Well, clearly almost undoubtedly the principal source through the vast bulk of the population secure their information about politics, know about how their country is being governed and whether or not they can get any idea as to whether their country’s being governed well or effectively, what the opposition think could be done better, et cetera, essentially that comes through the art of journalism, primarily of course broadcast journalism. That’s still the principal source of information for people about politics. But also still to some degree newspapers, declining industry as it is. And of course, these days also the embryonic journalism industry, both amateur and professional, that’s appearing on the internet.
But without the profession of journalism, without people who are able to take what has been said, what has been done, to write about it and to some degree to analyse it, then the truth is, how would the public know? Well, the only way they would know would be through the words unmediated at all of the politicians and press releases, et cetera, but without any guide at all as to how these might be interpreted or why they’ve been said, or et cetera, et cetera.
Journalism and politics lives in symbiosis with each other, right? And like all symbiotic relationships, the host sometimes dislikes the parasite for seemingly seeping things from them and undermining them. On the other hand, however, in a symbiotic relationship, the parasite often brings something crucial. So yes, politicians often hate newspapers, hate journalists whenever they come up with things they don’t like. On the other hand, when they write nice things about them, and as a mechanism for trying to get through to the public, they’re still in love with them.
And therefore, in a sense, if one wanted to argue about what I argue is perhaps the most difficult question to ask about journalism and politics, what I think I would say is that because journalists are to a degree reliant on politicians for their stories and politicians are reliant on journalists for publicity, that as a result, there’s a certain amount of you scratch my back, I scratch– it’s almost inevitable in that kind of human relationship. The danger is, well, therefore as a result, does occasionally a journalist pull their punches vis-a-vis a politician, because they don’t want to get cut off from the next news feed?
And does the politician not always be as up front with the journalist as perhaps they know they should be? I think that’s the toughest question is what’s the point at which a journalist should say, look, I know that X is an important politician. I know that in the past he or she has given me a couple, two or three exclusives, which journalists love. But you know what? I think he’s got it wrong here. And I’m going to publish it. And it’s the ability of the journalist to both do that while at the same time the next time they see X, well, terribly sorry. But look. You know that’s my job. It’s maintaining that relationship. I think it’s a difficult one.
I do think that journalists themselves think of themselves as they are in the position of speaking for the average reader, asking the questions, explaining things for the average reader. Journalists are very– if you ask them, do you have power or what is your role, they are not very pleased of that question. And they are more likely to say, I’m just explaining the world. But in my study where I analysed the leader elections of Social Democratic Party in Finland, it was very interesting to see that since late 1980s, coming to the new millennium, what was the big thing, big change in the reporting was that journalists’ own voice has gained more space all the time.
So actually journalists themselves have really big stake in the role between the voter and the politician. All the time more and more, commentary pieces, journalists’ columns, sidebars telling not only what has happened but what the reader should think about that. And I’m not sure if– I do think that it is something that– in a way we can welcome that, because it is something that makes politics perhaps more interesting. It creates more for people different aspects to think about. I think still readers are relatively critical. But I do think it’s important to have different voices, different opinions. So I think a lot of variety would be good.
If it is that there are only a couple of journalists reporting on politics and their opinions continue and continue, so I think there needs to be differences in the views.