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Bourdieu on Journalism, and how the DR Congo can be helped

April 17, 2009

Over the last few of months I’ve been mulling almost constantly over the question:

“How can 900 people be massacred over the Christmas period in DR Congo and hardly a murmur comes out of the press?”

Obviously, at first one would instantly point a finger at the press.  They should have the role as watchdogs upon society, reporting anything that goes unjust.  If they do not, they fail society.  DR Congo is not in the limelight, so is not receiving the support it deserves.

Since that initial reaction, I began to consider why the press would behave this way, because journalists are part of that very society – are they any different to the audience themselves?  Of course, economic pressures and political pressures influence the journalist:

“The journalist is an uneasy awkward figure, capable of good as well as bad, who has to come to terms with the political and economic constraints that weigh on him, rendering his position unstable and uncomfortable.”
(Patrick Champagne)

But what are the ideological implications? What is that uneasy link between the audience and the journalist? This has led me to consider Bourdieu’s somewhat complex views on the field of journalism:

“To understand a product like L’Express and le Nouvel Observateur there is little point in studying the target readership…Ultimately the readers of L’Express may be to the readers of Le Nouvel Observateur what the journalists of Le Nouvel Observateur are to the journalists of L’Express.”
(Pierre Bourdieu)

It’s quite a study, but something that opens new avenues for consideration.  The journalist inhabits the same field as the reader.  The reader, in the position of the journalist, would behave in exactly the same manner.  For example, influences such as a current contract status could act as a kind of censorship.  As Bourdieu puts it, precarity of employment is a loss of liberty.  Economic constraints thus act as a form of censorship.  Most of us understand this feeling.

So the independence of the journalist is then, perhaps, the key.  If economic, political and social pressures are not present; the autonomous journalist can behave as our ideal journalist, defending the rights of those in places like the DR Congo.  Or would they?

This would mean the journalist, who once lived alongside the reader in the same field, now move away, becomes detached, and merely impose their own values on everyone else.  Not the values of the audience.  Professor Rodney Benson wonders if an autonomous journalist is a good thing:

‘‘This raises the possibility that the ‘news judgement’ of a corps of media professionals who are beyond the influence of state and market is not necessarily a prize one should want for the best interest of a democratic society.”

So, where does that leave us?  It’s a tough question for sure, and I must say it’s giving me some headaches.  What I think, and I believe Bourdieu would agree to some extent, is that it is up to mass-society as a whole to shift.  It means, as I said previously, that we must consume news and media differently, we must demand different standards from the media institutions.

“If journalism is sufficiently decentralized and varied in the viewpoints it presents; if journalists are recruited from different walks of life and promote different points of view; if journalism is institutionally self-critical in ways that guarantee variety and change in the news; if, in a word, journalism is a pluralistic institution, then journalistic autonomy may be good not only for journalists, who of course appreciate the freedom to write what they please, but good for a democratic society.”
(Rodney Benson)

How? I can only think we need to teach the youth to use the media in the correct fashion.  I saw only the other day some school children in the UK make Prime Minister candidate David Cameron tremor with fear with their inquisitive, open and insightful questions.  They know how media should behave, and we should make sure they don’t forget.

Because ultimately we, society as a whole, aren’t giving the DR Congo the support it deserves.

What do you think?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2009 12:03 pm

    Love this post. I think democracy is meeting certain limitations based on some of the assumptions that underly it. At the moment we are living in a world where we believe that humans are inherently selfish, that they organize into groups along interest-lines and that those interests inherently conflict. this gives rise to adversarial notions of democracy (interest group competition): this leads to many problems including short-term planning horizons, oversimplification of complex issues, answering to constituencies at the expense of broader society and most of all submission to economic interests. if we think of humanity as being equally capable of nobility and view our human interests as complementary rather than mutually exclusive, maybe we can rise above adversarial notions of power and democracy and enter an age of mutualism. it’s actually necessary for our survival. THEN – we will see journalism might develop and become less attached to special interest, and answer to a collective conscience…


  1. Journalism and Congo… « Corina's Blog

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