We have reasons to be surprised if truly 'many Americans do not support journalistic values', as suggests a recent study titled "A new way of looking at trust in media: Do Americans share journalism's core values?" That may, again, sum up why the mainstream journalism today is plagued by a credibility gap.
The study's authors have observed, "…the problem at the heart of the media trust crisis may be skepticism about the underlying purpose and mission journalists are trying to fulfill."
However, Harvard Nieman Lab founder Joshua Benton has argued, 'It all depends on your definitions (and the questions you ask)', challenging the very methodology of the study conducted by the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Still, 67 per cent of the survey respondents reportedly support the idea that facts help get us closer to the truth.
That kind of positive vibe is at least there in a country (the US) which is placed at 44th in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. In comparison, Bangladesh's position is 152nd in the list of 180 countries.
Despite showing the country's declining media freedom, the index cannot entirely help explain the state of the Bangladesh media. Its internal bickering has been rather exposed on social media in recent times as working journalists and netizens alike raised fundamental questions about ethical standards practised by some outlets over a series of events.
Unfortunately, when a system seriously lacks ethics and popular legitimacy, truth disappears amid hullabaloo over false claims and crooked statements made time and again. A retailer in Dhaka's Mohammadpur Krishi Market told this scribe that media people had earlier explored truth whereas commoners now try to do so to find out flaws of published news. The mainstream media have no longer had the capacity to present most breaking news, thanks to the people's active presence on social media. They also determine the truth from multiple choices of confusing information available online. The social media posts and debates indicate people want to raise their voice and love to express anger if they are aggrieved. This is where newspapers and televisions have failed. The networking sites were replete with frustrations about our media on World Press Freedom Day 2021 (May 3).
"The power of storytelling is driving everything that we're seeing in media, regardless of the medium… The voice and the opinionated voice are more powerful than ever before," Sewell Chan, editorial page editor at The Los Angeles Times, said at an international symposium.
The world's political atmosphere has caused or accelerated the fall of the 20th century media. One who resorted to hundreds of lies every year during his presidency, ex-US president Donald Trump has been a perfect incarnation of modern-day falsehood but he represents a generation of dangerous leadership, not just a distorted corporate figure.
The 21st century establishments in countries around the world have become so powerful that they can comfortably attack the media but successfully (mis-)use the social media through propaganda campaign teams with fake identity.
Sadly enough, the mainstream media, with their backdated approach and erosion of social influence, have largely lost the ground to counter the falsehood or simply highlight diverse aspects of life and society. In critical cases, they cannot afford to exercise the constitutionally mandated freedom of expression, given the shrinking space and risks involved.
Instead, a section in the media apparently thinks readers and viewers would forget some issues and accept some others as facts if cooked-up stories are served repeatedly! They can make-believe the set agenda and dictate socio-political narratives that guide the populace!
To their dismay, the proof that people know what are not true is evident in eventual decline of arrogant newspapers and television channels in terms of circulation and viewership. A major challenge for professionals is: Truth can't get the upper-hand immediately in the midst of hundreds of questionable information. It requires efforts to nullify falsehood and heal injuries caused to truth.
Newspaper readers in our part of the world consider truth both as facts and righteous courses and actions. Thus they expect that the media would come up with haq kotha (factual and righteous words) for consumption of the masses.
Now, informality of the social media in spite of people's constant engagement with them confirms fresh relevance of the genuine media entities. To capitalise on the prospects, you need journalists who are true to the profession and it's only truth-telling which can prove to be a panacea for the mainstream journalism.