The first thing people think of when I say I want to “fix” the news media is censorship. Of course, nobody in their right mind wants censorship. Demand Real Journalism is NOT censorship. It is also not the government deciding what is allowed to be said. DRJ is strengthening the journalism industry, so the audience can better tell what is true and what isn’t.
In short, DRJ calls for regulation and licensing of the journalism industry. We license and regulate doctors. You can not call yourself a doctor if you can not prove you have had adequate training and are willing to abide by a medical code of ethics. Ditto with lawyers. We also license and regulate contractors, electricians, and plumbers. All kinds of professionals are licensed and regulated. Journalists should be, too.
Journalism is important to the functioning of this country. Real journalism is one of the foundations of democracy. We can not let people who lie on purpose pretend to be journalists. Do you want somebody who is pretending to be a surgeon to cut you open? Do you want a pretend lawyer if you are arrested? Do you want to buy a house built by a fake contractor? No, of course not.
The journalism industry today is filled with organizations and people who have no interest in reporting the truth. I am convinced they lie on purpose to advance a political agenda. They know they are lying. It is not an innocent mistake, and it is not the “other side of the story.” It’s a pile of crap, and it deserves to be called out as such.
Real journalism allows for an examination of all legitimate sides of the issue. LIES are never legitimate, so they should never be included in anything that purports to be a news story. A good example of this is climate change. The people saying the greenhouse effect is a hoax are lying, and they know it. They are paid to lie by the fossil fuel industry. The news media however has felt compelled to show “both sides” of the issue, when the hoax argument had zero validity if you looked at it with a scientific eye. The fact that the fossil fuel industry paid big bucks to spread lies is part of the story, and the lies should be pointed out as factually untrue.
Real journalism can even allow for opinions, if they are clearly marked as opinion.
This issue is complicated by the fact that legitimate journalism has been a target in this country for decades now. The liars with an agenda had to discredit real journalism first, so their lies could sound more credible. This effort to discredit legitimate journalism has gone on for decades and worked like a charm. Part of the reason it worked so well is that TV journalism is easy for viewers to find obnoxious and discredit. They don’t actually do a GOOD job, generally speaking, just a mediocre job, but the liars with the political agenda are in a class by themselves.
The Demand Real Journalism Act would be multi-faceted and attack the problem from several fronts.
First, let’s legally define JOURNALISM and JOURNALIST. Let the definitions be written by academics and professionals in media and law, but written, so your average person can understand. This definition should reiterate what we all should know: Journalism is a fair effort to report the truth, unencumbered by bias or financial interests.
The law should also include legal definitions for related terms like: libel, lie, propaganda, advertising, newscast, commentator, opinion, and probably half a dozen others I’m not thinking of at the moment.
This law also needs to include a journalist’s code of ethics. If it can be proven a licensed journalist did not follow that code of ethics, they could be stripped of their license. We do this with medical professionals, lawyers, and contractors. We should do it with journalists too. The bad ones are killing our nation!
Journalists and journalism have lost their credibility. That needs to change. Over time, differentiating journalists from commentators and advertisers will help the truth stand out.
Although the criticism will surly arise, this plan is also clearly NOT the government creating a “ministry of truth.” Demand Real Journalism will help raise the credibility of journalism by passing guidelines and restrictions. Journalists themselves will be tasked with digging to find the actual truth. Good journalist love doing that. Given a bit of time, truth and lies will become more obvious.
The COVID pandemic has given us a start in that direction. Studies of sickness and death rates have clearly shown that consumers of conservative news outlets believe more disinformation about COVID, so tend to not get the vaccine, which leads to them dying more often. Any media figure screaming about the vaccine and masks not being effective is lying to you. There is a mountain of evidence to support this fact, but the vaccine deniers are still given credibility. I truly hope a class-action lawsuit comes about someday for the lies leading to unnecessary deaths.
Create a journalism licensing board. Under Demand Real Journalism, anyone calling themselves a journalist must be licensed. If they do not want to abide by the code of ethics and the law defining journalism, then they can not legally call themselves a journalist. They would have to use another word that is legally defined, such as commentator. Doing it this way, there is no censorship. Demand Real Journalism does not make anyone shut up, it just makes them label it correctly as real news, advertising, or baloney.
Needless to say, this board would have to be non-political. It should be made up of a cross-section of academics and respected professionals. This board needs to be as transparent and as credible as possible. They would have long term jurisdictional powers and will watch over the news media to make sure they are practicing real journalism.
Additionally, there needs to be a licensing level for organizations that claim to be doing journalism. The organizations can use it as a badge of credibility, and either embrace the act or discard it, but they must be public about their stance. Do not require it, make it voluntary. In other words, the organizations themselves are identifying whether they actually agree with the journalism definitions and legal restrictions. Over time, people who are now confused will come to have confidence in REAL JOURNALISM. This won’t happen overnight.
Many people argue that the Fairness Doctrine should be brought back. While I wish it had never been repealed by Ronald Reagan, bringing The Fairness Doctrine back today is impractical due to the immense changes in the news media between now and the 80s. So many outlets would immediately be exempt and could continue on as they are now.
The Fairness Doctrine basically made media outlets prove they were being fair with coverage in order to have their license renewed. I remember all the station big-wigs sweating out the report to list all the many ways we had shown fairness over the year. DRJ Act should include something similar in order to retain Demand Real Journalism status, but alone, bringing back the FD isn’t enough. For one thing, the Fairness Doctrine only had jurisdiction over media that used the “public airwaves,” so cable news actually helped make the FD obsolete. DRJ needs to cover any organization or individual that claims to be doing news.
As it is, I don’t pretend this plan is perfect, but it’s the best I can come up with by myself. I hope other people can add their 2 cents and improve upon my basic idea. We have to do something. We can not let lies and a false rendering of “free speech” ruin this country. A “free press” should not include allowing blatant and obvious lies by news media figures. We have an opportunity to craft a law to reign this nonsense in. Let’s do it.
Lorraine Grula, News Nerd and journalism advocate
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