Free media, of course, if an integral part of democracy, and it depends just as much on the climate within which it operates (laws and regulations) as it does on the people behind the scenes. Skilled journalists, in this regard, play a very important role in making democracies work, whether its by exposing corruption and providing citizens with access to information and critical thought.
Many organizations get involved in building the professional skills of journalists – and the importance of such efforts can’t be understated. Still, what we often see is that it is not just the reporting skills that journalists lack – it is the understanding of issues that they are reporting on, particularly in the economic and business areas. Take corruption for example – it is not enough to expose corrupt individuals after the fact (although it is important to do so). Journalists must understand corruption as an issue, be able to navigate the legal climate, determine causes and consequences of corruption, and generate ideas on possible solutions.
In a recent CIPE article, Nadezhda Dobretsova talks about economic journalism and its importance in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan may not seem like an important country in a global scheme of things, but many of the ideas and concepts she discusses are applicable in many other countries. Why should media concentrate more on substance of what political economy rather than politics (infighting and gossip)? Why is it important to develop business skills among journalists? Why should journalists be able to explain the economic environment in a simple way to an average citizen? How can you get there?
If you are interested in reading more about developing business skills among journalists, you might also want to check out this Handbook from CIPE.
As China’s dynamic economic growth transforms many aspects of the daily life, more and more incongruities arise between the forces of modernization and greater openness of the Chinese society, and the official communist state ideology. The two are increasingly coming to a clash in the country’s universities. Beijing’s renowned Tsinghua University – one of the most prestigious Chinese schools – is a good example of the difficulties in applying old philosophy to new realities.
The university’s website proclaims that “Tsinghua has retained its character and charm [since the founding over 90 years ago] while promoting rigorous scholarship research, ensuring academic and educational prestige in China and abroad.” At the same time, its recently founded Research Center on Marxist Journalism and Journalistic Education Reform champions the concept of “Marxist journalism.” Understood as journalism that the government views as improving society, it was introduced by the Party in 2001 but sounds more like something from the days of the Cultural Revolution. The Washington Post comments:
The center has in its first year of operation become a vivid example of the tension between China’s rush toward modernization and the Communist Party’s insistence on retaining control over the flow of information. Journalism students at Tsinghua are taught not only about Watergate and the rise of the Internet, but also about the restricted role reporters are expected to play under a Marxist government such as China’s. In China, that role traditionally has been to support the government by spreading propaganda and suppressing news that contradicts policy or puts officials in a bad light. But as the country has opened to the world in the last three decades, many journalists — and journalism students and their professors–have acquired new ambitions for their craft, such as investigative reporting on official corruption.
Taking a course in Marxist journalism may be a good career move, since – as one of the students commented – the mainstream media are more likely to hire someone “with a good sense of Marxism.” But can censorship under one-party rule done in the name of “guiding public opinion” really be reconciled with the need for journalistic integrity in reporting? And can fostering rigorous scholarship and academic excellence be reconciled with teaching how to restrict freedom of the media?