Saturday, 10 December 2011

In whose name? Why manipulating Russian protest footage by Fox harms democracy

Fox TV has swapped footage in their reporting of today's protests in Moscow, using footage from... Athens, as seen from a RTV report, available on YouTube. Swapping footage is arguably one of the gravest sins that a television news professional could do. Most recently back in July 2011 BBC's leading documentary investigation show Panorama had to issue an apology to clothing retailer Primark. This was because the BBC Trust ruled that several seconds of footage could not be proved genuine beyond doubt, although the central allegations in the programme - which investigated child labour and abuse by the clothing industry - were found accurate.

Caught and ridiculed by watchful Russian state propaganda eyes, the Fox today seems to have used much more dramatic and violent footage from recent riots in the Greek Capital. The incident was immediately used by Russia's pro-governmental propaganda to demonstrate that manipulation and faulty news making takes place in the US too.

It does indeed. Fox particularly has been a regular culprit of violating quality journalism norms in the past, as  revealed by the documentary Outfoxed among other reports. Not coincidentally earlier this another part of the Fox empire - News of the World was forced to close business in the UK after its journalists' were proved to have practised illegal phone-hacking.Co-incidentally, Fox and its owner Rupert Murdoch have been among the greatest allies of the US Republican administration of president George W. Bush which invented and introduced during the Iraq war another very questionable practice of journalism - the so called 'embedded journalism.

Manipulating footage, phone hacking, embedded journalism, and other techniques to keep journalism in control and use media to manipulate the public, are well familiar to Russians and other East  European nations. They have been practiced quite effectively by their oppressive socialist regimes prior to 1990. Independent journalism has been part of the liberal democracy ideal that these nations aspired when they overthrew their dictators ever since then. Not surprisingly pseudo-democratic dictatorial rulers of today in the region, and elsewhere around the world, are gladly pointing at the retreat of quality journalism in the West to justify their own grasp of free speech in their countries.

The use of mass media to manipulate public opinion is equally harmful, whether practiced by KGB-controlled state machineries in the East, or corporate media moguls in the West. It compromises democracy and deprives peoples of their rights to know the truth and control the actions of their governments. Democratic societies of the West bear the primary responsibility for promoting and safeguarding democracy and civil rights as operational concepts of governance. In order to do this they should mobilise their institutions in support of quality journalism, transparency of ownership and breaking of media monopolies, thus setting a model for other societies to follow.