How responsible is top ranking press?
For any European, when asked about the freedom of speech, it is European media that is epitome of freedom and they are proud of this fact. And they should be, after all according to World Audit Report 2011, European countries rounded of the top five of Press Freedom rankings and rest of the list as well is mostly held by EU countries. All the nations are bounded to this canon through United Nations. The criteria of the ranking is based on Universal Declaration of Human Rights under article 19, which instructs, that, ìEveryone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiersî.
How free European media really is? On the world ranking, it is European countries that are dominating the list. But being there and observing the media may show something else to an external observer. According to World Audit Report, the level of press freedom is defined into three ‘broad’ categories, which are, legal environment, political environment and the economic environment. Legal environment is based on the flexibility of laws and regulations and ìgovernment’s inclination to use these laws and legal institutions in order to restrict the media’s ability to operate’.
Political environment, analyses the scale of political control over media, which include independence of state owned as well as private media. It also involves production and distribution process, as well as the favourable environment for journalists to operate in a country. The economic environment is defined by ownership of the media and where its inclination lies. This methodology of World Audit Report may sound very scientific and accurate when judging the level of free flow of information, nevertheless it can easily be criticized.
Is it, that the measure of free flow of information is subjective to the eye that is observing it? For instance, in 2004 Donald Rumsfeld, then US secretary of defence, implicitly claimed the status of German media being more biased than Al-Jazeera on the coverage of Iraq. China has also criticized Germany on biased media coverage of China during Olympics. There is also a conspicuous bias towards Muslims in European media, where Danish and French media are at the forefront. Danish media’s infamous cartoons of late 2005 and France’s tenacious criticism on Muslim veil has induced an outrage among Muslims across the globe, including the people of the region, where lies its commencement.
The analysis of Danish news media by Open Society Institute (ISO) in the report of 2009 found that, media mentions the religion of perpetrator if the crime is committed by a Muslim. Last year, Britain’s first Muslim woman cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative Party, Baroness (Sayeeda) Warsi, also criticized media, for making prejudice towards Muslims, look normal. Objective examination of the picture can manifest upon other that Europeans have their reasons to be bias towards Muslims, but media in any case is to remain neutral, as much as it can. Its job is to report the facts without any obvious inclinations and let audience give meanings to its contents. Apparently media has never followed that attitude anywhere in the world; no matter what regime it is working with: democratic or authoritative; and no matter how flexible and favourable the environment for it is. Lack of cultural understanding of different social groups is understandable; also the mistakes committed by media on such platforms are also often ignored. But when media has an obvious bias towards one group of society and is following an intentional policy of disparaging that group, it cannot be ignored on cultural grounds. It is obvious harassment of any group by media, committing the crime of maybe most peaceful people on earth. Before stereotyping any group, one thing media must be considered is – individuality, mark of western hemisphere.
No matter to what social group an individual belongs to he/she will always be distinctive from another individual from the same group, at some level. Our world is dynamic and thus volatile, where uniformity is only imposed not innate. Therefore when designing any policy or methodology to analyze free flow of information, everything should be considered, even the most controversial ideas and specially the people of that region and their outlook of media, from all around the globe, that is affecting them.
Aforementioned instances show that this freedom of press is likely to be framed. It appears that there is an evident and possibly deliberate policy behind European press. Due to permanency and consistency of such type of news, underneath there seem to be a collective approach of EU media. There is a similar trend that is followed by all the countries of the region. EU no doubt is a quintessence for other countries of the world because of its flexible border policy, but this kind of media approach is diminishing the value of its various affirmative policies. Nordic countries are considered to be one of the peaceful nations of the world. Denmark is also one such country which was known for its peace and non-interference approach in world affairs. Only after cartoons of 2005 this image was shattered. Nonetheless, this trend of EU media has not reached its maturity yet, and this point should be brought to the surface, for a discourse, now, as time demands it.
However, one should always remember that the emergence of press is the product of a communication technology invented in Germany – a gift to the entire world. This turning point in the history of mass communication created a phenomenon that has given number of benefits to the whole world. Of course, Europe without a doubt remained a hub of free thought and responsible attitude towards world, but this new approach of teasing different section of human society via media, damaging, piece by piece and moment by moment its historical posture. This is a beginning of a negative phenomenon. This attitude should be considered by pertinent policy makers, academicians and media conglomerates. One interesting methodology of considering the battle of power and freedom within media is through a four tiered model developed by Gordon and Merrill. They stated ‘locus of power determines the locus of freedom’. According to the model power resides somewhere in the matrix constituted of State, the media elite, the journalists, or the people. Yes, ordinary people are very important factor of determining any media measurement and they should be considered as much as any of the other factors. Ultimately every law, rules and regulations revolves around people.
The World Audit Report only presents a macro picture of media condition, but on micro level things could be very distinctive. One can challenge any aspect of media measurement due to multiple and diverse perception in existence today. Both the levels, macro and micro for judging the media are acceptable in their own place but together they just don’t fit. Only when they will the right answer will surface and enlighten us.
The writer is a lecturer in Institute of Communication Studies, Punjab University and can be accessed at firstname.lastname@example.org