Unpacking The Brass Check

HARARE - In 1919, an American journalist Upton Sinclair, who had over two decades experience in journalism, published the celebrated book The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism.

It showed the dark side of the profession, something that most readers of newspapers will never get to know. Fundamental questions that the book asked included the following;

Who owns the press, and why?

When you read your daily paper, are you reading facts, or propaganda? And whose propaganda?

Who furnishes the raw material for your thoughts about life?

Is it honest material?

In fact, some readers will never ask because they believe what they get from the media is gospel truth.

What would make them not believe without questioning when all what they know and what they use to interrogate the world around them is shaped by what they have been previously told by the press.

It might seem that people might be in some false conscious existence and will never get the truth whether it exists or not or distinguish between credible information and propaganda.

From a cultural studies point of view, all information that is made available especially in terms of the political economy has in-built mechanisms to shape perceptions and divert attention to less important issues.

Some two weeks ago, I attended a discussion hosted by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe whose agenda was to analyse the way the media had covered the obscene salaries that local authorities and parastatal bosses were earning though legal but as a result of weak governance structures or the salarygate.

The general sentiments was that the media had at least in a long time across the ownership divide tried to expose some of these immoral activities in the country.

Although some editors really thanked the powers that be for giving political will in the fight against corruption which information minister Jonathan Moyo described as public enemy number one a lot of questions remained unanswered.

The most difficult issue was on journalists themselves. Are journalists really motivated by the desire to serve genuine societal interest especially when the corruption cases involve the rich and well to do who can as well give bribes to those who are on a crusade against corruption?

This is a question that most people failed and will never answer very clearly. How clean are journalists that have lived in an environment that has seen corrupting thriving?

If they are compromised can they perform the role of exposing which is the first shot in the fight against graft? If they are not angels like everyone, how clean are they?

Nevertheless, if the media can show the light people may have the way and journalists should be the real Fourth Estate performing the real watchdog role in sustaining an enduring and prosperous society

I also noticed some messages that were posted on social media sites which warned that if the transactions between some state parastatals and journalists are to be revealed then there will be a lot of wailing in some newsrooms.

If this point to the fact that journalists could have acted in complicit with the powerful corrupt individuals then their adrenalin to fight will not last the distance.

According to Upton Sinclair in America most journalists of his time and even today have been hijacked and are now serving powerful interests, skirting around critical public interest issues because of the brass cheque : “The Brass cheque is found in your pay envelope each week — The Brass cheque is the price of your shame — you who take the fair body of truth and sell it in the marketplace, you who betray the virgin hopes of mankind into the loathsome brothel of big business”.

Instead of being the voice of the voiceless they are now selling people to the dictates of vested interests and big business through chequebook journalism.

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