No questions, no doubts, no out-of-the-box thinking. No democracy?

 » A press conference is not a place to make political statements . But a press conference is definitely not a place to debate, we must understand(1). While questions and discontent are being raised from all sides, they seem to have difficulty hatching on the political scene. Young shoots struggling to break through too dry soil, a democracy in need of rain.

On Friday, December 18, at the press conference held there that day, Kairos was at it again. The journalist and the newspaper were harshly rebuked like an insolent child by the Prime Minister, and were equally abused the same evening and the next day in the Belgian gazettes(2).

If you look at the latter, it is surprising to observe that the articles in the French-language newspapers are carbon copies of each other. Had it not been for a few slight changes in the wording or the cap, it is even a copy and paste, word for word. The only notable difference is that in the lines of La Libre, the term « journalist » is deliberately avoided. We talk about a person working for Kairos, even an activist, but we do not recognize the speaker as a journalist. A change that was made after the fact.

These articles are unfortunately very incomplete, another characteristic of the mass media, and are almost like tabloid journalism. The question of democracy, which is at the heart of the journalist’s questions, does not appear, except in the Flemish newspaper De Morgen . They all end with a humorous note from the minister: if you want to get a message across, go into politics. A prerogative reserved only for politicians, then?

Discredit and silence

Another point is that the way in which the intervention of the Kairos journalist in these newspapers is « analyzed » is, at the very least, frankly debatable. The journalist is judged and labelled with totally arbitrary labels… a shame for the press that wants to be (relatively) neutral and objective. Complotiste, militant, not very serious, it is presented in a rather dark light.

The appeal against this censorship was not echoed by the media counterparts, nor by the journalists’ union, which is supposed to be a bulwark against this kind of abuse(3).

The political correctness of the person concerned, Alexandre Penasse, could certainly be subject to criticism, but is in no way inadmissible or irrational, as we are invited to think. Only the opposite. It is with sadness that we observe their silence in the face of injustice. This one, like all the others.

It is so much easier to criticize a dissident journalist than a paternalistic government, when you have given up your independence. I dare to say paternalistic, because the infantilization of the population under the Covid measures is no longer to be demonstrated. And it is blatantly evident here in the Prime Minister’s reaction. The government will never be wrong, he seems to say, go back to playing the conspiracy theorist. There is no more room for nuance in the discussions around the virus. There is no room for discussion about the virus except in the masks of uncivil and criminal citizens who rot the climate of gentle obedience to the Belgian law.

But if debate and controversy are legitimate, where can they take place? Where is the democracy when decision-makers nail the beak to any non-conforming opinion? When, full of condescension, they no longer hesitate to discredit a journalist in a humiliating manner, unworthy of their position? When they fully display the unquestionable character of their decisions? when they establish, finally, that the citizens do not have a voice?

Democracy. Power to the people. It’s time to put the concept back into the term. It is time to create a real dimension of discussion and consultation in our society. A space where journalists, doctors, students… anyone could ask questions, give their opinion, and propose solutions without being labelled a scoundrel when their thoughts do not feed the norm.

Where the press, as a delegate of the people, would be faithful to its mission.

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