Swedish TV investigates itself
I came across something interesting on SvT, the Swedish state TV, a public broadcaster comparable to the BBC and Norway's NRK. An edition of Mediemagasinet, a program for media criticism, dedicated entirely to scrutinizing SvT's own leading program for investigative reporting, Uppdrag Granskning.
What they found was a pattern of exaggeration and deception. Statistics were abused: In a program about supposed high levels of crime in the military, a comparison was made between rates of sexual abuse among Swedish officers and the general population. But the numbers for the general population had not been adjusted for age, or even sex! And even these meaningless numbers came out worse than the ones for officers. Only by excluding figures for rape could Uppdrag Granskning present a higher rate among officers, so that's what they did. So numbers proving less sexual abuse in the military than among Swedes in general including women, children and the elderly, and far less excluding, were deliberately turned around to prove the opposite. Impressive.
In other cases sources were cherry-picked, nuances dropped, important facts that made the picture more complex were ignored. One important omission made no real difference to the moral of the story, but it improved it as a story, and that was apparently more important than the truth. The journalists behind these reports were put on camera to defend themselves. They didn't do very well.
I've never seen any of these programs before, so I can't say if all the criticism was warranted, but of course we all know that reporters do this, and often. Andrew Gilligan is a well known example. Journalists stop seeing themselves as truth searchers, and start to focus on telling good stories - morality tales inspired by truth. In a good cause, perhaps, but once you abandon the restrictions of truth - nuance, objectivity, honesty - truth abandons you. There's sadly nothing unusual about that, and this style of investigative yet sensationalist reporting is particularly vulnerable. But this, journalists scrutinizing their own colleagues, asking hard questions on camera of people who might be important to their own careers, implying that they failed to do their job. That's rare stuff, and brave.
Imagine if this was more common. Imagine if Aftenposten or NRK told one of their reporters: "Okay, we want you to look at our behavior in this case or on that issue, and we want you to look hard, to look for error or bias or neglect, and when you find it you're going to do a story about it, and you're going to point out the flaws and the devices used to cover them up, never mind how respected or important the culprit is". Could this be done? Perhaps, but it would require guts, independence and critical thinking. It would require an attitude more like that of the battlefield of ideas than the polite dinner party. Are these abundant in our media? I haven't seen evidence of it. Sweden's likely no better, but at least here was one brief example of how it should be done.
Clem Snide | 2004-03-09 13:54 | Link
I suspect more often than not that such programs would only serve as platforms for yet more of the same prejudices that the station usually spouts, as we have seen in Australia with the ABC's "Media Watch". Admittedly this program does not specifically look at the ABC's own output - after all, heresy within such organisations can get you sacked or suspended. Occasionally they will chide a leftist over some small insignificant error in order to feign balance, before they get on with their core business of taxpayer-funded Marxist indoctrination. Their dogmas are too ludicrous to survive critical examination.
David, Australia | 2004-03-09 22:05 | Link
Well Clem, clearly left-wing media sources such as the ABC, and a few others have a vested interest in criticising members of the right, whilst neglecting to provide corresponding critiques for those sources of which they aprove.
Their goal is to promote such viewpoints not discredit them, even ifthey're espoused in a ridiculous manner.
Intimplace | 2004-11-29 15:33 | Link
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