Public perception of the news media as an independent, fair, professional, regular and reliable fount of newsworthy information is deeply entrenched. At least that it’s what the general public expects of the news outlets that have direct and scheduled dissemination process. Some of them have instant communication, having developed information sources with whom they are in constant contact for in-depth and interpretive news apart from investigative ones.
Differentiate between information intermediaries and information sources from professional news disseminating agencies. But citizen journalists, various research and academic institutions, and government agencies cannot replace news outlets even if they can supplement as information sources in their specific focus. Civil society units, NGOs, government agencies and individual citizens and others do not have the type of eager audiences awaiting their information in advance. News agencies are an organised institutional representation for regular supply of their products to the best of their ability, resources and time available, with follow-up stories in the envisaged pipeline. The institutionalised mechanism of gathering and presenting news has an overwhelming advantage over scattered groups and citizens that do not have the regular means of collecting and providing news with clear cut schedules and, at times, special bulletins.
Blatant incursion Non-news providing institutions might have enormous literature available but they are referred to on the regularity with which readers, listeners and viewers eagerly expect and await news information. Information sources provide expert information and opinions. But competition for people’s attention is growing by the day. The calling card is for expertise in journalism. People might have less time for traditional packaging of news. Media should invest in specialist reporters and investigation or verification and absorbing revelation.
History takes into account the contextual aspects of events. Whether as a footnote or as larger textual narrative, journalism serves as an early clue for investigation. In journalism, the most newsworthy happening gets selected by the gatekeepers. Those who compromise the media, through recruitment as agents or awarding of fellowships, NGO projects, green card and work permits to family members and the like, too, are predators who talk of freedom but clandestinely stalk journalists to serve them against the universally acknowledged.
Not long ago, Pakistani authorities denied entry to Steven Butler, the Asia coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPI). Predictably, the action was condemned as a “slap in the face to those concerned about press freedom”. Another development is that the US has set aside $300 million to fund massive global anti-China media machine for “spreading information”. The project Decode China operates under an arrangement with the US Department of State and the London-based Institute for War & Peace Reporting. “Disinformation” Vs “professionally presented information”?
The US Senate in April passed a bill, “Strategic Competition Act”, under which initiatives will be undertaken for anti-Chinese blitz and seeks to discredit China’s $1 trillion-plus Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Journalists are to be “trained” to grasp the “harm” BRI does to the participating countries by the $1 trillion BRI. Many millions more are being allocated for Radio Free Asia to expand its coverage in the specified languages of Mandarin, Cantonese, Tibetan and Uighur. Under Operation Mockingbird, the CIA secretly infiltrated the mainstream media at home and abroad. Many journalists–including Pulitzer Prize winners –joined the CIA’s payroll, writing fake stories to disseminate the agency’s agitprop (agitation and propaganda).
Financing groups for fuelling street protest movements is a staple of aggressive strategies. In the past 12 years the US is estimated to have spent more than $130 million for promoting “democratisation” of Belarus. NGOs in Belarus, in 2020, received $20 million focusing on online operators as incentives to promote anti-government protests. That country has a population of 9.5 million. In order to regulate foreign-funded NGOs, Russia introduced new laws in 2003. Ten years later, Moscow expelled agencies like the National Endowment for Democracy and the Open Society Foundations. Kyrgyzstan’s flood of one NGO for every seven adults, which fund youth groups of various shades and the news media that echo Western viewpoints. In 2020, the US Agency for International Development had spent $25 million in Kyrgyzstan. Many of the biggest media groups—including Sydney-based Chinese Newspaper Group and Melbourne-headquartered Global CAMG Media Group—behind the dozens of websites, newspapers and broadcasters that cater to Australia’s estimated 600,000 Mandarin speakers are part-owned by Chinese state-owned media such as China Radio International.
Action and reaction In February, China banned BBC World Service, following UK’s similar move against Chinese network. CGTN, the Chinese global television network, opened its European production centre in London in 2019. But Ofcom, the British regulator, scrapped CGTN’s licence on the ground that China's Communist Party supervises the network's editorial policy.
In March this year, China expelled a dozen journalists working for three prominent American newspapers — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. The decision was in response to a cap clamped on the number of Chinese citizens permitted to work in the US. Not that the media are free from bias. Of note is that The New York Times refused to review eight of Gore Vidal’s books. It even gave hints that it would not even read them. There’s a reason. Not that it mattered much, as hundreds of other newspapers and broadcast channels reviewed and discussed the best-selling author.
Recall how the BBC used unverified video footage and the assertions of US officials to finger Syrian leader Bashar Assad for allegedly gassing his own citizens in the city of Douma in 2018. Footage supposedly showing civilians being treated for sarin gas exposure in a hospital was used to justify joint British, American and French missile strikes on Syria, even as BBC Syria’s own producer explaining that episode was a staged one. Andrew Boyle (1988: 136): “According to the historian A.J.P. Taylor: ‘In no time at all, the monopolistic Corporation (BBC) came to regarded as an essential element ‘in the British way of life’. Like all cultural dictatorships, the BBC was more important for what it silenced than for what it achieved.”
A storm of dissatisfaction was generated among British tax payers when it came to light that notwithstanding its annual budget of $7.45 billion, it did not hesitate to accept the European Union contribution, ostensibly for doing research and not in news coverage. BBC boasts: When big people talk, they talk to BBC. Do they always? Not British Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, though. The couple gave their first joint interview to a prominent American whose programme was aired on an American Television.
(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.)