As the year comes to a close, it is time for me to defend my profession
By Gary Burgess
WE don’t need newspapers any more. Nobody watches the news on TV. All journalists are fake news. Social media means everybody can have their say and let you know the truth.
Oh, how I love to hear these opinions presented as fact with alarming regularity. But they’re pernicious and dangerous. I read about the BBC ‘giving a platform’ to somebody on one side of a debate, causing the other side to scream at the bias of the broadcaster. In reality they’re interviewing them to elicit facts and challenge assertions.
As the year comes to a close, it seems timely for me to defend my profession.
Yes, you can go on social media to find what appear to be facts from any Tom, Dick or Harry. But, as example after example has proved, these facts are so often tosh. They are guesswork presented as truth. They are people making two plus two equal five. Often, they are well-meaning commentators. Sometimes they are from people with a darker motive, including here in Jersey.
Over the past six months, aside from these comment pieces, I’ve been privileged to be doing some reporting through the pages of the JEP.
Helping victims of historical abuse seek justice for their wrongs has resulted in the government working up a redress scheme, despite initially batting off my enquiries with a tone along the lines of: ‘Why are these people trying to bleed
us for more cash?’ No, really, that happened!
I got wind of the Chief Minister’s plan to build a new States HQ at Ann Court, rather than build affordable homes there. That reporting brought secretive moves into the public domain so parliament could then begin testing these plans, and the Housing Minister could take to social media to categorically state the housing development will definitely go ahead as planned. We will see.
And, despite getting a lot of stick and accusations from an Assistant Chief Minister of misquoting him (which I didn’t), it was important to me that I reported Constable Chris Taylor’s belief that evidence had been ‘intentionally ignored’ to favour building a hospital on the current site, while he was in the middle of heading a panel supposedly carrying out an independent review of the whole saga.
This stuff matters. Some of it matters a lot, especially when it is about individual people’s lives. But some of it also matters when, over time, a picture can be painted of a particular story or issue thanks to journalists reporting seemingly innocuous moments along the way.
Journalists (myself included) also get it wrong from time to time. And when they do, they apologise. Most ‘conspiracies’ in newsrooms are usually actually cock-ups, sometimes caused by pressures of the day job. Every newsroom I know of these days is operating with really tight resources. If your image of a newsroom is based on any classic Hollywood film over the years, you may be shocked to step into any of them, locally, to see how few people are working their socks off to keep you informed.
The phrase ‘fake news’ has lost its literal meaning and is now used, more often than not, as a lazy riposte by people who don’t like what they read. Instead of engaging in a reasoned debate, they spew this moniker in the absence of anything of greater substance.
Locally there’s a lot on the agenda to begin 2019. Curiously, and depressingly, most of it was on the agenda at the start of this year. A new hospital, a lack of affordable housing, questions of population control, diversifying the economy and boosting productivity, improving morale in the public sector, tackling the Island’s yawning chasm of income inequality, and preparing for the impact of Brexit.
Our political leaders have set their parliamentary priorities. We are drowning in warm and fuzzy words. If 2018 was the year when the seven and a half months after the General Election was spent achieving the square root of naff all (aside from alienating the public sector workforce, a ministerial resignation, and deciding that diversity and inequality wasn’t something to prioritise), then let the next 12 months be the ones where they get things done to improve all Islanders’ lives.
They have collectively pocketed £1.5 million in pay since May’s election. Now is the time for them to prove they are worth every penny. And, when they do, I look forward to being able to report – with pride – on their achievements.