The free press exists!

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On September 30, 2016, in a gesture(1) that might have seemed innocuous, André Linard, former secretary general of the Council for Journalistic Ethics (CDJ, from 2009 to 2016), names citizen journalism, the better to establish, once again, that it does not exist. 

We reproduce below the whole of his carte blanche, published in La Libre, not because we want to give him a platform again, but because we think that it reveals, besides the deep thought of the author, a whole media system where dissidence has no place. This explains the existence of free, independent, citizen media… 

Carte blanche by André Linard, published on September 30, 2016 in La Libre 

CITIZEN JOURNALISM DOES NOT EXIST 

Of course, the title is excessive and needs to be explained. It expresses a deep irritation at a certain idolatry of the citizen’s word, which would be by nature free and independent, while journalists would be drowned in conformism and submission to mercantile interests that exceed them. In reality, one can either express oneself as a citizen or practice journalism, which implies a different level of requirement.

The citizen’s word is legitimate. It is even necessary and too weak in a society that lacks militancy, expression of opinions, actions taken in the name of values and principles. But this word does not need to be called journalistic to be relevant. Because journalism is not only about expressing oneself, taking a stand, commenting, or even telling what is happening around the corner. It is not to issue alerts or transmit documents, all of which are important when they concern matters of general interest. There is nothing corporatist about this. Journalists are not recognized by a diploma, a press card or a contract with an editorial office. The difference between journalists and citizens lies in the approach and in the requirements. 

« As with most issues,
the answer belongs to the citizens, to their action. Without a doubt, any system of power will do everything to prevent it.
(2)

Noam Chomsky

A citizen expresses his opinions(3)He tells what he has seen around him, holds a militant discourse which does not impose any requirement of respect for the truth. He evokes the emotions that are close to his heart and wants to be an actor in society. Journalism fulfills another social role. His responsibility is to be the intermediary between what is happening, in the broadest sense of the term, and the public. Faced with the mass of information available, it is his responsibility to cross-check, verify, sort, put into perspective, select, explain, discard what does not hold water, help to understand instead of simply transmitting… Journalism requires skills just like any other activity. I cook at home, but I am not a chef-coq. Being able to take a medication when necessary does not make me a doctor. The greater the amount of information available, the more the world needs people who fulfill this specific social function. It is not a power, it is a responsibility. Some citizens are excellent in this activity, for example on their blog. All journalists are also, as individuals, citizens. But in their activity, they impose stricter rules on themselves than citizens. One day a blogger declared in a conference that ethics is simple: you just have to not lie. Big mistake, of course: the basis of journalistic work is the search for and respect of the truth, an active approach much more demanding than the absence of lies.

« I saw, in fact, history being written not according to what had happened but according to what should have happened along various party lines. (.…) This kind of thing scares me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very notion of objective truth is disappearing from our world. After all, there is a great danger that these or similar lies will end up taking the place of historical truth. (…) If the leader says of an event that it never happened — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five. 

George Orwell(4)

At one time, it was fashionable to challenge the monopoly of good information that journalists were said to have. Let’s accept that the criticism was sometimes right. Technological advances then made it possible to communicate multilaterally. Today, the diffusion of information everywhere, by everyone and in all directions forces journalists to be more rigorous, confronts them with numerous rumors to verify and subjects them more widely to criticism. The creation of reaction spaces open to Internet users on media sites was based on a good idea: to complete, challenge or improve the information already disseminated by journalists by contributions from the public. The doors of the pseudo journalism-citizen opened on a new way of expression. We can see how this works. With rare exceptions, these forums are pointless. Their contents often call for hatred, racism and violence and some media are happy to relay them. Everyone has the right to express themselves but not everyone is a journalist. 

André Linard


Our response to André Linard’s carte de blanche, sent on Friday, October 7, 2016, and refused by La Libre

Faced with this display of untruths, revealing a well-entrenched ideology, this stream of sophisms that hide a vagueness aimed at leading the reader astray from the fundamental problem — what is journalism in the eyes of the dominant media and, from there, why do citizens decide to make free media? -, we asked La Libre for a right of reply that we had to sign collectively on behalf of different independent media. 

Our mail was refused by the debate service of La Libre. We reproduce its entirety below. 

SO, CITIZEN JOURNALISM WOULD NOT EXIST? 

As usual, when it is a question of a professional journalist defending his position in the face of the rise of citizen journalism, it is necessary to feign the independence and freedom of the dominant media, an exercise in which the use of shortcuts becomes a reflex. 

Thus, André Linard, former director of the CDJ, affirmed in his carte blanche that there is no such thing as citizen journalism and denounced a Manicheism, which he basically creates out of thin air: according to him, there is this idea of a « certain idolatry of the citizen’s word, which would be by nature free and independent, while journalists would be drowned in conformism and submission to mercantile interests that exceed them « . But who invented this primary Manichaeism, besides the one who quotes it? We can detect in the former an ultra-Zionist blogger who is anything but « free and independent » and in the latter someone who works honestly and in the service of the accuracy of information. 

But this type of rhetoric is well known: it is about naming a problem — conformism and submission -, the better to dismiss it and not to think about it anymore, like Laurent Joffrin, editor of Libération, which denied that newspapers can no longer be free when they are in the hands of owners:  » I don’t believe that the Figaro is not free because it is in the hands of a gun dealer. »

« Superfluous also the publicity and the sponsorships which coax or sanction the persons in charge of the media; which oblige to sell a newspaper twice, first to the advertiser, then to the reader; which relentlessly convey the link between happiness and merchandise; which soon will determine the summary of each periodical and the geography of its forbidden zones ».

