6 February 2013

Namibia: There Is No Such Thing As Objective Journalism


LINGUISTICS teaches us that the English Language is constructed on the foundation of arbitrary symbols. That is, English texts are collections of words and pictures that have no inherent meaning or connection to the objective world of things or objects.

The fact that language is the medium for communication, and since language constructions are unstable, interpretation is also uncertain, that is why not everyone would find the reporting of newspapers objective. Therefore, the emphasis is at all times on the one receiving the message, the reader of the newspaper or the person interpreting the message.

And further, since the meaning of English words is derived from one's social context, eventual meaning likewise arises from one's social context. Reality is entirely subjective in the English language. Newspaper readers should know that for as long as English remains the medium of instruction and communication in Namibia, objective reality cannot be known.

Some philosophers argue that in journalism the universe is viewed as a closed system. This means journalism and its language create an own reality until it is replaced by the power of another group (the newspaper readers, TV viewers). Kant argues "the phenomena of life in journalism can never be known as it is, but is always interpreted according to certain innate categories of the knower."

Let me simplify the above philosophical argument. Journalistic reporting comes to us through language, and if what is reported seems to empower an individual or group, the recipient of that message views that kind of report as being objective. But what happens when the report reveals your wrongdoings? If a journalist writes or reports on your shady dealings, you are likely to decline comment on the issues you are being accused of.

How often do you hear a politician referring a journalist from one pole to another? In the end when a story is published the very same politician comes out with barbed-wire words to scorn that particular journalist for not being 'objective.' Personally, I view objectivity as a myth. Desmond Tutu once humorously asked, "if an elephant steps its foot on the tail of a mouse and you are asked to intervene, and you say I'm neutral. The mouse would not like your neutrality."

Similarly in journalism, when a journalist writes about a public figure who loots public property, the majority of the poor public would see objectivity in the report or article but the accused would find such report otherwise. What is objective to the victim is subjective to the perpetrator. There can be balanced reporting, but surely not objective reporting.

For example, in a democratic country like Namibia, a journalist may benchmark his or her reporting on the universal values that are true for all cultures and all time. Therefore it becomes ridiculous for one to expect 'objective reporting' in this situation. It is the duty and responsibility of every citizen to learn to be courteous and friendly, when asked to give their side of the story. But what do journalists get in return? "I don't talk to the media, I have no comment, write down your questions, and I don't deal with the media."

If these negative attitudes continue against the media, then kiss good-bye to balanced reporting. How can a journalist write a balanced report if you, the interviewee, is arrogant and uncooperative? Can you imagine working in an environment in which journalists have to beg for information? I am sick and tired of putting up with the notion 'there is no balanced and objective reporting in Namibian media these days,' as if there ever was.

Just imagine the length and extent these poor journalists have to go to beg for what shouldn't be begged for in the first place, anywhere. We should not view objectivity in terms of the media writing good things about us. If you want the media to sing your praises, you have to demonstrate your worth through hard work not just talking too much and doing little to write home about.

It is so painful and disheartening to see our journalists being subjected to humiliation and insults. We hardly hear anyone going publicly to appreciate the work these courageous men and women do, to give us information from within and around the world.

I am confident and hopeful that our journalists will continue to carry out this mammoth task in providing us with necessary information and entertainment.

When I grew up I always wanted to become a journalist, because I was always inspired by these fearless individuals who are prepared to work in dangerous places and without regard to their own safety or selflessly without looking for riches. They go as far as risking their own lives just to get information to the information-thirsty public.

Finally, I would like to encourage our journalists to continue doing their job with vigour and determination. As for me, objectivity is perception, it cannot be measured. Enjoy your job and keep on providing us with news and entertainment. For your comments: gersindano@gmail.com

Gerson Sindano is a Master of Arts in English student in the Department of Language and Literature studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Namibia.

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