Journalists: Unwitting Friends of Jihadis?

Moorthy Muthuswamy, June 2003

The coverage of Islamic fundamentalism by journalists and other media people have made me ask a number of fundamental questions about the folks who make up journalism. My foray into journalism has been through freelance; I have published now for well over four years, from opinions to letters. While I have been successful in publishing in some journals, I have also seen myself rebuffed, time and again, by others.

Journalism, although important, is not field that attracts the smartest -- the social status and financial rewards are not those associated with upper echelons of a society. The preparation that goes into being a journalist, typically, involves taking most courses in humanities. This has a major drawback, in the sense that, the college students of journalism do not get to solve problems, unlike students of professional or scientific background.

Journalism and the War on Terror

Journalists are among the strongest proponents of democracy. This is because, free speech rights granted under democracy give journalists power and prominence, in addition to freedom in reporting the truth, as they see it. As I pointed out in my article titled "Islamís Weakness", all democratic countries with sizable Islamic populations have seen them radicalized to a considerable extent. Freedom of speech and religion has been used by religious fascists to radicalize Muslim populations in democratic countries. In many such countries violent Islamic extremists have been entrenched among the populace. The unique facet of the war on terror is that whole Muslim communities have been brainwashed into supporting jihad. Suspension of some rights, while fundamentalists are liquidated and communities are weaned back to civilization is inevitable and much needed. But these very same steps restrict journalistsí ability to gather and report news and goes against their philosophy of supporting all rights. Conclusion: We have a conflict of interest between journalistsí desire to report freely and the communityís desire for safety and winning the war on terror.

Free speech rights granted under a democratic system makes journalistsí role in a society rather powerful. While journalists can question anyone under the freedom of speech, others couldnít do so easily, because others lack the access to the media, which journalists control in the first place!

Journalists can also make life difficult for a government if it has to take strong measures to put down terrorism. Because, as discussed before, these measures clash with the interests of journalists.

Duped by Claims of Victimization

With journalists seeing themselves as custodians of democracy, they tend to become hypersensitive to the claims of minority communitiesí complaints of oppression and violation of human rights. Muslim extremists around the world have used this effective strategy to push their agenda. Journalists have been slow to realize that the underpinnings of Islamic ideology is very fascist, and it alone has been repressing Muslims and has kept them from progressing, and has channeled their energy toward jihad (reference: Islamís Weakness). The blunder journalists across the spectrum made in misdiagnosing Islamic fascists as victims, has made entire communities and nations unprepared, and resulted in the biggest terrorist disaster on Sept. 11. I also contend that Islamic insurgencies too have managed to survive due to undeserving sympathy of the press and media. We see that instead of being keepers of democracy, modern journalists, by and large, have become unwitting friends of fascism that is threatening many democracies, including India.

Left Vs Right

This is not say that all journalists are on the left. Clearly, training and the kind of job they do put most of them on the left when it comes to most issues. But there is also a significant section of journalists who are on the right. But they are a minority. Since the events of Sept. 11, there has been a gradual shift among the public in favoring the right. Left has discredited itself greatly with its many missteps with regard to Islamic fundamentalism. The few good journalists on the right have done an immensely good service for the civilization, exposing Islamic extremists for what they are.

New York Times as a Case Study

As the most prominent newspaper in America, the New York Times wields a considerable influence over America. But, it is also a strongly left leaning paper that has come under increasing criticism for its portrayal of Islamic extremists. As someone who reads it regularly, I started noticing its bizarre portrayal of Hindu-Muslim conflict in India. About a year ago, I published an opinion in Daily Pioneer about New York Timesí ridiculous coverage (reference: Tell it like it is). NY Times has consistently characterized Muslims as victims in India under the hands of Hindu, when in reality, it is the other way around. Its editors wouldnít even publish letters that point out otherwise. To me and to many others, the Times was like an American version of Al-Jazeera, an Arab TV network, notorious for a deliberate one-sided reporting. Even when it came to Israel, Americaís closest alley, the blundering continued. A recent Timesí editorial called on Israel to respond "proportionately" to Palestinian and other Muslim terror attacks (notably from Lebanon), without thinking through that if Israel follows this advice, it will cease to exist in a region where its enemies out number it 100 to 1. Of course, the Times wouldnít publish any other view, when responded to in the form of a letter.

This way of deliberately ignoring the truth and reality, and look for what it wants to see, for an editorial board, should be a bad omen. It came as no surprise to many when Jason Blairís debacle at the Times emerged.

Why Editorials?

I have wondered aloud many times what makes an editorial board members expert enough on any issue to be able to write editorials. In fact, the board is simply not qualified to write most editorials. I am for getting away with editorial section altogether and leaving the space for op-eds, where experts can give their opinions. This is good journalism.

Recommendations

While acknowledging the great positives the journalists continue to contribute, it is time to also note the limitations and negatives of modern day journalism, exposed by the war on terror. Journalists need to understand that journalism is just one pillar among the many that make a democracy work. Their forte is reporting, not problem solving. Editorials do not belong in newspapers; op-eds do. Governments must not allow themselves to be unnecessarily restrained by journalists in dealing with terrorism, -- given the underlying conflict of interest.