Serge Halimi, The New Watchdogs, p.99

However, mainstream media are owned by large groups with vested interests, and this ownership structure has definite effects on the editorial line. In Belgium, most of the media are in the hands of seven families who are among the largest fortunes in Belgium. In France, to give just one example, Libération is owned by Patrick Drahi, a businessman active in telecommunications, with a fortune estimated at 14 billion euros — and who was involved in the Panama Papers. The latter testified on May 27, 2015 before the National Assembly:  » The Chinese work 24 hours a day and the Americans only take two weeks of vacation… that’s the problem for us… » It is hard to believe that he or any other media owner will defend the right of the worker, the need to produce less and better, the fight against international treaties such as TTIP or CETA … not masochistic the coconut. 

When you complain to our public channel that on the evening news of Saturday 17 September, while hundreds of thousands of demonstrators went out in the German streets to denounce CETA and TTIP, they did not say a word about it, we answer you: « The news being often very busy, the JT editorial staff is constantly forced to make choices. In thirty minutes of newspaper, it is indeed impossible to talk about everything. This is why the editorial staff practices a so-called 360° information, i.e. an information that is declined on the various media. A subject can thus be treated on radio and on the net but not on television, or vice versa « . Funny… But « normal », the public channel being caught in the steamroller of competition and ratings, managed in the American way by academics from Solvay business school. It is therefore not surprising that there is a lot of media attention and a poisonous climate within the institution, since profit comes first. 

It is thus fundamentally this ownership of the media that has turned many citizens away from the news show and led them to create their own media. This does not mean that they are of lesser quality than the information stamped « professional ». On the contrary, since in fact these new « citizen » media fulfill a function that the « professionals » do not assume anymore. And they do it out of conviction, out of civic concern, and in humanly and materially difficult conditions (they have to have a paid activity besides, having to work on the media outside these hours). But this weakness is at the same time their strength, the guarantee of their freedom: their salary and the eventual repayment of their credit do not depend on what they say or write. 

It is not clear at this level what defines a journalist. If we follow André Linard in this binary presentation « Either we express ourselves as citizens, or we practice journalism, which implies a different level of requirement « ;  » The difference lies in the approach and in the requirements ». ⁃  » A citizen expresses his opinions, (…) holds a militant discourse that imposes no requirement of respect for the truth. ⁃  » Everyone has the right to express themselves but not everyone is a journalist « . The journalist would thus be a kind of ethereal being, above ground, responsible, with strict requirements of respect for the truth. André Linard does not tell us when one is a « real » journalist, but one probably only really becomes one once one has been honored by one’s peers and recognized as a member of the big family, the one that most often conforms to the truth that the institution expects. She who, in the end, also becomes an activist, but without her full knowledge, in the service of interests of which she is often unaware, whether by choice or by naivety. 

We don’t need titles, corporatism, or buddy shows; we define ourselves by what we do, not by who we are. We who are free and independent press, we assume a role of spokesman, we are not holders of the freedom of expression. As Jean-Paul Sartre said: « Oe believe that the freedom of information, the right to freedom of the press, is a right of the journalist. But not at all, it is a right of the reader of the newspaper. That is to say that it is the people, the people in the street, the people who buy the newspaper, who have the right to be informed. (…) So, essentially, the people must talk to the people.« We want to create a link of proximity, to make exist the word of those who are made invisible and neglected by the traditional media, to make interesting what is important, rather than making important what has no interest, like the divorce of two multimillionaire stars. Freedom of information is not that which defends information useful to the status quo of the most affluent. 

In the end, this is probably what the defenders of « real » journalism are preventing, in spite of themselves for some: that the people be informed. And that the change, finally, takes shape… 

Dear Mr. Linard, if all journalists really and correctly did their job, there would be no whistleblowers, no WikiLeaks, no Kairos, no Zin TV, no Sans Papiers TV… or even the Krasnyi collective, no Radio Panik… there would be no citizen journalism! 

Friday, October 7, 2016. 

Signatories: Kairos newspaper, ZIN TV, Sans Papiers TV, Krasnyi collective, Panik radio 

Notes et références
  1. « Geste », au féminin, indique par extension de son sens premier, une « histoire glorifiant un individu, un groupe, un peuple ». Car le texte de l’ancien secrétaire général du CDJ n’est au fond rien d’autre qu’une glorification du journalisme professionnel par la présentation – faussée – de ce qu’il ne serait pas.
  2. Cité dans « l’Empire de la surveillance », Ignacio Ramonet, Éditions Galilée, p. 168.
  3. Rappelons qu’André Linard s’exprime dans une rubrique du quotidien La Libre, qui stipule clairement dans le chapeau, sur le site, que c’est une « opinion » (« Une opinion d’André Linard, secrétaire général du CDJ de 2009 à avril 2016 », voir www. lalibre.be/debats/opinions/le-journalisme-citoyen-n-existe-pas- 57ed2de7cd70871fc422cc0f). On ne sait donc plus trop si Linard s’exprime ici comme journaliste… ou comme citoyen ! Les médias libres n’opèrent pas pour leur part à cette distinction trompeuse.
  4. Essais, articles, lettres, pp. 312–35, cité dans George Orwell, Bernard Crick, Éditions Flammarion, 1980/2003, p. 514.
  5. Voir pages 15–16, « C’est quoi le TTIP ? »
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