So who is a journalist? One who is ideal or who is pragmatic?
I guess there is the dilemma which has caused the storm in the teacup. At least that’s what has distinguished the actions of NYT and Time.
Two major mainstream media publishing houses acted contradictorily when it came to their reporters. And brought up the core structures and functions of journalism to question.
What Judith Miller did was what the profession is founded on. Journalists, unlike lawyers and doctors, have never been subjected to a state administered admission test or course or affiliation or accreditation, at least in the United States. One of the principles this country has prided on is its First Amendment which allows for the freedom of the press to be exercised, to such an extent that journalists themselves decide the rules regarding who should be awarded credentials. In other words, the sovereignty and autonomy inherent by the media in the US is unparalleled. So the foundation of the profession, as understood by Miller was based on certain principles—independence of choice, freedom from interference. Hence the sources may not be disclosed. For two reasons: because journalists need to have independence from any pressure to disclose any sources they might think improper to reveal, and secondly, because practically it will become impossible for potential sources to confide in journalists if they are to be named later on by the scribe breaking the basic minimum human trust.
Hence, Miller must have these ideals in mind when she pleaded:
“Your Honor, in this case I cannot break my word just to stay out of jail. The right of civil disobedience based on personal conscience is fundamental to our system and honored throughout our history…. The freest and fairest societies are not only those with independent judiciaries, but those with an independent press that works every day to keep government accountable by publishing what the government might not want the public to know.”
Now lets move on to the pragmatics. I have three contentions. One, where do these “freest and fairest societies” exist? It’s a dark humor if we consider the current situations working against the majority people everywhere without daily access to their share of freedom they are supposed to be born with. Two, as some journalists have chosen not to support Miller , we need to understand their final verdict: reporters are not above law. Three, as we move from public sphere to being a profit sphere, any illusions regarding the notion that journalists by their independence make for a better world need to be done away with. Media, far from being a social service sector, today are at the mercy of few profit-hungry (redundant expression) capitalists. Any anticipation that they will stand by their reporter as a social activist, is a wishful thinking. Far from it, in fact in journalism schools, detachment to events is one of the prime lessons being taught so that the future media professionals behave no differently than the marketing executives—selling news, at any cost.
When the profession itself has been sold out, journalists abide by contract laws than organizing themselves to draft their own future, stand by their profiteer managements than their sources and interests; to expect anything from judiciary or executive or legislature or the general public is expecting in vain.
Judith Miller joins Jim Taricani, Vanessa Leggett, Timothy Crews, David Kidwell, Bruce Anderson, Lisa Abraham, Tim Roche, Brian Karem, Myron Farber etc as one of the many journalists who have served prison in the United States while on duty, for refusing to disclose sources. Yet to what extent people are willing to fight for their conscience-keepers is one to watch out for. And which people are we talking about here to stand for causes? The same people who have been subjugated to a corporate individualist culture by the media professional themselves!