27 August, 2009

Media and objectivity

I'm downright disappointed with the present-day media. I read the web version of the biggest Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, daily and I have to say that the level of journalism is simply appalling.

A couple of months ago, they discovered that one of the government parties, Keskusta, had gotten serious amounts of money from a corporation called Nova Group, plus also an organization called KMS. People were daunted by the fact that one of the biggest political parties got a lot of their financing from more or less shady sources. Some even claimed Keskusta to be corrupt.

Helsingin Sanomat published news about this whole incident pretty much daily and reported all the major discoveries in tracing the background of the so-called "election money". That was good. But, people were thinking to themselves, how about the other big parties - where does their money come from?

Helsingin Sanomat didn't even bother commenting on the other parties for weeks.

Clearly, the just ran after the scent of blood like dogs. The newsaper lacked even the slightest hint of mere reflection of the fact, that it even might be at all possible for the other parties to have equally shady sources. Doesn't sound that objective to me....

To take this to a more general level, I'm asking the following question:
Shouldn't a newspaper (or media in general) be committed to objectivity, insted of just hunting for shocking headlines and mobs of readers?
How could we justify not being objective? Ok, the media company needs to make profit. Can we argue that it can be unobjective in order to attract more readers and thus make more profit?

I think not. I mean, where would it end? Being unobjective means basically not actively looking for, or even trying to hide, all the possible connections. Doesn't that pretty much equal lying? If we accept that, we would also have to accept making up nonexistent news, shouldn't we? Besides, lying and ripping off people's money in the process doesn't really sound very sensible, does it?

What's the point of media companies anyway? Is it to spread the news as objectively and fast as possible to the general public? Or is it making as much profit as possible? Are these two somehow connected? Should they be?

Definitely they should be. One could argue, that readers flock to the paper with the fastest and most objective news, but in Finland it doesn't really work that way. The media market is an oligopoly. There's hardly any good alternatives for YLE and Hesari, are there?

At least I can have some solace in the fact that Internet is creating opportunities for different viewpoints, and we don't have to blindly trust what the newspapers are telling us. On the other hand, isn't there even less chance of a simple freelance writer being objective? After all, he's got his ass and persona on the line, so isn't it harder for him to escape his subjective viewpoint?

Perhaps you just can't really trust anything blindly anymore. I guess you just have to read several sources simultaneously, and make up the conclusions yourself. I guess the reader is the one with all the responsibility these days.


  1. I stumbled on your blog through Facebook and just wanted to give my two cents on this. I think Finland is sort of unique in having one major newspaper that people read like the Bible. In Italy (just an example I happen to know well; many other countries apply), newspapers tend to be divided along the party lines. Everyone will know that eg. "La Repubblica" is left-leaning, while "Corriere della Sera" will usually back up the right-wing politicians (although the corrupt libertine they have for a prime minister is sometimes a bit too much to handle even for "Corriere"...). The standpoints are clear, and people can choose what kind of a filter they want their news to be pushed through. Of course, it's not rare for the newspapers to get polemical and overly biased, but, hey, what is objectivity anyway?!

    In my opionion critical thinking is a must with any kind of reading material. And, I would even claim that many Finns are intellectually lazy when they look for "the truth" or "objectivity" in the media, especially YLE and HS (no, I'm definitely not referring to your blog entry; your attitude is entirely different). I guess the further I walk on my humanist path, the less I believe in objectivity and neutrality; people are always speaking and acting within their own context, and there are always biases, no matter how benevolent. And it's not something that has recently changed. That's the way our human life is. Nothing wrong with that. Just something to keep in mind.

    Yes, there are indeed mornings when Hesari drives me crazy eg. when they ridicule the church and and anyone who has something to do with that particular institution. Or when they just rub their über-liberal ultra-urban mentality in your face day after day. But I've also grown to expect that and think it's my responsibility to use my good judgement. So, I'd very much agree with the last two sentences of your entry :)

  2. And, you are so right, there are no words to describe the lack of journalistic quality at hs.fi. I thought HS, whatever its shortcomings, was at least a serious newspaper...