In a recent interview to the Columbia Journalism Review, former NS contractor, Edward Snowden spoke of the extent to which journalism has shifted from its main focus. He said that the media is the strongest now, more than ever before, since its existence but now is the time it is the farthest from its goal of serving the people. The relationship between the media and the masses has undergone a lot of change and the media’s ‘capitalistic greed’ is to be blamed for it. The aim is to keep the news flow going and staying ahead of competitors by reporting first, rather than reporting the accurate or the important.
He says, “When the reporting of facts takes a back seat, the media isn’t doing its only job.” Instead of breaking a good story, competitors write against a story that has been started by a media house. He spoke of the recent case of the Drone Papers in this regard and pointed at the New York Times as the biggest offender.
He said, “The Intercept recently published The Drone Papers, which was an extraordinary act of public service on the part of a whistleblower within the government to get the public information that’s absolutely vital about things that we should have known more than a decade ago… But the majors – specifically The New York Times – don’t actually run the story, they ignore it completely.”
According to Snowden, the media has now drifted far away from its purpose of pointing out what is contrary to the public good to becoming a tool of strengthening the elite and supporting the government.
Speaking about the major news outlets in countries like the US, Snowden said, ‘If the government said, “Look, this is secret for a reason, this is classified for a reason,” journalists would leave it at that’. However, he also believes that with so many technological tools at hand, now is the best time to revolt against such monopoly. He says the media could be the strongest check on the hegemony moves of a government or its biggest weapon. Reports of incidents such as the NSA’s blanket spying program called PRISM could deal severe blows to the government.
Snowden explains that these changes in the media’s role became more vivid particularly after the 9/11 attacks when the social media emerged as a more powerful form of reporting. However, he warns saying that these trends just hand over more power to new media ‘malicious actors’ to gain control of the ‘media narrative’ in novel ways.
The trouble with these media outlets is, whoever has the loudest voice always wins – irrespective of the accuracy of their statements. He explains saying, “The director of the FBI can make a false statement or some kind of misleading claim in congressional testimony. I can fact-check and I can say this is inaccurate. Unless some entity with a larger audience, for example, an established institution of journalism, sees that themselves, the value of these sorts of statements is still fairly minimal.”
So what difference did the NSA leaks bring about really? Snowden says it covered the distance between allegation and fact. He says ‘What happened in 2013 is we transformed the public debate from allegation to fact. The distance between allegation and fact, at times, makes all the difference in the world’. It did create an impact on the government by making it believe that more transparency could be demanded from it. Staying in exile in Russia, Snowden feels whistle blowing should be the purpose of the media but more important is that people realise they have the right to know what their government is doing.