The cognizance that we are living in а world of information, in an IT and information society that is galloping in its progress with the speed of light, today is supplemented with the fact that the possession of information is a priority, because being in step with the progress means that possession of information is the most significant product the sustaining and quality of life depend on. Hence, those who professionally deal with the information and information dissemination become significant and important, and the journalism, unless is not a companion of corruption, is on a good way to receive the greatest honor and merit – to become sacred!
Author: Dejan Donev PhD, Associate Professor of Ethics in Journalism and Ethics in Mediaе
Namely, this provides much ground for confirmation of the thesis that nowadays, in the contemporary democratic and pluralistic society, the media have irreplaceable role as one of the factors that actually enables the society to function. In fact, the quality of the representative democracy depends directly on the quality of the media’s reporting, because most of the citizens make their political decision based on the information obtained from the media. Thus, as S.M. Barkin believes, “the existence of informed public is ultimate public interest, therefore the journalism has moral obligation to serve the public interest”.
So, the journalists are not just news collectors, but are expected to research, to be critical towards the world they live in and to be proactive as well – to drive the public debate on topics of general interest, i.e. to be guardians of the democratic values, but also to be the prying eye of the public, as well as to be whistleblowers and agenda creators. In this context, the journalists were justifiably named as “the fourth branch of government”, which alongside with the legislative, executive and judiciary branch is monitoring and controlling the society and everything occurring in the society – but also the other three governmental branches – becoming a “democracy watchdog”, which has a primary role to disclose any irregularity, negativity and deviation, especially corruption.
The corruption is accented due to the cognizance that the reporting of the media about corruption, especially the corruption in the highest echelons of the government, is one of the best indicators of the media freedom, i.e. about their professional and unbiased working on behalf of the public interest. More precisely, as stated in Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation (MCIC)’s latest analysis – The reporting about high level corruption: Among the public interest and captive media, “on the one hand, the media can serve as a watchdog of the public interest and to have positive influence on it via its informative function i.e. to limit the possibilities of corruption. On the other hand, corruption can influence the media, and they instead of being an instrument for protection of the public interest, can be misused for protection of their owners’ personal interests, as well as for covering up high level corruption cases”.
REPORTING ABOUT CORRUPTION
Withal, “it is unnecessary to say that became the fundamental obligation of the journalists, to identify the corruption sources and to share them with the public”. As stated further in the SEEMO Safety Net Manual “While reporting about a corrupt system, state or other organisation/body, or ‘external corruption’, seems relatively simple, it is not. One should take into account the specific circumstances a journalist has to face before reporting… It becomes even more challenging to report about corruption within the media profession, or ‘internal corruption’, for obvious reasons… Both cases require a clear head, an objective attitude and absolute devotion to the aforementioned principles”.
This leads to more thorough thinking about the situation in the Macedonian media, i.e. whether and to what extent our journalists consider the quality, prompt and ethical reporting about corruption, especially in the highest echelons of the government, as a priority and public interest, and how they protect this particular public interest? All of this erupted with the publishing of the so called “bombs of Zaev”, through which the public became familiar with “possible” severe corruption of the government itself and in order to reach adequate judicial finale there were countless negotiations, dozens of Agreements were made, the SPPO was created, however the “finale” is still afar (at least in legal terms)!
It seems that besides satisfying the fundamental, basic conditions of reporting about the corruption, the section dealing with such problem, the so called investigative journalism as a response to these subjects, looks like it’s defragmented and without much support, so “it is looked after as a near-dead plant”. First, hardly any newsroom has so much human and financial resources on its disposal in order to produce one corruption related investigative story from the beginning until the end. Second, it seems like the judiciary system is hardly on the side of the investigative journalists and the media houses, according to its latest shifts. Particularly the section of that system related to investigating and initiating possible indictments that would come out of an journalistic story, without having in mind the party interest. Third, the level of education and practice of the journalists is debatable regarding the elements and tools for investigative journalism because (with seldom exceptions in partial attempts) there is no cadre, no tradition, no desire for this, and this journalism type is reduced to the level of wish of the future journalist. Fourth, besides treating corruption from the outside, it is also indispensable to treat it from the inside, and that is among the journalists, because one of the main reasons for the catastrophic condition of the Macedonian media is the systemic corruption in this sector, which, as Vlado Apostolov states in its analysis “Systemic corruption in the Macedonian media” “it resides on two mutually tangled pillars: the media’s ownership structure and the financing of the media via the governmental advertisement campaigns”.
In such constellations, besides the good intentions of the Center for Civil Communications through the creation of the Media Network and the NGOs for combatting corruption and the signing of the Joint declaration of media and NGOs representatives for mutual cooperation in the fight against corruption on 7 February 2012, there still exist, quickly evolve and are being developed elements, cases, series, lines of corruption acts, which are also pointed out by “Transparency Macedonia” in its Newsletter 2 where in the section “3. Media condition”, we pick out: “the public broadcasting service in the country, the Macedonian Radio Television, in the month of March continued with the non-objective, imbalanced and unprofessional informing regarding the political occurrences in the country, favoring the positions and the activities of the government, besides the accusations for severe misuses and crimes documented by the opposition”.
NOT ALL MEDIA ARE THE SAME
Some other organizations were reporting as well, though partially, with/in separate efforts, and above all the Center for Investigative Journalism SCOOP Macedonia, which was reporting within the NED project “Raising of the public awareness against corruption through investigative journalism” with its own stories such as “The anti-corruption officers with double standards: combat or protection of corruption?” or “Ministers’ wages: Half million euro just for wages”. The latest analysis of MCIC is in line with these actions – The reporting about high level corruption: Among the public interest and captive media, authored by Borjan Gjuzelov and Angel Arnaudov, in which they analyze whether, to what extent and how the printed media informed the public about the press conferences of the opposition in which serious indications of corruption were presented, in order to secure basic image and comparison about the reporting of the allegations of corruption on highest level, all that in order to underline the importance of the professional and unbiased reporting for the sake of the public interest.
The final conclusion is again the same, and confirms the thesis set in this analysis, i.e. that there are significant discrepancies in the coverage of the publications, that there is selectivity in the reporting about separate cases, as well as that there is disrespect of the fundamental standards of the professional and ethical reporting, which points out that certain media instead of protecting the public interest and reporting professionally about the suspicions of corruption on the highest level, they neglected the public interest and they insufficiently informed the public with their selective and unprofessional reporting. Such editing policy is contrary to the public interest and points out to certain risks of corruption in the media themselves!
As a conclusion, one thing we can confirm is the justified cognizance that none of this is neither new nor strange, according to the regular report of “Freedom House”. As Aljosha Simjanovski states in his Opinion given in the Utrinski Vesnik daily from 10 May 2015: “this is just a cross-section – conclusion made on the basis of our entire democratic, economic, political, educational, cultural, but above all, spiritually subjected mole mentality and development level, which in times of global information connection is simply easily derived” and plausible!