By Judi Whetstine
A July PEW Research project reported that “compared with the ratings four years ago, journalists have dropped the most in public esteem, from 38 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2013.” See: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/07/11/public-esteem-for-military-still-high/#
It surveyed folks of all political persuasions. The survey asked whether or not certain professions “contribute a lot to society’s well-being.” It did not ask for the reason for the opinions.
Besides journalism, the other professions were military, teachers, medical doctors, scientists, engineers, clergy, business execs, lawyers and artists.
The drop in journalism’s public esteem was shocking. “About as many U.S. adults now say journalists contribute not very much or nothing at all to society (27 percent) as say they contribute a lot (28 percent). The drop was particularly pronounced among women (down 17 points).”
Respected journalism is crucial to the success of the country and a community.
Princeton University Professor Paul Starr in a 2005 NPR interview discussed his book “The Creation of the Media.” He explained what many people may not know. “The government actually took positive steps to promote free press when adopting the Constitution by subsidizing newspapers and creating a system of free exchange among them.
“Early considerations that dominated this policy were fear of the disintegration of the Republic. The system subsidized distribution of political news” despite “Washington and John Adams being attacked in the newspapers. Passage of the sedition act to control criticism in the 1790s failed because American politics was not going to accept that kind of control.”
The wisdom of that early policy is confirmed by threats to today’s struggling democracies where the press is not free. A dramatic example is the recent firing of Turkish news ombudsman and colleague Yavuz Baydar from one of the largest daily papers in Turkey. He had been in that position since 2004.
In late May, there were clashes in Istanbul between anti-government protesters and police. In a recent New York Times column, Baydar described the censoring of his criticism of the Turkish news coverage of the clashes.
“As the city center turned into a battlefield, 24/7 news channels opted to air documentaries about penguins or to go on with their talk shows. One channel only 200 yards from now famous Gezi Park, had three medical experts discussing schizophrenia. Media executives intimidate or censor reporters to kowtow to governments to protect their other business interests. Editorial content is strictly controlled by media bosses who have other business interests.”
He took aim at “sanitized media coverage across the globe and particularly in young or struggling democracies.
“These other business interests are undermining the freedom and independence of the press, including serious investigative journalism, vital to a democratic political culture.”
Baydar’s firing was criticized by some international press including the editorial pages of the New York Times, The Guardian and The Observer (England), The Hindu, and the Folha de Sao Paulo Brazil, and the Organization of News Ombudsmen.
Is the cause for the drop in the esteem held for journalism in the United States related to Baydar’s complaints? When national and international corporations with other business interests own most news companies, is press freedom compromised? If yes, is our government to blame by not protecting a key institution in the success of our country?
The Pew Research survey did not differentiate between the public esteem held for locally and regionally owned media companies and the large multi-outlet corporations.
The public’s well-being is dependent upon citizens demanding media freedom. With local and regional ownership, citizens’ efforts can be effective due to easier access to media company representatives. With national and international corporate press ownership, citizens must rely upon their elected officials to secure press freedom.
If you have an unresolved concern or question about Gazette or KCRG-TV9 news, opinion or online content, contact Judi Whetstine, Iowa Source Media Group’s community advocate, at gaz.community email@example.com, or by mail to Community Advocate, The Gazette, 500 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401.
Whetstine, not a Source Media Group employee, is a former assistant U.S. attorney in Cedar Rapids and currently is chair of the City of Cedar Rapids ethics board.