For a democracy to flourish and grow, independent media and freedom of speech is a must. Nowadays, most nations who believe in democracy agree with this notion. But, in honoring the media's role in a democracy, are we ignoring its limitations and putting more faith than necessary on its role?
I hold a very special view of the media. For me it is a watchdog that will rise up and tell the truth even in difficult circumstances and is essentially not a business but a service. Over the years, this glorious image of the media has been hurt a number of times and now I am not that big of a fan.
One example of how we may be over stating media's role and importance is what is happening to Dan Rather. Rather, legendary CBS anchor man and an excellent journalist, was forced out of CBS in a very bitter way. Now he works at little known HDNet.
Mother Jones magazine has an in-depth profile of Rather and his work at HDNet. He is reporting on often overlooked issues and the quality of his work is well above the trash we are fed by cable news networks. He has reported on electronic voting machines, environment, and shenanigans of the banking industry-something "mainstream" media has no time to focus on. His reporting is deep and he has the independence at HDNet to pursue stories with little intervention.
But who is watching his show? HDNet is not a very well known entity and its programming lineup does not a suit man of Dan Rather's caliber. Also, Rather is the only known serious journalist at the network, while millions watch Bill O'Reilly spew venom at Fox News, Dan Rather's work at HDNet gathers very limited audience.
Excellent journalism is hard to find these days when the media has become profit oriented. Does it matter that a journalist is doing great work in an obscure channel while the majority of the audience flocks to the trash at a well known one? What value does good work have when there is no one to appreciate it and learn from it?
The basic job of a journalist is to make the readers/viewers aware. Dan Rather is doing a great job at that, but he has limited audience and his work is just getting ignored. So, does doing a good job even matter now that the people flock to a commentator or a network that says the most scandalous/outrageous things? And if his work is not reaching the people, is Dan Rather providing any service at all?
Media has a great role to play in journalism, but in today's environment of sensationalism and vapid commercialization, good work that does not conform to the norms is ignored. This is hurting media's credibility and its ability to be the true mirror to the society.