Spanish people have taken to the streets in huge numbers with public squares occupied by protestors opposed to austerity and calling for real democracy. Cecilia Ballesteros and Mayte Carrasco look at resistance and media and a manifesto for ‘real journalism now’ saying ‘We must participate in an honourable journalism of which we can feel proud.’
‘Why are the traditional media losing their credibility? Why do our citizens no longer trust us? In the Puerta del Sol – the seat of the Spanish Revolution – why were they shouting ‘Television: manipulation’?’ Spain is going through a critical time, and it’s from that discomfort that the Real Democracy Now movement sprang, starting in the Puerta de Sol and spreading around the world. The condition of journalism in our country, as in so many other places, is a part of this upheaval.
The crisis has left thousands of journalists on the street, and the media are closing their doors while special envoys and foreign correspondents are already an endangered species. But there are many more problems than these current ones: for some years now in Spain, too many media outlets have been serving the political powers; many are listed on the Stock Exchange, and information has become a mere commodity. Audiences and readers look to alternative media to get up to speed, because the traditional ones are starting to lose their credibility.
Homogeneous currents of thought invade the flow of information, simplifying and exaggerating it and thus creating tension and sensationalism. Furthermore, techno-saturation is leading to disinformation. As journalists, we think that this situation should change for the good of both the profession and of a people that has only been living freely and democratically for a short time, and that deserves something better. As a group of ‘concerned’ journalists taking advantage of the warmth of the ‘Spanish Spring’, we think that as well as demanding real democracy and sincere political parties we should also ask for a Real Journalism Now.
We should return to the journalism our universities taught us – one that is critical of politicians, honest and true; one that takes on the public responsibility of informing and educating as well as entertaining. Why are the traditional media losing their credibility? Why do our citizens no longer trust us? In the Puerta del Sol – the seat of the Spanish Revolution – why were they shouting ‘Television: manipulation’, and applauding our initiative? Then and there, we charged ourselves with making a truthful assessment of our own trade. We developed a manifesto of minimal standards, of ten simple and fundamental guidelines; and we sent out a call inviting our colleagues to join us in debating, defining, and in some cases returning to, the aims and basic principles of journalism.
Those guidelines are: no to joke contracts; no to massive lay-offs; no to 35-year-old interns; no to politicians embedded in the media; no to cheap multitasking journalism; copying, pasting and reselling is a crime; no to forced early retirement (we need the experience); information is not a spectacle and the media are not a circus; no to the extinction of foreign correspondents and special envoys; public service and a sense of responsibility. It sounds utopian, and perhaps it is, but without dreams the world never changes – and we members of Real Journalism Now are convinced that there is no honourable society without an honourable journalism.
We are concerned about how the techonologies of our era are transforming journalism; about the economic crisis and the media business model; about the loss of credibility and the demographic changes that are effecting a paradigm shift in our profession. Many in the news media, faced with this grim tableau, feel lost or disenchanted, while readerships are increasingly fragmented and losing interest in news that directly affects their lives. Traditional news publishers are throwing themselves into businesses not their own, and the media is falling into the hands of executives and directors who know nothing about what a news story is, nor about the commitment that links a journalist to the people, or about his or her ethics and professional code. We think that journalism continues to have a huge role and a great responsibility in society, and that it continues to be a pillar of democracy without which public debate is unthinkable. We also think that we bear much of the blame for what is happening. We defend a journalism in which priority is given to truthful, honest information that rises above ‘infotainment’ and above citizen journalism; one that knows how to sift through the din of false sources and information on the web to find the real story. We defend a journalism free of internet plagiarism, with no cutting and pasting in our articles; one that is not led by Google’s search engines, the most-viewed or most-read pages, or trendy topics. We want the stories to lead. In our journalism we want to put out true, critical, well-balanced news, rather than limit ourselves to repeating political slogans and working in thrall to the parties. We want ethical information to be returned to its condition as the right of all citizens; to a position where it is not a commodity, or floated on the stock exchange or in the service of the markets. We are not beyond entertaining, provoking and amusing, but we believe that information is a public good that should put important topics on the table for the community, in order to help form a proper body of public opinion; and it should recover its sense of responsibility towards readers, whatever medium that is done through. We defend a journalism that does not forget quality; one in which there are no forced early retirements and where the most experienced practitioners are not thrown out on to the street. One in which the best are not laid off in swathes to make room for the cheapest. We defend a journalism that returns to the streets, to conflicts and wars, to bear witness to what it happening in the world and contribute to a culture of peace. We must participate in an honourable journalism of which we can feel proud.
In just a few days, more than a thousand people have joined our movement through our Facebook page and our website, which was put together by a very obliging colleague in the field. This enthusiastic reception was a wonderful surprise. We believe it is proof that we are not alone, that there are many of us troubled by this situation. We are working on the debate around our ten guidelines, as well as developing a second manifesto through public debates in internet forums and in a meeting place where we hope to continue coming together for a long-term debate. We want a future for journalism, and we want that to mean a profound and brave self-appraisal, a process of catharsis that will start with us – with the journalists who want to work for a Real Journalism Now.