By Miguel Ángel NietoMiguel Ángel Nieto Solís
When you first start up in the field of journalism, it’s lucky to have someone older and more experienced by your side, that after destroying what you’ve written says, “Write it again. You must be independent even from the hand that feeds you.” Unfortunately, that no longer exists.
The new globalized information industry has insulted the independence of journalists, something similar to betrayal, to the saboteur employee. The new industry is looking for data operators who do what they are told, do not propose topics, and do not think for themselves. Unlike two decades ago, people with judgement are no longer sought. They no longer want professionals capable of interpreting the data, ordering it purposely, and maximizing the scope of all this information with their publication, whoever be it that gets accused and punished. They no longer want journalists who take account of the consequences of publishing information. They no longer want that type of “irresponsible” professionals.
The outrage of the new industry towards the independence of the informants began by tacitly calling them “irresponsible.” Because the new “responsibility” consists of silencing everything that can harm friends of the system, the institutions of the system, and in general the structure of the system.
Journalistic independence has also been adulterated because the information industry has been able to confront it with the concept of objectivity. Thus, an independent journalist, by mere evil presumption, is not an objective journalist, and these equations, absolutely false, have mixed up a very perverse manner of independence with objectivity and responsibility.
The journalist’s responsibility is to contrast everything that one publishes so that the finished information is well written, understandable, rigorous, truthful and incontestable. It was Julio Cortázar who pointed out, with his memorable sharpness, that “the responsibility of the writer is to write well,” for starters. Decades before it was written without accent marks and spelling mistakes, Pablo Salinas had published “The responsibility of the writer,” a compilation of essays that have disappeared which said, “The words, the biggest and most significant, contain within themselves an expanding force, a radiating power of greater reach than the physical force in a bomb.” That is to say that the journalist’s responsibility, not only the independent journalist, are words, the defense of words. Their deontological obligation is not to do it right, it is to do it very well, without suggested or imposed red lines.
The objectivity of the journalist is something else: it consists of not allowing poisoning by those who intentionally or accidentally try to avoid the consequences of that information. They tend to be broken toys, people who thrived and stored and were thrown into the gutter. People who “sing” to stay safe. Objectivity is nothing other than being distrustful and clever enough to not get noticed. Objectivity is permanent doubt; the classics have already said. It is the privilege of being a frontline witness and having the fidelity, rigor, and responsibility that this job requires to tell it. That part is not learned, it is felt. It is like love.
Furthermore, that well understood responsibility and objectivity, constitutes the independence of journalists: it does not matter the scope and dimension of the information that is made public; it does not matter that the very company that pays the independent journalist is implicated; it does not matter that those who are implicated are friends or enemies of the industry or the journalist even. The only important thing is that nobody silences truthful, contrasted, rigorous and understandable information. The only important thing is to have a perpetual desire to continue learning and developing, the ability to detect the most taboo issues, and the tenacity to carry them to the final consequences.
Independence in journalism, as in any other trade, is exercised every day, at every moment, which is how true journalism is practiced. Because journalism is not a profession, it is a way of life. Only the one who goes to sleep as a journalist and wakes up as a journalist is able to understand it. The current operators of the information industry, on the other hand, are not journalists until their workday begins, and they cease to be so when it ends. The same goes for independence, it is either full time or it is not. There is no intermediate zone. Not to mention responsibility as well.
Journalism is not a profession as such, it is a task, it is a job, it is a perhaps a stupid commitment that one acquires without knowing it. But above all it is a way of life. It is a strange practice to get those who have no voice to speak, those who have no tongue, those who have been denied and systematically ignored by the system.
Journalists in general have an overwhelming responsibility that they sometimes confuse with their own ego. They think the information is good because they are the ones signing it, and they are wrong. The information does not belong to journalists. It is a common good that the journalist dissects and brings to light. It is a good that the journalist shares like a doctor shares surgery. It is a right that we all have, the right to have all the truthful information.
Independent journalists are the voice of those who do not reach the speakers, the voice of the voiceless. They are not their own voice. Journalists are not righteous or speakers, nor do they deserve applause. They are trackers, proponents, high-risk idiots. They are, in the best sense, the clowns of the slaps to which the poet Leon Felipe alluded. And of course, they have the right to feel sadness, reluctance and fear. And this journalism exercised in the name of those who don’t have a right to speak, this fearful yet highly daring journalism, this journalism capable of hearing those who never before had been heard, this journalism practiced daily, in every moment of the day, is independent journalism.
It’s true that independent journalism is no longer seen in the great, commercialized platforms of information, in the corporations that decide what should and should not be published, what the public should and shouldn’t know. But it has been resituating itself in Networks, in activist springs that are still not under control. Precisely for this reason, independent journalism has become a part of the great “cartography of the revolt” that we’re living today, for this reason it continues to be active from outside of the System, or housed on the fine and porous line that marks the edges of the System, yet never losing sight of the System.
Independent journalism is indispensable in a society as manipulated as the one we live in, and it should also be in any other kind of society. As journalist and writer Eduardo Galeano said, “we must distrust democracies with clean walls.” For this reason, independent journalism will always live on, in whatever way it can coexist. Because it is a guarantee of the common good.