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    Walter Lippman Essay

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    This research among other objectives seeks to establish whether it is possible to have a non-partisan public press that gives equal opportunity to different voices to air their views thereby eliciting numerous facets or views of the same story. Clearly the problem in Africa has been that of a partisan, usually government media, fanning the fire in conflicts to a point where one of the sides thinks it has no choice but to reply by starting a fight. As the fighting rages on, more fuel is poured on the political fire by a partisan press, resulting in a full-scale war.

    In 1999, Walter Lippman enunciated his belief that the presentation of truthful news lies at the heart of democracy. But he said, there are difficulties “.. they are that there is a problem of the news which is of absolutely basic importance to the survival of popular government, and that the importance of that problem is not vividly realized nor sufficiently considered. ” Lippman (1920: 14) Although more than eight decades have passed since Mr Lippman penned his appraisal, the problems of news communication in a democratic society are still with us.

    The following study stems from the author’s conviction that opinion and policy making remain significant, inter related processes within any political system. A democracy based on criteria of popular control and consultation, poses its particular ticklish questions of the manner and means by which political ideas, opinions and issues are transmitted throughout the body politic. In most countries, communication is carried on primarily through the news media. News people and their sources of news interact to form a set of relationships crucial in the linkage of citizen and official.

    The significant information on which a citizen in a democracy must base his political actions is most often chaneled, in some form, through the written or spoken press or in more placid periods this activity is generally taken for granted. Few citizens, for example, are normally sensitive to the function served by the media or mediated information in the politics of their democracy. Although we may accept in principle, Jefferson’s maxim that “No government ought to be without censors and where the press is free, no one ever will”. People seldom concern themselves with weather the media can and does perform this critical role.

    But in times of so-called national importance such as an election the citizens seek out the aid of the columnist, and the commentator by reading beyond the headlines and eagerly twisting the dial. PSB that may be distinguished from the state controlled broadcasters that still exist in many countries, can help to maintain diversity in light of these developments and play an important role in fulfilling the public’s right to know. Freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, includes the right not only to seek and impart knowledge and ideas but also the right to receive them.

    This has been held to require states to take positive measures to ensure the existence of an environment, in which a pluralistic media can flourish, providing information from a wide variety of sources to citizens. An independent, adequately funded and accountable PSB is a crucial component of that environment. True to Lippman`s word, the presentation of truthful news is a touchstone of all human rights and it is most important for “information – societies”, in which citizens receive most of their information by the mass media and in which their attitudes are dominantly shaped by the mass media.

    The ability of television news to influence public opinion to any significant extent was probably not fully recognised until the mid – 1990`s, after the broadcasters had demonstrated that the new communications technology combined with a willingness among some services to co-operate regularly in the exchange of new material could make pictures of any important event available beyond national boundaries within hours. Over the years world audiences shared the J.

    F. Kennedy assassination, student riots, Watergate, terrorism and various wars including Vietnam and the Middle East and nothing could be the same again. Yorke (2002: 2) argues: .. by the 1980`s, anyone who remained skeptical about the power of television news to move the public opinion must have had all doubts swept aside by the astonishing spontaneous responses to the appearance in October 1984 of harrowing pictures of famine in Ethiopia.

    The impetus for the creation of the Band Aid Relief Fund and all that has followed in an attempt to alleviate the suffering of millions can be attributed directly to the reports seen on the news bulletins on an established four hundred plus broadcasting organisations. The same pool of material from television news influenced opinion about what was happening in the late 1990`s in Rwanda, Kosovo and Indonesia. Today’s news programming has become an accepted part of the culture of every society which embraces television. Those who report and present the news are famous enough to be caricatured.

    Their faces adorn magazine front pages. Their on – screen performances and salaries they earn for them, are the subject of endless discussion and speculation. How they leave their private life, what they wear, what they do and what they say, especially if it is controversial in the slightest, are followed with almost indeceit interest by the press and the public. The popularity of broadcast journalism as a career remains undiminished despite the growth of Internet services and online news. Almost every halfway literate, youngster, it seems, wants to be in the media.

    Television news has become a respectable subject for serious academic study, especially by sociologists postulating theories about the role and motivation of the practitioners and the influence they bring to bear on agenda setting – what stories they choose to cover and then how they process them. Every so often an aggrieved public figure will complain angrily about the stories got up by the media or the concentration on personalities rather than issues. In Zimbabwe the growing trend amongst aggrieved politicians is to cry out loud for being misquoted.

    The suspicion exists that the establishment no matter what party holds power, or who runs the church, the judiciary or the military or industrial complex – dictates what and how television reports. But there is probably greater genuine surprise that television journalists do not see it as their first duty to protect society from the unpalatable, the outwardly – reasonable view being that the world would be a better place if items about civil disturbance and similarly distasteful events were simply not shown. It is important to note at the outset that in many countries television is controlled or funded by governments.

    It is not difficult to appreciate that many news services are able to produce little except what is officially sanctioned. In addition, foreign camera crews and reporters cannot fly in with their equipment to anywhere they please and expect to start work. Some countries simply refuse to allow them entry visas to get in, others may take months and when the permission is finally granted the presence of minders may be so inhibiting that the reports that are made may be no more informative than those old-fashioned cinema travelogues.

    There is always the danger that an organisation funded by the government and directed by the elite is likely to favour the government line. That (in) famously, is what happened in the 1926 General Strike, when the first Director General of the BBC, Lord Reith, argued that the BBC was the people’s service and the government was the people’s choice, so it followed that the BBC supported the government. (http://www. cultsock. ndirect. co. uk9/21/2003).

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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