The line between alternative journalism and activism
Clear distinctions are needed, as the world needs both
The proliferation of so-called alternative media has confused a lot of people about the concept of journalism. Activists who fight for certain causes and who tend to always have conflicts of interest in the things they want to communicate with the public, have found fresh channels for their operation, thanks to online broadcasting being “democratised” by advanced technologies. The development is good, as long as people who matter can draw a clear line between journalism and activism.
The people who count include the audiences and the activists themselves. Using new technologies to advance one’s cause is totally all right and smart, but it must not be done in the name of journalism, which is different from activism in fundamental ways. This is where a lot of things are not progressing the way they should in the bustling world of “alternative media”.
In many cases, the line is very thin. The general definition of alternative media describes operations designed to serve “smaller” people, not corporates, influential organisations, or politicians in power. A major example is the way the “9/11 Truthers” are using tiny news outlets and YouTube to ask a great number of scientific questions surrounding what American politicians and mainstream media call the biggest terrorist attack on the United States. The “Truthers” are resorting to “alternative media” because they believe that the mainstream media, not just in America but basically all across the West, are not doing their jobs properly, if at all.
The “Truthers” are seeking justice, a move that is acceptable in the context of alternative media. The line, though, can become blurred if lies, distortions or attempts to inflame hatred are involved. This is very important, if the alternative media are to get the credibility and the attention they yearn for.
There are good and bad activists. And people working for major conventional news outlets can also become bad activists if they turn a blind eye to the truth that is needed to be told. Journalism and activism can lean towards each other, but the bottom line is that journalists are not at liberty to lie or cover up.
In other words, there can only be good journalists, because bad ones can be inseparable from bad activists. On the other hand, good, responsible activists may not be much different from good journalists. It boils down to the fact that whatever you do, credibility is important, but honesty is more so.
Thailand’s political conflict has spawned “alternative” media as well as “hybrid” journalists who are convinced that they can have the best of both worlds. Again, it’s hard to be neutral, objective and truthful while at the same time ready to provoke or do whatever is necessary to advance a cause – all at the same time. This is not to question or discredit activism; this is to say that the already blurred line must be clarified, because the world needs both activism and journalism.
Alternative media have emerged because of the general perception that the mainstream media tend to protect the status quo and always have conflicts of interest. Activism in the alternative media can, unknowingly perhaps, turn them into something they dread.
Activism, in many cases, is noble and well intended. Those involved in it only have to realise that they will be better off doing it in the open and being proud of it. After all, muddied water, which in this case is unreliability, serves no-one.