Punditry or Journalism

In your own language

Eduardo del Buey
Foto: Afp
La Jornada Maya

Martes 25 de julio, 2017

Part of my preparation for writing my columns in La Jornada Maya is monitoring global television news programs to obtain information and form opinions.

I am not a journalist. I am a columnist or, as they are known in the English-speaking world, a “pundit”. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines pundit as “a person who knows a lot about a particular subject and who expresses ideas and opinions about that subject.” That same dictionary defines journalist as “an editor or reporter of the news”.

What I write are my opinions of the news, especially about communications and international relations-issues on which I have specialized for over forty years. I am clear about that with myself and with my readers.

Unfortunately, many other pundits and columnists are not, and therein lies the problem.

During the past few years, most news networks have increasingly spent most of their time on punditry rather than on news gathering and reporting. If one watches CNN, there seems to be wall-to-wall programming with surrogates for Trump (paid by CNN and who knows who else), obfuscating the truth, and those on the other side also trying to make their points, often from an ideological and political perspective rather than an objective one. Other international news networks like BBC and TV5 fare better, but can they continue to resist the lure of the better ratings that seem to be the product of opinion journalism?

If one watches FOX NEWS, one is succumbing to the rantings of the extreme right, often with little concern for truth over ideology. Most of their so-called reporters are merely shills for special interest groups on the right, and FOX’s owners are self-declared strong supporters of extreme right-wing causes.

With pundits posing as journalists, or journalists acting like pundits, the public is increasingly confused and fooled into believing ideological versions of the truth rather than accurately reported facts.

Don’t get me wrong. Pundits are necessary, as are opinion journalists and columnists.

But not all pundits, all the time.

Currently, there is a major effort underway to misinform the public like never before, and communications technology is facilitating this process exponentially.

Rather than report facts and provide background so that people can come to their own conclusions, media outlets present those who would tell the truth and those who would lie as moral equivalents – both have a right to express their opinions even though they may be wrong or outright liars. Providing liars with the moral equivalency of honest journalists is one of the major reasons for the decline in the credibility of media around the world, but, especially, in the United States, where ratings aimed at increasing advertising revenues seem to be more important that accuracy and veracity.

Opinion journalism has a role to play in modern society. Intelligent people with intelligent opinions can help inform intelligent voters. But the rules must always be explicit. Those who engage in opinion journalism must be seen and defined as such. Opinions must be defined as just that – opinions – and not portrayed as the unvarnished truth.

But how many honest and professional journalists can one identify these days? How many seek the truth without pre-conceptions, and how many are trapped in the need to legitimize an ideological or commercial position?

How many citizens can tell the difference and are willing to demand a better journalistic product, beginning with their wallets by refusing to buy the media products and support the advertisers that keep lies financially alive?

These questions are essential to a thoughtful analysis of where the media is going, and where it must go if it is to play a viable and lively role in society. A free media must be just that – a free media. Its news gathering and reporting function must not be beholden to interested parties or ideologies. That is for columnists and pundits.

Journalists who claim to be professional must behave as such.

So perhaps it is time for major news networks to separate what seems to be 24/7 punditry from the business of journalism – providing audiences with factual reporting on which they can base their own conclusions. Perhaps it is time for media to separate support for ideology or personality from actual journalistic reporting.

To be in the business of concluding for others diminishes the reputation of journalists and media outlets. Legitimizing “alternative facts” as they are increasingly known does a disservice to the public, and contributes to an increasingly ignorant electorate.

An informed voter is at the core of a vibrant democracy. The media has a fundamental responsibility to inform based on truth, but it seems to be falling short of this goal.

Mérida, Yucatán
[email protected]