive commercialization of the media is not just a question of concern attitude within the group in general. On the other hand they are just carrying out their job as expected - and most certainly: there is a demand for that. Now, at a daily basis, they just have to recognize basis that they have been forced to be players in a game much more vast, than the one they report from.
The interrelations between sport as a money-maker and powerful business conglomerates are highlighting the question, whether we have reached the limit for accept of certain groups or organisations profiting from an extreme professional alliance with the aim to exploit the citizen of a leisure society. Sport was used by the Soviet Empire for decades to glorify a political direction.
Many of us in the West posed questions to the extreme abuse of athletes in this respect. Now, what is the difference, when the free market for the multimedia environment, which flows from the convergence of television, computer and telecommunications technology, sets its own agenda freed from the responsibilities of former past and the roots of 100 years ago, where media formed a part of and advocated for democracy and social balance. Exaggerating? Sorry ladies and gentlemen. Let me quote one of the best of our profession, professor Ben H. Bagdikian, the American journalist that way-back received the Pulitzer Price for the disclosure of the Pentagon papers.
June, two years ago, he spoke at a UNESCO conference in Copenhagen on the subject of Media Concentration. An elderly man with years of experience from journalism stated: "In United States around year 2000 the biggest media shall be owned by half a dozen huge companies. In real terms we are dealing with private ministries of information, out of public reach or control. Media power is huge political power. And huge media companies have a tendency to claim conservative views. It is not likely that politicians looking for election or reelection, will take initiatives that prove obstacles to the media owners. Cause that would automaticly block their communication to viewers, listeners and readers. Unfortunately these are topics that are never drawn attention to in the media. The media have a status which can prove as huge a threat as ministries of propaganda in totalitarian states."
Many journalists fear that in the global information economy now under construction, public service television will be wholly absorbed into the mainstream of national and international corporate culture - to the detriment of professional standards in programming and quality of information. Not only we are close to a situation, where as taxpayers and citizens we queue up to pay for access to the public life of the society, while some few score the jackpot for the main reason that we have a social behaviour and mentality. We are witnessing a process, whereby television becomes the servant of corporate commercial imperatives rather than the public interests. It is not only damaging to journalism and all who works in the news and information industry, but it is also profoundly worrying for the future of democracy. This is not just a matter of people having resources to join a pay-for-view television culture. One of the essential features of a modern democracy is that the majority of citizens, irrespective of their social or economic status, should have adequate access to a wide range of voices and opinions. Democracy is dependent upon citizens who are informed.
The role of television, and public service television in particular, is of central importance in the fulfilment of this media mission. High quality television journalism, as we have seen in recent years, has played a significant role in mobilising public opinion in support of political change and for decades television has contributed greatly to reinforcing the cultural diversity of our societies. Most of this has been made possible by service channels provided at a national level which are obliged to provide diversity of viewpoints to a national audience. In many countries, private sector broadcasters are also required to meet certain public service obligations regarding quality and variety of content. The strength of national television systems, often working on a public service mandate, and its value to citizens need to be reinforced by the process of technological change. But the signs are that the importance of television in public life far from being reinforced may be undermined by current trends.
The current process of market deregulation in both telecommunications and media industries is creating massive new corporate players on the world scene. We see the merging of giant telecommunications companies linked to major content providers and software companies. These new networks could become the immensely powerful gatekeepers of the information society with control of access to the information superhighways. When these gatekeepers are themselves programme and content providers it is to fear that commercial considerations will lead them to a policy of discrimination in the channels they offer to consumers. One result could be that existing public service channels which require access to a universal audience may be denied access to universally available transmission networks. This will only be avoided if we continue to regard information as having cultural significance and that it be not treated as just another commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder at the open market. For this reason we have to strengthen the role of professional journalism in providing reliable, accurate and ethical information. We must ensure, too, adequate and continuing protection, in economic and moral terms for the creations of authors and journalists which can be exploited and manipulated over and over again in the new information environment.
As a President of the International Federation of Journalists I have some knowledge of the unease which exists within many sections of European society about the impact in the world of information technology.
There is for many people a sense of powerlessness and exclusion which unless confronted could severely damage the transition to a new information landscape. We should guard, therefore, against technological triumphalism in the exploitation of information technology and remember that the vast majority of people on the planet have no access to the technology or the resources needed to enjoy the benefits of the digital era. The danger of social exclusion is as relevant to people of the settled democracies of Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific as it is for nations at a much lower level of development. Even in the United States, it is hard to imagine that the information revolution will be fully inclusive when almost a third of all children and nearly half of the Afro-American children never see a computer in school. Even fewer see one at home. The world of information must not become the privilege of the affluent and the educated. As long as the debate about new communications technology does not fully consider the interests of society as a whole, the information revolution will be flawed and incomplete.
For that reason we must give priority to society's demands for low cost access to television and to a diverse supply of quality media and information products. Where this requires regulation it should not be intrusive or bureaucratic, but should facilitate access and pluralism while creating the conditions for the growth of the worldwide information economy. What are the essential demands?
Firstly, we have to provide universal access in the homes to basic services needed for full participation in democratic life.
Secondly, we must establish at national and international level a regime for competition between networks which will eliminate media monopolies and will lead to as wide a distribution as possible of new multimedia services.
Thirdly, there must be freedom of access at every stage of the content, creation and distribution process. Standards must be established to ensure that the rights of authors are protected, that ethical and professional content is preserved and that citizens have confidence in the quality and integrity of information available to them.
Finally, and perhaps most of all, if we are truly intent upon creating a global information society in which television is the core force for social and democratic exchange, it will be essential to invest in programmes, project activities and standards which will create a unifying environment and greater equality in terms of access to technical and professional resources.
My message to you as colleagues: Sport is marvellous. Next to sex and jealousy it contains the basic instincts of life. That's why we love to see it, watch on TV again and again, and even want to read analyses of what we have seen and watched on replay. However we have to discuss among ourselves as professionals, if we need to add some elements to our reports about who are pulling the strings outside the playing ground. The virginity of sports was snapped in the Cold War days of political fight between the superpowers. Later on the powers of vast multimedia, advertising and sports organisations snapped the one of quality media with values of public service responsabilities. We shall cover sports, but also the business games of which they form an integral part now a days. And I think this latter element becomes the more important coverage for the future, if we want to develop and maintain societies, where our lives are not pre-organized, but in which we have a say as individuals - on the job, exercising sport - and on election day.