Sunday, 24 January 2010

Paparazzi, Please Deh!

As long as I’ve known, the two most unpopular professions around are politicians and journalists. This is because both professions are generally known for their ruthlessness and disregard of common human decencies such as empathy. These types of professions also work on the Machiavellian principle of the end justifying the means, whether in the interest of getting the votes or getting the ratings.

The fact that I’m also a journalist however, has never really entirely wiped that rather sad notion about my profession. I am under no illusion that journalism is all about truth telling, being objective and providing balanced reporting. The fact that our airtime or print space is limited, we tend to pick and choose which truths that we care to air and which objective sides we happen to stumble upon.

Ours, like the politicians we tend to cover, is a cynical profession, where business interests, competition and often our narrow minded belief and arrogance that we could influence the world and therefore supremely important, more than often override the so called journalistic ethics that we’re supposed to adhere to.
In this light, the voters and the audience too are learning to view us with a certain caveat. We, as professional species, are never to be entirely trusted.

If a certain amount of heartlessness in the name of pursuing our objectives is something I’m used to seeing, whether to get the news stories, the exclusive interviews or pictures or for politicians, get the support (the parliamentary bill, the kick-backs or what have you), what I find difficult to swallow is if they suddenly turn into cry babies because of a little criticism.

Which is what seems to be happening more and more. Just count how many times our political leaders whine about being misunderstood, their good names besmirched and treated unfairly. (Here I’m particularly thinking of our ‘numero uno’ man who is supposed to be the embodiment of forbearance and stoicism showing increasing propensity towards lachrymosity, whingyness and even paranoia.)

But when some journalists, or those whose profession consists in making a living out of hunting down and airing the misery of the world and the salacious and scandalous things that people get up to, start showing signs of pusillanimity and all because some members of the public don’t see them as divine messengers or the voice of angels but the low-level gossip mongers they really are, then it is time we take a closer look at our profession and reveal it in its true light.

Whereas journalists in other countries face kidnapping, torture and even slaughter whilst legitimately carrying out their profession of uncovering the truth and reporting the problems of the world and here close at home journalists continue to face ill treatment and danger in their profession, some of this country’s gossip journalists and paparazzi get apoplectic about some sharp words coming out of their ‘celebrity du jour’ Luna Maya. Even worse the Journalism Association (PWI) seems to think it’s worth their time and integrity to report the tongue-lashing to the police and bring the case to court.

Now, where may I ask, is the gutsiness and resourcefulness that should be the hallmark of any good, hardnosed journalist? We always see our newsmakers as beings without emotions, without families and without pride, but merely as objects for our stories: In other words as news commodities via which we earn our bread and butter.

For a start, freedom of expression is the very foundation of our profession without which we cannot breathe. That freedom is for everybody, and not just for journalists. We work on the premise of ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.’ To bring someone to court over a 140 character Twitter status update in the hope of putting that person behind bars is not only foolish, it is tantamount to killing our own profession.

If you’re smart enough to join the online social network Twitter and actually bother to follow your favourite celebrity, then you should be smart enough to either respond likewise to a Tweet that you find offensive, or simply ‘unfollow’ and put an end to your misery. No need to be a cry baby and run to mummy to fight your petty battle.

Secondly, being thin-skinned and overly sensitive are definitely not attributes for either journalists or politicians. When I see leaders whine and moan, my stomach churn. When I see paparazzi complain about some mean words someone they stalk say about them, I say, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Personally, if I were those so-called infotainment journalists, I can count hundreds of ways to get back at celebrities that get on my wick that are a lot more effective than muzzling their freedom of speech. Starting a Facebook movement is one of them.

As it is, now the Facebook movement is actually against them. May be they’ll learn a lesson or two about the real essence of journalism.

(Desi Anwar: first published in The Jakarta Globe)

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