JOURNALISM IS UNDER THREAT. No kidding. In countries such as Britain — that rather strange archipelago off the European mainland — we might be mistaken for believing that journalism was all to do with ‘hacking’.
Where on earth are we going? Please don’t say: “I don’t know”. It’s hell out there. The majority of journalists, internationally, with the exception of countries such as the USA, don’t carry firearms. It’s a principle! Yes … as difficult as it might be to believe journalists do have principles.
Is the ‘pen’ mightier than the ‘sword’? Interesting philosophical conundrum. Is the ‘keyboard’ mightier than the “sword”? Let’s bring things up-to-date!
What is offensive? Difficult one … not as easy as you might first think.
I might well be offended by certain ‘published’ material — print, online and various digital formats — but, usually, I can reply, or so I think — and that is surely the point. Islamophobic political parties in Europe will ‘milk’ the recent atrocity in Paris (Charlie Hebdo) for all they think it’s worth. And why should I care, you might ask? Well … several of the journalists/contributors killed at the Hebdo offices were personal friends. In my spare time between Reuters and an English language international socialist monthly I ‘hung-out’ at Hebdo. I was, apparently, quite a ‘catch’. Sometimes, I thought the paper/magazine puerile but people have said the same about stuff I have written for Private Eye and others. “Published and be damned”? It’s a cliché — especially if you end up in court accused of libel.
Samuel Johnson — quite a ‘conservative’ guy (lower case ‘c’ I’m sure you’ll note) — once said, apparently: “A man is very apt to complain of the ingratitude of those who have risen far above him.” What a load of BOLLOCKS!
Nonetheless, do we have the right to be offensive? I don’t go out of my way to be offensive. No … honestly … I don’t. But someone may be offended by what I write. It has happened … on several occasions. Let’s not get into the details; or to put it another way, I’ve said plenty of things which may have offended others. Most European ‘democracies’ have struggled for the right to be offensive. That may, at face value, seem an odd sort of “right” to defend. Let’s look at it this way: I may say/write something offensive about your religion, politics … even what you’re wearing and you can answer back. Believe me, people do! With the obvious exception of the British isles most European countries are republics and it has not always been an easy journey. In Britain a majority would still seem to be in favour of an ‘unelected hereditary aristocratic head of state’. Don’t forget that the next time some ‘knob-head’ on the television or radio in Britain tells you that Britain is a ‘model European democracy’.
As for religion; I may have told a ‘white lie’ above. I have offended people of all major religions. What has often seemed to offend the overly religious the most is my capability to defend their right to worship some omnipresent, all-encompassing ‘GOD’ but also ridicule it. I have often described myself as a militant agnostic rather than an atheist; simply because while I don’t think ‘believers’ can prove to me that a ‘god’ exists neither can I prove that such an all-powerful being doesn’t exist. For me the ‘oxymoronic’ dilemma is this: even if you could prove this extraordinary existence of a god it would not change my view. I don’t ‘do’ worship. Contrary to popular belief I don’t worship Nick Cave; although if you’d seen the Birthday Party play the Princess Charlotte (now gone) in Leicester — and it wouldn’t have surprised me if most people in the East Midlands couldn’t have heard them — you may well have started to ‘worship’ “Nick the Stripper”!
Is there a boundary, in relation to offence, particularly satirically, that we, the left should not cross? I’d genuinely like to know what people think. Many of the events and countries I’ve reported from involved a great deal of offence (to me, physically and mentally) and the death of colleagues — right there in front of me. Killed because they were journalists doing their job.
What I personally think — and that might not count for much — is that the socialist left has to tread a nuanced approach (and the left in Britain and internationally has never been too good at that). We stand against increasing ‘Islamophobia’ but we should be clear that we are not in support of so-called ‘Islamic jihadists’. The founding leader of Boko Haram, currently murdering at will in north-eastern Nigeria, did (or, if he’s still alive, does) not believe that water can evaporate and he was (is) sure the world is flat. Socialists are going to find it impossible to build any kind of alliance with these religio/political fanatic currents.
More importantly in Britain is the crass move by David Cameron (Prime minister) and Theresa May (Home secretary) to use recent events in Paris to regurgitate previous plans/desires to allow the police and other security services to ‘snoop’ on everyone. “En principe”, the sources in an investigative journalist’s story have been confidential, particularly in relation to “whistle-blowers” and the corruption they are drawing our attention to. If new regulatory powers are passed who is going to be brave enough to approach a journalist? Proposed changes to Ripa, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, endanger freedom of expression. We’re not just talking about brutal terrorists but also the ability of journalists to uncover many things the rich and powerful don’t want us to know about ✪
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