Sunday, July 04, 2010

The DNA of the journalist: Regulating the use of information?

What's left of the independence of journalism?

"There are no longer external Omega points or any antagonistic means available in order to analyze the world; there is nothing more than a fascinated adhesion."
Jean Baudrillard, philosopher

After moderating numerous press conferences as a director of the Foreign Correspondents' club of Japan, and co-chairing its committee on press freedom, I have had several thoughts about the work of journalist and where it is heading to in Japan. As a French journalist based in Asia for the last 20 years, I can see we'll soon have more difficulties to access to free information and to a contradictory one. Less investigation, less verification, less help to access to information. The consequence is not only dark for media and our audiences, but also, ironically, for all of those who need to send their message.

Is it a pitiful trend in Asia only? No. Recently I was alarmed reading an article of the newspaper Le Monde, while this renown evening daily newspaper is heading towards a new chapter with a new owner, its role as a reference appears as long gone away. While it might be a due to a faulty management, it is also the lack of responsibility and visions of the journalists themselves. Some sense of alarm for the whole profession. Quotes: " The newspaper Le Monde may be placed under the supervision of financial supporters of short-term and manipulation of information. The lock information will thus be strengthened by the world of finance and some political mercenaries... more of their freedom at the expense of ours." Management or reporters to blame?

Time will say but what is happening here in Asia is not different except that Japanese newspapers start to enter into a fragile equilibrium, super sales of dailies will rarefy, quality will suffer. It started. Not always because of cash, it's also linked to inner causes, the reporters cruising in dangerous waters with politics and finance "faux-amis".

Moderator of a press event in Tokyo, speaker Wuer Kaixi,
Tiananmen student leader. June 7th, 2010

Indeed if we look at some of the historic events such as the 1989 demonstrations for democratization on Tiananmen, events I anticipated while I worked in Beijing prior to 89 and followed after while, one wonders: Has the press told the truth and the whole truth then? Not necessarily if we counter examine what the student at that time Wuer Kaixi told me recently while visiting Japan. No again if we hear Chinese or Japanese witnesses, citizens, officials telling their share of the truth, or by reading post-event, some of the security offices reports. Some sounds may be unheard of except by fragment. One of the most vocal Asia watcher, Professor Gregory Clark has this to say about media and this Tiananmen square protests ' reports. Quotes:

"Western media play along in the disinformation game"
an Op-Ed by Gregory Clark in the Japan Times

"Are they being manipulated by governments? Or, are they just plain lazy, happy to go along with what everyone else is saying and what readers want to believe without wanting to look too closely into relevant background? I refer to the way the Western media, both lately and in the past, have accepted blatant and often dangerous news distortions. The No. 1 distortion remains the so-called massacre at Tiananmen Square. On the 21st anniversary of that alleged event earlier this month, the main news agencies still managed to preserve the fiction of Chinese troops marching into Beijing's iconic square and shooting down innocent students in the hundreds, if not thousands. This, despite all the reliable eyewitness reports, available on Google, that say almost nothing occurred in the square on the night of June 3-4, 1989.

What happened was quite different: There was wild shooting on roads leading to the square by soldiers retaliating for vicious firebomb attacks by angry citizens on units sent to remove protesting students who had been allowed to occupy the square for weeks while regime moderates tried vainly to negotiate the reforms the students wanted. Many died as a result, including soldiers incinerated in their trucks and other vehicles.

But never mind the facts. The fantasy story makes for much better reading. It also gave the European nations an excuse to blacklist China for arms sales and even for the riot control equipment that might have prevented the mayhem. A detailed 1998 study in the Columbia Journalism Review titled "Reporting the Myth of Tiananmen, and the Price of a Passive Press," by Jay Mathews, Washington Post former bureau chief in Beijing ( traces the massacre myth to a front-page story in Hong Kong that was flashed quickly around the world as fact by news agencies. My not uninformed guess says it was probably planted by either Western or Taiwanese intelligence agencies. The alleged author has never been found.

Gregory Clark Op-Ed here

On Sunday, July 4, 2010 an answer to Gregory Clark "Japan's media have long way to go" writes Cliff M. Shih. Quotes:

"Regarding Gregory Clark's June 25 article, "Western media play along in the disinformation game": The Japanese media is exactly like the Western media in this sense. The Japanese media focus only on the things they feel their general public "should hear" in this already information-isolated nation. The purpose of this is none other than to keep the Japanese people unified at least in believing that "since other countries are doing bad, and they are not as good as us, Japan must be the best country in the world!"

Certainly we have seen this type of brainwashing throughout the world and in history. The American media, for example, love to swing the story of the war on terror to enable the nation to focus on a common enemy, for the sake of unity. It is a bit disturbing to see how, in the 21st century, this still exists in a country like Japan, which has portrayed itself as advanced and moving forward with every step. In fact, Japan is the furthest behind with respect to its media."

The whole paper
Gregory Clark Internet page


Information, in its most restricted technical sense, is an ordered sequence of symbols. As a concept, however, information has many meanings. Moreover, the concept of information is closely related to notions of constraint, communication, control, form, instruction, knowledge, meaning, mental stimulus, pattern, perception, and representation. The English word was apparently derived from the Latin accusative form (informationem) of the nominative (informatio): this noun is in its turn derived from the verb "informare" (to inform) in the sense of "to give form to the mind", "to discipline", "instruct", "teach": "Men so wise should go and inform their kings." (1330) Inform itself comes (via French) from the Latin verb informare, to give form to, to form an idea of. Furthermore, Latin itself already contained the word informatio meaning concept or idea, but the extent to which this may have influenced the development of the word information in English is not clear. The ancient Greek word for form was μορφή (morphe; confer morph) and also εἶδος (eidos) "kind, idea, shape, set", the latter word was famously used in a technical philosophical sense by Plato (and later Aristotle) to denote the ideal identity or essence of something (see Theory of forms). "Eidos" can also be associated with thought, proposition or even concept." Sources Wikipedia & L. Floridi.

References: L. Floridi, "Information - A Very Short Introduction" (Oxford University Press 978-0-19-955137-8 25 February 2010) We live an information-soaked existence - information pours into our lives through television, radio, books, and of course, the Internet. Some say we suffer from 'infoglut'. But what is information? The concept of 'information' is a profound one, rooted in mathematics, central to whole branches of science, yet with implications on every aspect of our everyday lives: DNA provides the information to create us; we learn through the information fed to us; we relate to each other through information transfer - gossip, lectures, reading. Information is not only a mathematically powerful concept, but its critical role in society raises wider ethical issues: who owns information? Who controls its dissemination? Who has access to information? Luciano Floridi, a philosopher of information, cuts across many subjects, from a brief look at the mathematical roots of information - its definition and measurement in 'bits'- to its role in genetics (we are information), and its social meaning and value. He ends by considering the ethics of information, including issues of ownership, privacy, and accessibility; copyright and open source.

*NB: Jean Baudrillard quoted in Le Nouvel Observateur July 2004.

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