Today’s podcast is the second of a series of six podcasts, featuring unedited recordings from our November 2005 conference on Media and Politics. The conference took place in three sessions, each consisting of a keynote address and a panel discussion. The recordings were recently digitized and we are making them available to the public for the first time.
Today we continue the recording of Session I: Freedom Movements and the Press. Adam Michnik’s keynote address in that session was followed by a discussion, moderated by Jonathan Schell, Harold Willens Peace Fellow at the Nation Institute and Peace and Disarmament Correspondent at The Nation . Participants included John Darnton, Associate Editor, The New York Times; Jackson Diehl , Deputy Editorial Page Editor, The Washington Post; Martin Simecka, Editor-in-Chief, Sme, and Veton Surroi, Member of the Parliament of Kosova for the ORA Civic Group and Former Chairman, KOHA Media Group, Pristina.
There was agreement among the six journalists that a free media, the dream of Adam Michnik’s generation, continues to be, as John Darnton put it, “a catalyst for change, a vehicle for change, and even a guarantor of change.” But as Jonathan Schell pointed out, “the press that existed in 1989 does not exist today” and the so-called “free media” has become a source of confusion and disinformation.
Much of the discussion focussed on the problems facing today’s media, namely corruption and the market forces that undermine the autonomy of the press, which should, according to Michnik, serve as a barrier against corruption. Veron Surroi described how easily the media can be subjugated to politics, and underlined the necessity of media pluralism for the existence of a pluralistic society. Jackson Diehl, acknowledging the role of his own paper in supporting the cause of Polish Solidarity movement in the 1980s, said that Western journalists today “have to avoid becoming surrogate ambassadors and political actors in other countries.” Thanks to the Internet, he said, the role of the Western press abroad as surrogate source of information has grown enormously, giving rise to new challenges. The more appropriate role for the Western journalist, according to Diehl, is as “watchdog of our own government.” Martin Simecka, recalling the case of Vaclav Havel, did not disagree but described how helping dissidents become well known can actually protect them from danger. Corruption persists, Simecka said, because people are afraid to speak out.