Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Impartiality, weakness, unscrupulousness

Ralitsa Kovacheva, Adelina Marini, July 11, 2010

We have always thought that Bulgarian media are narcissistic and love to deal with themselves, but in a very selfish way and also useless for the public. Starting from the issue of media ownership, passing through digitalization, the fate of the State Television and Radio and moving to Internet regulation and the nature of blogs. All these debates seem to glide on the surface and do not affect the substance, which has always been one – do Bulgarian media perform their functions to serve the society? Because, although the law defines only the Bulgarian National Television and Radio as public (but they're just state owned), all media by definition perform functions for the benefit of the society.

euinside's team has often discussed these issues and has always believed that the engine of all internal debates in media must be led by the journalists themselves. They are the ones to initiate processes of change, to insist on higher professional standards, to exert pressure on media owners, if necessary, to secure their freedom of thought and pen. And because we believe that the "journalistic degree” in Bulgarian media has reached an absolute minimum, i.e. there is almost a complete lack of journalism, we have decided to share our views on the matter. Because we are convinced that there are many colleagues who think like us. And also because we know, that if we really stand by something, we must fight for it. So here's our position.

If you watch (read, listen to) Bulgarian media, you would hardly believe in the perpetual oaths in the name of "impartiality", which hangs like a Damocles' sword over journalists' work. From our own observations and conversations with colleagues of ours we have concluded that impartiality is being understood as a total refusal of a journalistic position and is reduced to delivering messages of the type “he said, he noted, he underlined”. The irony is that the people of the guild usually have no doubt whose interest stands behind the veil of impartiality. The question is does the audience realize that?

Presenting “all points of view” has completely shifted all other objectives of the journalistic work and has totally blurred the most important goal - the public benefit. Because in most cases pouring over many points of view does not help the audience navigate and find the answer to the most important question: "So what?" Not to mention how many traps are there in the “impartiality" - whose positions exactly are being selected; are the opinions properly quoted or are they taken out of context; are the sources of information clear and is it verified according to all standards; is it clear what political and business interests stand behind the information and whether by chance some of those interests do stand behind the respective media. As a result - "impartiality" easily leads media to depersonalization, lack of character and weakness.

Media analysts have been lamenting for years that the audience needs more analysis and comments. Another evidence about this need is the strong rise of the blogs, where many journalists and non-journalists state clearly their positions on important public issues. What is the conclusion? The audience wants clear positions. It needs to know what a journalist (or a media) thinks about a specific problem. And it is not a scourge of the notorious impartiality, as many in our country say, but rather a revealing of cards.

Because real pluralism does not consist of collecting views of the same, painfully familiar and expected "speakers" in all media, but rather of the clash of different positions. Journalistic positions. When the audience is given the chance to receive various, even contradictory positions on an issue, it can compare them, analyze them and thus build a personal opinion. Thus that public debate, which the media are so obsessed with, would happen, but media stubbornly refuse to participate in it, depriving themselves of the right of a position.

Curiously, the major European and American media are not ashamed to declare their support for certain political ideas and parties, to have clearly defined positions and thus face openly their readers. Because it is very important when you read (watch, listen to) a particular media, that you know who is talking to you. And it is not enough to know who the owner of a media is, because that person may be no one in particular and may not be related to the real political and business interests behind a media. Honestly, the only newspaper (and media in general) in Bulgaria with a clear political position, for which I can think of, is "Duma" ("Word" - the socialist's party newspaper). For the rest, we could only guess, guided by rumours and indirect analogies.

The classical definition of media is a channel through which information is provided by the communicator to the audience. Bulgarian media reduced themselves exactly to this - a channel for conducting messages from external communicators to the audience. This could be everything, except for journalism, which would be in making proper coverage of events, understanding them, analyzing, putting in context, and finally – in an evaluation. Only if this process is carried out from the one end to the other in the media, it will create the full picture which the audience really needs and which, in fact, is the very purpose of media's existence.

And as there are no two people to interpret a thing the same way, therefore there will be no two media creating the same picture. So, there will be a huge variety of pictures of reality, which people may choose from and compare. And that would be a true pluralism, which we so much talk about.

For this to happen, however, a series of purging processes has to take place, for which there is no real will currently: media to have clear and transparent owners and to express openly their political positions; to observe high journalistic standards in collecting, reporting and interpreting information; to promote professional development of journalists, to raise their competency, rather than use them as “handles of microphones”; to express clearly their positions on discussed issues, rather than simply provide a platform for "outside" speakers.

Journalists' vocation is to be "opinion leaders", to set the tone of public debates, helping the audience navigate the diversity of topics and perspectives, and accordingly - to put the political class under pressure, to which journalists should be critical by default.

This places extremely high professional and moral standards to journalists themselves, because being a "public conscience" means primarily to have a clean personal conscience. The same goes for media in general. All this had to happen long ago, but obviously, in line with the general Bulgarian reality, the “reform” has been delayed for too long. And now "impartiality" is so comfortable to serve as a disguise of general weakness. And it only leads to one thing – unscrupulousness. Is this what we want, fellow colleagues?