“… Giving the MacTaggart lecture on Wednesday, the journalist [Jon Snow]said: “Amid the demonstrations around the tower after the fire there were cries of: ‘Where were you? Why didn’t you come here before?’
“Why didn’t any of us see the Grenfell action blog? Why didn’t we know? Why didn’t we have contact? Why didn’t we enable the residents of Grenfell Tower – and indeed the other hundreds of towers like it around Britain – to find pathways to talk to us and for us to expose their story?
“In that moment I felt both disconnected and frustrated. I felt on the wrong side of the terrible divide that exists in present-day society and in which we are all in this hall major players. We can accuse the political classes for their failures, and we do. But we are guilty of them ourselves.
“We are too far removed from those who lived their lives in Grenfell and who, across the country, now live on amid the combustible cladding, the lack of sprinklers, the absence of centralised fire alarms and more, revealed by the Grenfell Tower fire.” …”
… “The Grenfell residents’ story was out there, published online and shocking in its accuracy. It was hidden in plain sight, but we had stopped looking. The disconnect was complete. Our connectivity – life on Google, Facebook, Twitter and more – has so far failed to combat modern society’s widening disconnection. …”
Jon Snow hasn’t got it wrong but he has missed the real points about journalistic failures.
Yes – both individual journalists and the press as a whole may generally be disconnected from our communities, and that is bad. But what is far worse is that journalists as a profession seem to have forgotten what the most important parts of their role are:
1. To report the facts, without bias, fear or favour – and not to be cowed or bullied by the government (which can be pretty difficult if e.g. you are the BBC and your very existence is threatened when the government dislikes being held to account).
2. To investigate where necessary in order to establish facts in the public interest (not the same as the public being interested) that would not otherwise be known (because of secrecy by government, political parties, big businesses etc.);
3. To inform the public about the important choices to be made so that they can consider them, contribute to the debate and tell their politicians their views so that these politicians can represent their constituents and not their party;
4. As part of 2. to give a voice to minorities that would not otherwise be heard. Jon Snow is really only talking about this item, not any of the above.
All of the above are, in my opinion, ESSENTIAL to holding powers-that-be to account and that is ESSENTIAL for the functioning of a healthy democracy. Because they are currently lost, our democracy is being perverted by lies and secrecy, dodgy deals, and a lack of consistency and fairness.
As another example of an almost absolute failure of journalism, the coverage of how the government is destroying the NHS is extremely patchy, barely reporting on the superficial facts, and absolutely lacking in any deeper analysis of causes, possible consequences, potential conflicts of interest, or indeed whether decisions were made in a sound way.
Of course the internet has had a huge impact on the finances of commercial journalism, but crowd-funding for good causes appears to be very successful, and I think quite a lot of people would be willing to make regular donations to news organisations that are prepared to do their job as the so-called fourth estate and act for the people against abuses by powers-that-be and thus preserve democracy.
I challenge Jon Snow (or indeed other journalists) to defend their record in the above 4 points, and if they cannot defend it to do some serious soul-searching about their role.