Thursday, May 14, 2009

Barack Obama on why media matters

This, from today's Crikey.

It's a couple of days old now, but it's something that has gone strangely undereported in the Australian press. Barack Obama's address to the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner featured the usual attempt -- a funny one -- at First Standup, but the President also went on to make some serious points about journalism and its relationship to effective democracy.

They were points worth repeating:

"We meet tonight at a moment of extraordinary challenge for this nation and for the world, but it's also a time of real hardship for the field of journalism.And like so many other businesses in this global age, you've seen sweeping changes and technology and communications that lead to a sense of uncertainty and anxiety about what the future will hold.

Across the country, there are extraordinary, hardworking journalists who have lost their jobs in recent days, recent weeks, recent months. And I know that each newspaper and media outlet is wrestling with how to respond to these changes, and some are struggling simply to stay open.

And it won't be easy. Not every ending will be a happy one. But it's also true that your ultimate success as an industry is essential to the success of our democracy. It's what makes this thing work. You know, Thomas Jefferson once said that if he had the choice between a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, he would not hesitate to choose the latter.

Clearly, Thomas Jefferson never had cable news to contend with -- (laughter) -- but his central point remains: A government without newspapers, a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts, is not an option for the United States of America. (Applause.)

So I may not -- I may not agree with everything you write or report. I may even complain ... from time to time about how you do your jobs, but I do so with the knowledge that when you are at your best, then you help me be at my best. [Now why don't more CEOs see it that way?]

You help all of us who serve at the pleasure of the American people do our jobs better by holding us accountable, by demanding honesty, by preventing us from taking shortcuts and falling into easy political games that people are so desperately weary of. And that kind of reporting is worth preserving -- not just for your sake, but for the public's. We count on you to help us make sense of a complex world and tell the stories of our lives the way they happen, and we look for you for truth, even if it's always an approximation."

An articulate, balanced and realistic assessment of the critical role of media in today's world - this is NOT the world where all journos are purer than driven snow, and not the world where all people in power are beyond question.

It is however the world in which many people in power, media and PRs try hard to do what they think best. Sometimes we all need reminding there is in fact a greater good we all serve, or, if we've lost our way, should aim to serve.

Few better than this President to remind us.

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