Over a period of time, World Press Freedom Day observed on May 03 has gained public attention. Even as the day symbolizes the importance of press freedom, the unprecedented growth of digital technologies and emergence of independent media encouraging the unrestricted and unfiltered dissemination of information has complicated the issues facing the journalists.
Actually, a breed of so-called social media influencers (popularly known as Facebook journalists) have become a subject of debate for making gross misuse of social media platforms and creating unrest among societies by throwing the journalistic ethics to the wind.
This practice has put the professionally qualified journalist fraternity to the wall as the influence of the ‘Facebook journalist’ is growing in multiple ways on the societies.
Before coming to the exact subject of debate, let me share an important statistic about the growing use of social media platforms. It’s not only growing in size, but its importance too is growing rapidly.
Over the last decade, we have seen social media growing rapidly in importance. According to the most recent statistics, “the projected number of global social media users in 2023 is 4.89 billion, indicating a 6.5% rise from the previous year.”
A survey has found that people extensively use social media platforms to look for support in their decision making, besides updating themselves about the latest happening around the globe in general and more particularly around their own vicinity in real time.
There is no denying the fact that social media platforms have emerged as a powerful agent of social change. Among other things, the platform has been proving a fertile birthplace of a breed of social media influencers, who are growing in number uncontrollably.
These social media influencers have a vast following in a distinct niche, with whom they actively engage. Over a period of time, they build their reputation among their social media audience for the knowledge and expertise on a specific topic.
They are habitual of uploading regular content of their choice on their preferred social media channels to engage more people and force their close attention to their views. These influencers have already influenced multiple brands and they use them to market their products and services.
These social media influencers have their own categories. In other words, they can be categorized in multiple ways, such as by way of number of followers, by types of content, and by the level of influence. Of course, YouTubers, Bloggers and Podcasters too fall in the overall category of social media influencers.
Do these social media influencers qualify to be called journalists? The mass engagement of people as self-styled journalists on social media channels has not only outnumbered and diluted the credibility of the genuinely professional breed of journalists, but they have on the whole dented the nobility of the profession itself.
The public trust on this once noble profession is dwindling fast owing to the freedom of speech and expression observed by these self-styled journalists who brazenly introduce themselves as reporters, editors and experts of everything.
Ironically, these so-called journalists misuse social media channels where most of the time they run targeted campaigns to malign institutions, communities, societies and individuals, and the trend continues unabated under the nose of authorities. Their activities are widespread and overshadow the genuinely professional journalists.
In this digital era, where the world has in true sense been converted into a global village, flow of information is taking place at lightning pace. Most of the information is mishandled and pushed across geographies in a twisted form to preach hatred and gain the maximum possible audience.
Here a breed of professional journalists has also been seen indulging in unethical practices while reporting or commenting on an event for public information.
Ethically speaking, a journalist should always look at his services with responsibility in the line of duty towards his nation and its subjects. Once a journalist aims to pursue his profession for power he surrenders his sense of responsibility towards the society and sacrifices his professionalism.
Precisely, journalists have to exhibit their ability to mold or mobilize public opinion in a positive direction through their write-ups or productions. Let them be opinion makers or analysts enjoying readers’ trustworthiness.
Basically, the time demands moral journalism - a journalism that cares as well as it knows. One thing is most crucial. A journalist must be careful not to become more important than the event and he should not even prescribe how the audience should feel and react.
Last but not the least; a journalist should be – to the people, by the people and for the people. He should write for society and not for better circulation and money.
He should show more concern about social development and not assuming power for money. Once they think of power and not responsibility, then freedom of press is not guaranteed.
Lastly, the current mess created by a breed of social media influencers (‘Facebook journalists’) is growing exponentially and the situation demands disciplinary approach from its stakeholders, especially the authorities.
The tremendous use of digital media channels and their far and wide reach make regulatory measures inevitable to regulate the operations of journalists in a fair way.
Meanwhile let me reiterate, the situation makes a fit case of licensing journalists.
A debate on licensing of Journalists has already been ignited where experts have been pitching for a system whereby individuals would be required to apply to an external authority for permission to practice journalism, which may be refused or revoked.
Here accreditation should not be construed as license. Accreditation facilitates a journalist to special privileges, most commonly access to restricted areas such as legislatures, courts etc.
While as, licensing will take care of genuine persons with professional qualification and background to practice journalism. For this, there is a need for a regulatory authority where a database of professional journalists would be built up. Once under its ambit, various welfare schemes for the journalist community can be tailored by the government.
Even as licensing of journalists is a rough idea, it will axe fake and self-styled journalists who have been on prowl to rob people of their peace of mind and hard earned money. The idea needs brainstorming deliberations as it should not curb the freedom of press.
Meanwhile, when we talk of social media influencers, of course, journalists can also be considered influencers. Here the journalists mean persons who have already gained respect because of their qualifications, position, or experience about their topic of expertise.
Often, this respect is earned more because of the reputation of where they work. A journalist may not be an expert on the subjects he/she writes in his/her newspaper or magazine columns, but is respected for his/her writing capabilities to work for such a prestigious media (be it print or electronic) organization.
To conclude, a social media influencer cannot be a journalist, but a journalist can be an influencer.
(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.