The Moral Misery of “Independent Journalism”

By Atilio A. Boron – Dec 28, 2020

Looking through some old notes accumulated on my computer’s hard drive I found a series of statements from Argentina’s National Academy of Journalism expressing concern about freedom of expression and the attack on “journalists” such as Luis Majul and Daniel Santoro.

The National Agency of Journalism is presided over by Joaquín Morales Solá, a man who pretends to ignore the difference between informing and -on the basis of reliable information and checked opinion- using the media in which he works for propaganda operations presented to his defenseless audience as if they were “independent journalists”. In a recent broadcast of his program Desde El Llano, the president of the National Agency of Journalism “interviewed” Mrs. Elisa Carrió, who was dispatched with an endless series of nonsense without the alleged journalist managing to babble a single cross-examination! It was not a journalistic interview but a case of subliminal political propaganda, probably paid for. In other words, a scam on the television audience. The same thing had been done a few days earlier by Carlos Pagni, another representative of “serious journalism” in Argentina, when he “interviewed” Juan Guaidó for a little over half an hour, who, as Carrió would do later with Morales Solá, spilled enormous amounts of “bullshit” before an impassive Pagni, who did not make the slightest comment or ask any questions to test Guaidó’s sayings.

The aim, of course, was to give the Venezuelan oddball a platform to spread his political project. In both cases, a supposedly journalistic space seems to have been rented to promote the political agenda of a self-proclaimed candidate for governor of the province of Buenos Aires, who returned to the political scene a few months after announcing her definitive retirement; or that of a wimp who is proud to have been appointed “president in charge” of his country by Donald Trump. All this, I repeat, in the face of the complacent attitude of the acquiescent “interviewers. In short, much of what they call “independent journalism” is nothing but a cover for some merchants to traffic in their communication space and auction it off (them or their bosses) to the highest bidder, and on top of that they have the luxury of pontificating about freedom of expression, the republic and democracy!

In short, this is the harsh reality of journalism that in our time qualifies itself as “serious and professional”, and not only in Argentina and Latin America. Neither Europe or the United States is safe from this scourge, which is one of the greatest threats to democracy in the modern world. The National Agency of Journalism came to the defense of two figures from the media sewer, Luis Majul and Daniel Santoro, whose “investigative journalism” is produced by a unique team whose mainstays are the intelligence services and a bunch of corrupt judges and prosecutors, both in open violation of the country’s laws. This operation has nothing to do with journalism. Its objective is to obtain instruments and supposed evidence to pursue, harass and eventually extort political rivals and sectors linked in this case to the government.

RELATED CONTENT: The “Pagni-Guaidó Interview,” or how Journalism Became Propaganda

The National Agency of Journalism is no exception; neither are the large Argentine media conglomerates (which include print media, AM and FM radio, open and cable television, etc.) such as Clarín, La Nación or Infobae. But because of its worldwide gravitation, the Spanish newspaper El País takes the laurels for the prostitution of journalism turned into a nauseating house organ at the service of the rich and powerful all over the world. That is why it came as no surprise that in the middle of last year Antonio Caño, the former director of that newspaper between 2014 and 2018, published an article entitled none other than “The Error of Calling Assange a Journalist”. In it he argues that the founder of Wikileaks is an “impostor” because, according to him, “journalists do not steal legally protected information, do not violate the laws of democratic states, do not distribute the documents provided to them by the secret services without having verified them” a task that Caño entrusts, corporately, to the good knowledge and understanding of professional journalists.

Professional journalists, such as who? It may be, in some very few cases, but why not trust people with more specific training to evaluate the data disclosed by Assange, such as political scientists, sociologists, internationalists, historians, semioticians, and experts in military or intelligence matters? Moreover, many of Caño’s Latin American friends and colleagues do just that: they steal information that “should” be legally protected, they blatantly violate the laws of democratic states, and they distribute documents provided by secret services or corrupt judicial officials to harass and/or destroy their political opponents.

In his angelic candor, or diabolical cynicism (a question that readers will have to discern), the former editor of El País says that professional journalists “are careful not to cause unnecessary harm with their work, they give the people in question the opportunity to defend themselves, they seek the opinion contrary to that held by the main source of a piece of information, they do not act with political motivation to harm a government, a party or an individual. Journalists defend no other cause in a democratic society than the exercise of their work in freedom”.

RELATED CONTENT: Julian Assange Faces the “Trial of the Century”: 10 Reasons why it Threatens Freedom of Speech

I reread these lines from Caño and correct myself: I don’t think his is a case of childish naivety. Let’s say it with all the letters: it is the subtle discursive stratagem of a high-ranking imposter who knows that in the exercise of hegemonic journalism, that which he calls “professional”, those rules so pristine that he enunciated are violated with premeditation and malice aforethought; that the self-styled “independent journalists” intentionally cause harm to the persons or institutions that are victims of their persecution; that they do not give them an opportunity to defend themselves; that they never seek an opinion contrary to the line taken by their bosses or employers and never agree to debate with those who hold opposing views; and that they always act with political motivation to harm a government, party or individual. The case of Agustín Edwards Eastman, owner of El Mercurio de Chile, is a paradigmatic example of what journalists defended by Antonio Caño and the president of the National Agency of Journalism, Joaquín Morales Solá, do. For this reason, after more than fifty years of journalistic prostitution, in good time the Chilean Association of Journalists expelled him from its ranks, precisely because he had done exactly what Caño says professional journalists do not do. If in Argentina there existed an institution with the same values and courage as his Chilean colleagues, the number of political operators disguised as journalists who would be expelled from their ranks would easily reach fifty.

