As a philosopher – never mind a social and political one – it’s not surprising I’d be pretty keen on freedom of expression. After all, there’s not much point taking the widow’s mite to think about things if, having thought about them, I can’t share those thoughts with her. And that goes double for social and political thoughts. But I find myself torn between this and my growing disappointment – no, let’s make that disgust – with the state of contemporary journalism. The reason why we give them these press passes is so they can accurately report on what’s going on. But if they’re too stupid to do that, why are we giving them these passes?
I say stupid rather than biased because I’m not concerned about biased reporting, mainly because I’m not sure what wouldn’t be. Nor about what Trump called ‘fake news’. Rather my concern is with stupid reporting. With reporters who can’t seem to do the very minimum we should expect from them, namely to report what was actually said, rather than what the reporter inferred from what was said.
Is there a way to test a would-be journalist on this very basic skill? Of course there is. If she passes, give her a licence to practise. If she subsequently demonstrates a pattern of misreporting, withdraw it. So what’s the problem?
The problem is, her publisher doesn’t care, because he’s no more committed to accuracy than she is. It’s near enough good enough all the way down. And all the way up.
Enter the state? Hell no! State licensing of journalists has always been a surefire recipe for dystopia. And therein lies the dilemma.
The only solution, I’m loath to report, is to call out bad reporting for what it is. To shame both the reporter and the publisher. And to shame them shamelessly! The public will not stop buying their newspaper. But reporters and publishers seek polite society. Don’t admit them to it. Shun them, shun them personally, and shun them utterly!
And why hasn’t this guaranteed solution caught on? I think it’s because you don’t care about accuracy either. Tony Hall said that there’s no historical event that shouldn’t be up for re-examination. So, wrote the reporter, Tony Hall is a Holocaust-denier. Near enough good enough, right?