Ion Bunduchi, Executive Director of the Electronic Press Association
These are the feelings sparked by our journalists these days, when there is war in our neighbors’ territory. It would be probably too much to say “our journalists,” even if they act under our country’s jurisdiction.
Where does this disgust come from? It is caused by my disappointed expectations from the press. Even in good times, information is in high demand. In times of horror, it is required ten times as much. It is easy to understand: in troubled times, we badly feel the need to know as much as possible to be able to avoid or at least to mitigate imminent threats. Being unaware of what is going on is the worst case scenario. It brings grist to the mill of uncertainty that grinds you to the point of being restless with worry, no matter how much you resist. Hence, you keep looking for information. Especially that published in the press. Why? Because no one has ever excelled the press at what it is supposed to do according to the definition: to provide sufficient, verified, and credible information. If you fail to find it, you’re left helpless; so you swear and start looking for what people say at the marketplace, be it a real one or a virtual one. The people at the marketplace, however, say what they think, not necessarily what really happens. Besides, the people at the marketplace do not have any obligations to gather and to sort the information before sharing it with the others.
This powerlessness is also mixed with a kind of frustration and great perplexity, as Nero fiddles while Rome burns. These perplexities seem to be chained: why do so many radio stations “play a disco” during the plague?! Why do so many channels suppose we need news every minute and show us anything except what we actually need?! Why do so many online media outlets tell us what they hear instead of leaving their offices to tell us what they see?! And why does all this press, instead of informing me (I don’t expect them to dig up my garden, that’s not the job the press should do, I just expect them to inform me, it’s their cup of tea), confuse me or, what’s even worse, pour the “news” upon me to convince me how good or how bad a particular event is?! Don’t I have my own mind to consider what is good or bad?! Is the press supposed to think for me?! The press should inform everyone, including me. That’s the purpose it exists for! It’s not intended to sing when people are about to cry; it’s not intended to hide when it should take a step forward; it should not spread rumors when the truth is demanded; it should not jump into every boat when an oarman calls. But it does exactly what it’s not intended for! Is it caused by the current unique and dramatic situation? Let us rejoice at the thought that this particular situation is unique, and it won’t last forever; Heaven forbid that it repeats or lasts for a long while. And, if we don’t know what to do, because no one knows exactly what to do in a unique situation, because no one has ever had such experiences, we should do what we know: open our eyes and keep our ears open. We may assess the tension of the moment and act accordingly. It would be the most useful exercise. And it would be best to do it voluntarily, while stirring up what is left of the embers of professional pride. If we fail to do it voluntarily, we may be forced to do so.
Personally, I am convinced that, at least the radio stations and TV channels that wander off the road could be brought to reason by the legislation in force. It should be noted that no media service provider assumed an obligation to misinform, promote political propaganda, or be biased when applying for a broadcasting license. None of them did. Saying that the state offered them broadcasting space to spread misinformation would be nonsense. In fact, however, we have all sorts of stuff both in the linear, i.e. broadcasting media services, and in the non-linear ones, i.e. on the providers’ websites. When someone says one thing and does another one, any reasonable person realizes that something goes wrong. The law is also reasonable and requires you to do exactly what you have promised to, even if you have applied for a license and obtained it.
The same law stipulates that the sanction intervenes if you do something else instead of what you have promised to do. Personally, I support the option that the punishment should not necessarily be harsh, but it still should be applied. In this case, however, it’s not my choice that matters, but the legal provisions. The sanction should always be prompt, that is, timely and appropriate. Moreover, it should be prompt in emergency situations. However, it should be kept in mind that urgency and haste are different things. That is, everything must be done in a balanced way, whether it is about the press or the broadcasting regulatory authority. Probably this is when our disgust decreases in intensity, and there will be more things to admire. There will be admiration for the press and for the journalists who remain the press and the journalists in any circumstances.
I also noticed this phenomenon as the pandemic crisis started, when the press (not only the press, but we’re talking about it now) found itself on some Terra incognita for no obvious reason. Part of the press has entered the thickets of the pandemic and is still wandering through them. The other part wrote history, as sports commentators say, and caused people’s admiration. Why? Because they knew how to organize their work in unprecedented conditions, avoided sensationalism, ignored conspiracy theories, searched for information (under the conditions of access to information we have), checked it the way they could, and gave it to us, to those who have eyes to see it. And, by the way, this part of the press did not wait for any instructions from the Government or the BC. They simply used their common sense and acted conscientiously, keeping their professional skills. As far as we can see, this is the most valuable journalistic reflex. And it is the most precious one in any situations, including the one we’re faced with today, with a large-scale war and its costs.
We do not compare the tragedy of Ukraine, which is not only limited to Ukraine, with the pandemic, when brothers did not shoot their brothers. Yet the state of uncertainty is what makes these two dramas similar. And we are facing the unknown which provokes fears and worries. And we are thirsty for information again. For the press which is still the press, without waiting for any directions. There were no directions to follow in the morning of February 24. And the press should still keep working. Those who are interested have noticed that the information comes in a constant flow, without a regular work schedule, day and night. This is what causes admiration! The fact that journalists are reasonable, balanced, and sensible. Discretion is the better part of valor. It feels like they realize the best thing they can do is to be as truthful as possible, avoiding hysterics, exaggerated sensations, panic, or uncontrolled emotions. We’re glad we don’t have entire detachments of war correspondents. We’re lucky to have journalists who keep their job under control at any time and on any day, be the circumstances clear or cloudy. Due to them, in a certain sense, the profession is still maintained.
The press which does not generate any press destroys the profession. And the wisest thing to do would be to abandon it without waiting for any instructions or decrees. We live in a time when correct information is not merely a legal obligation, but also a moral duty, because it becomes really vital. Reliable information can save lives. Erroneous information, misinformation, and manipulation can take them. The press which is silent or busy living its own life instead of that of the people, or, even worse, which is hostile to people – why should people need it, or how could it be justified?! It goes without saying that the law is the law, people create it and people apply it, but has the professional reputation lost its value, is it worthless now?!