Infotainment destroys trust and make no mistake: it will have a price
Jan 26, 2012
Infotainment's destructive impact on trust and journalism's inevitable price.
About 70% of the public in England do not trust what the tabloids report, according to a survey published by The Guardian today. The striking number serves as a warning to a large slice of journalism today (perhaps the largest), infotainment. The exponential growth of the audience on the Internet is incredibly seductive for companies that have their revenues plummeting in other media and most players are jumping into the vein (in Brazil, absolutely all means, without exception, are), but this has a price and at one point, it will be charged.
The relationship here is simple. Using the British example: tabloids have always been sensationalist. There was never a moment when they took on the serious postures of the most venerable dailies like The Times, for example. But until recently, the tabloids were also doing quality journalism. The award-winning journalist John Pilger, for example, was a correspondent for the then Labour Daily Mirror. Even the infamous The Sun once had the reporter of the year elected. Under the management of millionaire Rupert Murdoch(who shares the same vision of several owners of Brazilian news conglomerates, that journalism is a business like any other), however, the English tabloids dived deeper and deeper into sensationalist coverage, especially of the celebrity world.
Under the baton of editors-in-chief like the abject Piers Morgan (former editor of Murdoch's two newspapers and today anchor of a talk show on CNN American), the tabloids lost their sense and increased the pressure to get scoops, turning into criminals. Illegal persecution of celebrities, phone hacking, police corruption became common practice in Murdoch's News Corporation, which is a gigantic company and does not recognize power in absolutely nobody (even the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was threatened by the NOTW journalists). Last year, the scandal of Milly Dowler, a murdered teenager who had the investigation of her death hampered by the News of The World to get more "scoops", came to light and the criminal activity of the company was unmasked. Public rejection of tabloids exploded at that moment.
To understand how journalists turn into criminals, the context needs to be taken into account. It's a change that doesn't happen overnight. It starts with small exaggerations, which become medium and large and later, seemingly harmless small illegalities start to make sense. Over the years and with incessant pressure for a larger audience, the media has transformed into real "circuses of horrors", with a brutal exploitation of people's private lives (far beyond what is acceptable, even for a notorious person). If at the end of the day, the audience was larger, anything goes. But sooner or later, the excesses are revealed and the public - the same public that rewards for more scandals, absurdities, and tackiness - turns its back and points the finger accusingly saying that the excesses are unforgivable. This is an idiosyncrasy of the audience. It will never put itself in the dock for having demanded something and will condemn whoever delivered the order, if necessary.
The bet for entertainment is as valid as any other, but the "everything goes", no. The "celebrity journalism" in England increased the pressure until it turned into the Murdochian industry of a company big enough to no longer respect the law. In Brazil, this process is beginning to take clearer shapes. The professionals who lead the large information groups need to establish in advance what are the limits that can never be crossed. If they have to decide with the pressure of their commercial departments, they will make the same choices as Murdoch's empire and, like there, it will not be their bosses who will be prosecuted. Perhaps there lies another difference: to find out if Brazil has sufficient legal maturity to put large communication groups on the dock, if that were the case.