The Military Statute prohibits active duty military personnel from participating in political acts. In today’s Brazil, active duty military spend the day spreading political slogans on social networks.
The New York Times, regretting a guideline formulated many years ago, has just recommended that its journalists detox from Twitter. In essence, the newspaper’s internal memo argues that professional journalism is incompatible with political militancy on social media.
“We can rely too heavily on Twitter as a reporting or feedback tool — which is especially harmful when our feeds become echo chambers,” the memo reads.
Social networks have fragmented Agora. In place of the old central square of the market of ideas created by the press, countless isolated platforms emerged: discursive bubbles frequented by ideological tribes. The journalist addicted to Twitter behaves like any internet user: he imagines that his bubble represents the “fair opinion” and is psychologically nourished by the virtual applause he obtains.
“Impulse tweets damage our journalistic reputation … as well as our efforts to foster a culture of inclusivity and trust,” warns the NYT. Twitter addiction demoralizes the “journalistic reputation” of the press and journalists themselves. How to ask the reader to pay for reports signed by journalists who, on social networks, operate as militants of partisan projects or social movements?
Beneath the surface, there is something else. The memo is saying that the journalistic program does not match the absolute ideological certainties typical of tribes amalgamated by social media.
What is a journalistic program? The professional press can only exist in open societies, which respect the principles of freedom of expression and plurality of ideas. Therefore, the press does not seek “neutrality”. Journalists who defend dictatorships in which expression (and the press) have to submit to “state truth” are only journalists in name.
Journalistic objectivity, on the other hand, is a necessary utopia that derives from the journalistic program. The press seeks objectivity (without ever achieving it) because it believes that, beyond the narrative wars, there is a factual truth. Putin’s claim to “denazify” Ukraine runs up against the undeniable fact that Ukraine does not live under Nazism.
But the search for objectivity has a deeper meaning, linked to the principle of plurality of ideas. The journalist has a duty to recognize the basic legitimacy of the ideas of the different actors involved in an ideological controversy — and to soak his text in the broth of this recognition.
At the opposite end, journalists who defend the suppression of ideas expressed within the limits of the law are nothing more than disguised censors (a close example: the Jocevir committee, Journalists for Virtuous Censorship, in this Sheet).
Opinion journalism, like this column, occupies a different place, but not immune to the challenges posed by social networks. It is not (should not be) an anything goes: the author of the opinion piece also has journalistic obligations. With the exception of party cadres, which explicitly convey a collective opinion, the columnist owes allegiance to a contract of trust with the reader.
The implicit contract establishes that he expresses his personal opinions, supported by formal knowledge or life experience. And, above all, that such opinions are not subordinated to the interests of groups (parties, lobbies or social movements). The columnist intoxicated by virtual wars loses the ability to separate his views from the messages of ideological currents that pack his intellectual life.
Journalists are not soldiers — but, like them, they must decide who to salute.
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