A journalist protects the right of citizens to be fully, timely, and above all, truthfully informed. In order to fulfill this role, a journalist is obliged to establish and convey the truth, to review and criticize those who run the institutions. If a journalist does not do this, then they are not a journalist.
The World Media Freedom Day was celebrated yesterday. Insajder journalist, Senka Vlatkovic-Odavic spoke about the media’s role in society in the latest episode of OpisMEDIJavanje (Media Literacy project).
„The one who has the information is the one who rules. And if the states are really there to serve the citizens, then the citizens need to have the information to be able to decide who will rule their country,“ she said.
According to Vlatkovic-Odavic, the responsibility of journalists is important because “when they publish news they often seem unaware of their responsibility.“
On the other hand, she described the claims that questioning the decisions made by the authorities is propaganda or hate speech as unacceptable.
“It is clear that without information the citizens cannot make the right decision about anything in their lives. The public interest is certainly above the individual, above the private interest of any individual or group. Another important thing when it comes to protecting the public interest is for a journalist not only to detect abuse, but also influence the change in the system that legalized those abuses, therefore, causing a change in the law,“ she added, citing as an example Insajder’s series „Abuse of Official Duties“ from 2009, which brought about a change of law.
Even-steven, only in the interest of truth
Vlatkovic-Odavic succinctly defined professional reporting of journalists as „even-steven, only in the interest of truth.“
„We must be aware that the decision whether to succumb to propaganda or to be true journalists is only ours.“
This is why, she argued, the most important thing is responsible journalism:
„For a journalist to publish every piece of evidence that he has, about anyone, indiscriminately, while knowing that he has checked the information so many times that he can sleep peacefully.“
We must not allow information to be influenced by politics or economic interest. The information must be in the interest of the citizens. Withholding information is the same as lying
A journalist has no right to choose sides
„A journalist has no right to work for or against someone. In the society we live in today, responsible journalism is the most important prerequisite,“ she underlined.
On the other hand, Vlatkovic-Odavic believes that there are fewer such journalists nowadays and that it is „important for citizens to recognize them, because this is the only way they can protect their right to be objectively informed“.
„It is not enough for the authorities to say – we are allocating money to Kosovo, because it is in the public interest to know how that money is spent and why it has not reached those who need it the most for decades.“
According to Vlatkovic-Odavic, this is precisely why the role of journalists is not to merely publish information but also to investigate and question those in power.
Working for or against the authorities is wrong
Responsible journalism cannot „slip“ into propaganda, Vlatkovic-Odalovic claims, adding that propaganda is „just as dangerous as biased journalism.“
„It is dangerous to work for or against someone in power because in both cases you are not working in the interest of the citizens,“ she said, citing as an example the classic abuse of journalism when, at a press conference, a journalist asks a government representative questions such as „how are you“ or „why you are being attacked”.
„They are certainly not doing it in the interest of the citizens, but in the interest of the one they are asking,“ she added.
Vlatkovic-Odavic said that „irresponsible journalism“ is also when the journalist „attacks at all costs.”
“Because then you enter the role of someone who hates“ – she said.
“All positive news is not propaganda and not all negative news is professional reporting“
A word can kill and news can certainly destroy someone’s life
A word can kill and news can certainly destroy lives, Vlatkovic-Odalovic added, noting that examples of non-professional journalism are an everyday occurrence.
She singled out the media „announcements of a coup d’etat“ in Serbia, which never came true, but also the March pogrom in Kosovo, which was preceded by fake news.
„Kosovo citizens certainly remember the March 2004 violence that started after fake news was released, which an investigation eventually confirmed. People suffered, 19 people were killed, 34 churches were burned, causing tremendous consequences,” she emphasized.
On the other hand, Vlatkovic-Odavic stated that journalists make mistakes, adding that it is very important to acknowledge these mistakes.
„Sometimes an apology is not enough and sometimes false news is intentionally released.“
She underlined that journalists should be the first to react to fake news, as by doing so they are protecting their own professional integrity and the right of citizens to receive accurate, timely and full information.
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