It is precisely because of this moral degradation that the National Agency of Journalism’s thundering silence in the face of the case of Julian Assange, unjustly imprisoned for having informed the public about the war crimes, corruption and global espionage of the United States government, comes as no surprise. Not a word in defense of a true champion of the struggle for freedom of expression, which the National Agency of Journalism falsely claims to defend; not a gesture of solidarity in the face of a journalist held in a maximum-security prison, in absolute confinement, without contact with anyone, seeing only a few minutes of sunlight once a week, subjected to physical and psychological abuse of all kinds despite his precarious health.

However, having revealed the secrets of the empire and its leaders-which the media hitman hides under seven keys-for the National Agency of Journalism Assange is a traitor, an “impostor” as Caño says, who does not deserve any solidarity. On January 4, Judge Vanessa Baraitser will announce her sentence in the trial for the Australian’s extradition to the United States. Despite the weakness of the evidence provided by the plaintiff, the accused was deprived of his freedom and sent to prison. There is outrage among real journalists around the world, warns award-winning British filmmaker and journalist John Pilger, who claims never to have seen such a grotesque farce as the London trial. Lawfare is spreading like wildfire, and from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador it has already reached Europe and the United States. But the National Agency of Journalism does not believe that there is such a thing because, according to its leaders, lawfare is a malignant invention of a totalitarian, populist, Chavista, Castroist left, and therefore it olympically rejects Pilger’s denunciation. The immorality of that institution knows no bounds.

This denial is also revealed in relation to the situation of journalists in the United States. Since the outbreak of the Black Lives Matters protests on the occasion of the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, 322 journalists have been assaulted (with few exceptions, by “forces of law and order”); 121 have been arrested, 76 have had their equipment (photographic or video cameras, mobile phones) or facilities (press rooms) destroyed, and 13 have been sued and brought to court. The same source reports that in 2018 five journalists were shot dead in the United States. But this was not and never will be news in the hegemonic media, appropriately characterized by their critics as the Bullshit News Corporation because most of the information they spread is just that, rubbish; much less will it be a cause for concern or complaint for the National Agency of Journalism, obedient to the least of the imperial master’s wishes. The institution defends its hucksters from communication, not these poor devils harassed by the power in the United States who pay with their lives their loyalty to their chosen profession. On the other hand, if a journalist, even if only one, had been arrested in Venezuela or suffered the destruction of his work equipment, the cries of the world media hitman would have been deafening. Their double moral standard makes them despicable subjects.

Conclusion: self-styled “independent journalism” is nothing but a criminal organization because, as Gilbert K. Chesterton recalled at the time of World War I, “newspapers began to tell the truth and today they exist to prevent the truth from being told. They have four main weapons to do this: promoting “post-truth”; lying and using fake news stories on a piecemeal basis; using information shielding (for example, never saying anything about the endless slaughter that is bleeding Colombia daily or about the revelations of the Panama Papers involving former Argentine president Mauricio Macri) to protect partners and/or friends; and the media lynching of “annoying” leaders who must be demonized and then judges and prosecutors end up sending them to prison or disqualifying them from competing for public office.

That is why today this press, so corrupt, constitutes one of the main threats to democracy, and if society does not react in time it will probably not only end the little that remains of freedom of expression but will further accentuate the asymmetry between a hegemonic press that dominates the media space without counterbalancing it and truly independent journalism, which survives with difficulty in the face of such unequal competition. But what is at stake is not only freedom of expression; it is also the right of the people to have access to true and verifiable, legally obtained information. And of course, democracy is also at risk because to survive it requires that the media space on which it rests be effectively democratic and pluralistic and not muzzled by the dictatorship of single thought. Democracy is emptied of content, degraded and finally succumbs when the communicational substrate on which it rests is an informational tyranny. Preventing this from happening will be one of the great and unavoidable battles that we will have to fight once the pandemic is defeated.



Featured image:  Julian Assange

(Resumen Latinoamericano-English)

Atilio Boron
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Atilio A. Boron is a Harvard Graduate professor of political theory at the University of Buenos Aires and was executive secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO). He has published widely in several languages a variety of books and articles on political theory and philosophy, social theory, and comparative studies on the capitalist development in the periphery. He is an international analyst, writer and journalist and profoundly Latinoamerican.

Atilio Boron

Atilio A. Boron is a Harvard Graduate professor of political theory at the University of Buenos Aires and was executive secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO). He has published widely in several languages a variety of books and articles on political theory and philosophy, social theory, and comparative studies on the capitalist development in the periphery. He is an international analyst, writer and journalist and profoundly Latinoamerican.