Media making another mistake in Moscow
Pursuant to President Putin’s crackdown on media outlets and individuals who fail to cut down on impartiality in their mode of reporting, several Western media organizations have, since Friday, suspended their journalistic operations in Russia.
Bloomberg News and the BBC said their correspondents in Russia could no longer freely report because of the new censorship law signed by Mr. Putin, which effectively criminalized independent journalism on the invasion of Ukraine. Under the legislation, which had commenced operation immediately, journalists who simply describe the military operation in Ukraine as a “war” could be sentenced to prison.
Between President Putin and the press, one is having a misunderstanding of the proper meaning of the word war, and, or the difference between it and military operation.
For the purpose of this article, and as a media personnel with training on the key tenet of journalism, which deals with the code of the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability, I want to blame my colleagues, the press, for making the mistake of being unprofessional here.
In the job of journalism, and for the purpose of the acquisition of newsworthy information for subsequent dissemination to the public, the journalist must desist from playing to the gallery.
At the risk of sounding like a media academic, giving lectures to junior journalists on basic journalism, I make bold to advance that journalists are NOT expected to do things that they think will be popular among many people. Rather, they should do what they think is just right.
As a journalist, behaving in a way that is intended to make people admire or support you, is nothing but playing to the gallery, which should be left to the politicians like Putin, who is a populist, with interest in executing programmes that strive to appeal to the ordinary Russian people.
It is in the spirit of the duty of journalism that the journalist is encouraged to abstain from bias and impartiality. To maintain objectivity in journalism, journalists should present the facts, whether or not they like or agree with them. Objective reporting is meant to portray issues and events in a neutral and unbiased manner, regardless of the reporter’s or writer’s opinion or personal beliefs.
The dictionary describes a military operation as the coordinated military actions of a state, or a non-state actor, in response to a developing situation. These actions are designed as a military plan to resolve the situation in the state or actor’s favour.
On the other hand, the same dictionary describes a war as a state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a country.
Putin said Russia is executing a military operation in Ukraine, and not a war. So, what’s the worry there?
By definition, the unfolding events in Ukraine are in conformity with the coordinated military actions of the state of Russia against the developing situation in Ukraine.
What’s the fuss if we call it so, and not a war, which connotes an armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a country?.
To Putin, the goal of the operation in Ukraine is to demilitarise and “de-Nazify” it.
Putin is claiming that the military action is necessary to stop Ukrainian attacks on the two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which Moscow recognised as sovereign states. So, why not describe it as he said, and not as the West said?
It may be recalled that the conflict started after the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, which maintained that they were part of a wider group of concurrent pro-Russian protests across southern and eastern Ukraine, and Russia is backing the separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk. Why not describe the situation as such?
According to the fairness doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses, to present controversial issues of public importance impartially, and in a manner that fairly reflected differing viewpoints, objectivity is crucial to journalism. Journalists stand the risk of being termed the opposition, if they fail in sticking to the rules of objectivity, including in the misinterpretation of words like war and military operation.
Obviously, Putin has an agenda, which he intends to execute effectively and efficiently, including cajoling the gullible to play to his trap. And the press is making that mistake now in Moscow.
If the press pulls out, Putin can continue with his project of silencing any dissent on the peninsula without the knowledge of the West. He can conveniently combat what he calls “extremism” in silence. He can aggressively target critics for harassment, intimidation, and, if he likes, trumped-up criminal charges without the prying eyes of the press.
The press had made similar mistake with Moscow in the past, over the internet censorship in the Russian Federation. At that time, Russia had introduced censorship laws known as the “single register”, aimed at blocking sites that contain materials advocating drug abuse, drug production and child phonography. The press was gagged and couldn’t do anything.
In fact, Russia continued the execution of its programmes unabated, and even subsequently amended the laws to allow the blocking of materials that were classified as “extremist”, or those in the habit of criticising the federal government or local administrations. All the press did was to shout on what they called, “abuse of mass media freedom”. But nothing was achieved, at least by them, the press.
So, why repeat the same mistake with Moscow?
There is a proverb in support of knowledge as the mother of all virtue that says, Knowledge is power, and knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. Knowledge without practice makes but half an artist.
As professional artists, the press must learn from the proverb above. At least with Putin in Moscow.
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