Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted October 13, 2023

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If we can't believe the news we hear, we live in darkness.

Is Democracy Dying?

by BethShelby

There are many things that strike me as wrong in the world today, and I find it hard to choose one that bothers me more. At the moment, I am concerned about the total lack of faith people seem to have with everything we hear when we tune into any one of the major news stations.

If I repeat something I’ve heard on the news, I get comments like these. “You can’t believe that. They are just telling you what they want you to believe. Everything on the news is lies.”

If I say, “The news media checks their sources. They have to apologize and retract the story if they get it wrong.” Then I’m told, “That’s what they want you to believe. They have to say what they’re told to say.”

Then I ask, “Who are ‘the they’ who tells the media what to say?” Depending on who I ask, I get answers like, the shadow government, the liberal media, the illuminati, the far right, the far left, George Soros, Ken Griffin, the evil Democrats, the evil Republicans, the Communist party, the Neo-Nazis, and etc. The truth is no one really knows who “they are” They just know the press is lying to us.

If I say “I checked it out on the truth checking sites.” Then and I get, “Oh, they are all in on it too. The news media stations are all owned by the same group. So are all of the news checking groups. They are lying too. They are all owned by same evil secret cabal.”  I’m even told “There is no difference in the two political parties. They are both owned by the same conglomerate, who is out to destroy America.”

Those who study journalism have rules to follow. First of all “truthfulness is a commitment to reporting only accurate and truthful information, without skewing any facts or details to improve the story or better align an issue with any certain agenda. Neutrality suggests that stories be reported in an unbiased, even-handed, and impartial manner.

Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility. The Radio Television Digital News Association, an organization exclusively centered on electronic journalism, has a code of ethics centering on public trust, truthfulness, fairness, integrity, independence, and accountability.

Three decades ago, the United Nations established World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness about the importance of an independent media and impress upon governments their obligation to respect the free flow of information. Journalists around the world put their lives on the line to get truth to the people of the world.

Journalists find themselves under constant assault, and press freedom is being eroded around the world. Last year was especially bleak, with some 67 journalists and media workers killed. This year is no better. Many journalists have been killed, and some 570 journalists and media workers are in prison, while countless others face continuing physical threats and online harassment.

The United States has always stressed the importance of having a free press. This is not the case in other counties where the government tries to control the information their people have. Communist countries like Russia are guilty of this. This is true of other counties such as — Iran, China, Myanmar and Turkey, with countries such as Vietnam, Belarus, Saudi Arabia and Egypt not far behind.

Part of the problem is sensationalism sells. The press is forced to make their facts more dramatic. We tend to seek out television and radio personalities who spin the news either to the left or the right depending on which way we lean. The news stations cater to what the public demands. Their aim is to make a profit.

In a recent survey, well over half of Americans say they believe national news organizations intend to mislead, misinform or persuade the public to adopt a particular point of view through their reporting. Only 23% believe the press is not deliberately lying to us.

The scary part is with so few believing the legitimate press, people are going to unregulated social media sites for their news. On these sites, anyone is free to make up stories and publish fake conspiracy theories no matter how outrageous they might be. The more sensational they are, the more many people want to believe them. Now with AI free to be used by anyone, these stories seem all the more convincing. We can see and hear what appears to be real, but it is often a clever manipulation. 53% of the populations are now getting at least part of their news from social media sites.

Distrusting the free press isn’t something new, but in times past most of us in this country assumed the news sources were bound by rules. Around 2017, destroying the credibility of the mainstream press apparently became a White House priority. Since then, we have become so accustomed to obvious lies from our politicians, we shrug it off as the norm. When the press attempts to point their lies, we complain they are the ones lying to us.

A half century ago, most of the public said they trusted the media. Today most don’t. What is the purpose of having a free press when most don’t believe a word of it. The Washington Post came out with a slogan several years which stated ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness. It troubles me deeply to see our democracy die. 

Now I feel better.  

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