The Truth of the Matter

How much journalistic licence is allowed in making a story? And at what point does it cross the line to fabrication?

BEING a keen observer of events unravelling around the world, I usually find my mornings filled with the sight of smoke rising from bombed out buildings in Iraq, Afghanistan and of late Libya. Then there is the fair share of economic crises happening around the world – US debt, Greek debt, Irish debt and so on. Then we have the odd government change, elections, papal visit and maybe a pop singer’s death to round off the news stream. In all this one point I take for granted – that what I am seeing on the TV or reading in the newspaper is the truth.

Truth in mainstream media – now that is something to think about. Mahatma Gandhi said “There is no God higher than Truth” and he lived up to his ideals. On the other hand take what Gustave Flaubert, french author of Madame Bovary has said, “There is no truth.  There is only perception.”

I bring this up because of two rather unsavoury news items in the past month centred on the media. In the first place, allegations were published in the British media that world-famous car show presenter Jeremy Clarkson was guilty of not doing his own filmed drives. It was said that he did the presentation and then hired professionals would race the car around the circuit for the cameras. Hmmm… Of course there were the clarifications issued by BBC producers that Clarkson did all the driving and that sometimes standby drivers were used to film sequences where Clarkson was off-camera. That is an extremely logical and believable reply.

In the second instance reporters of an Australian TV channel were found guilty of claiming to be hovering in their news helicopter over a crime scene, while they were filmed hovering over their studio or closeby. In this case heads rolled and a promise of better editorial guidlines and practices was issued.

The question is are we as viewers or readers getting the truth? And how important is it over perception? Did it make any difference to the quality of the reporting in either case. Clarkson is a household name for his presentation style and expertise. How does it matter that he is paid too much to act the chauffeur for the film crew? It isn’t as if we haven’t seen some lies being played out on TV – take the case of the live feed interviews and expert comments from around the world where the subject is talking in front of a view of the Whitehouse, Eiffel Tower or India Gate. We don’t ask ourselves how they managed to put their studios in these vantage points? We don’t need to, because once in a while the scenery loop ends and the giant LCD TV behind them goes blank or worse shows a Samsung or Panasonic logo. The question that then arises is are these people actually in the claimed country at all? Why can’t we have a so-called cross-world debate all happening in front of various LCD screens in one studio?

What will really get your goat is that even if that happened, you would still believe that the news you got out of it was true. We aren’t even ready to accept that governments, businesses and the agenda of the media houses themselves always influence how a story is handled. British newspaper publisher Lord Northcliffe may have stretched it a bit when he said, “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.” That was in the early 1900’s. Today we would call that Public Relations. What does that say about us? As a consumer of news, I need more than one source to hone my perceptions. As a member of the media, I try to stay as close to the Gandhian concept of Truth as possible. It doesn’t make for having too many friends with interests who would like to see a story presented in a different manner, but I hope that my reader would be more receptive to the end result. And as for PR – just give us a good product to drive and we will give you good reviews. What we all need to do is call a spade a spade, not an ‘instrument for the displacement of soil or other items’.

In my own case, any TV channel that wants me to anchor the show need only call. You can knock a few zeroes off Clarkson’s fees and I promise to do all my driving myself. Deal, anyone?

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