Citizen vs. mainstream journalism

The credibility of what is called “citizen journalism” took a big hit this week, according to Eric Morse, a former Canadian diplomat who is now vice-chair of the Security Studies Committee at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto.

In a column in the Ottawa Citizen Morse criticized those who reported as fact information contained in some of the leaked classified field reports about the Afghan War  wiithout first checking them out. 

Some early reports, based on information in the documents, said that four Canadian soldiers who died in battle in 2006 were killed by friendly fire. But when other journalists checked those reports out and talked to eyewitnesses, they determined the information in those initial reports was wrong.

“If one bad report does not discredit the whole pile, it at least points up that raw bulk data are never to be trusted without far better editing than this lot has received. But it is the conceit of the age that “citizen journalists” — including the anonymous volunteers who helped “edit” the heap — are far more trustworthy than any “mainstream” media (who have an agenda, so it is said) or, it goes without saying, than any elected government, since it is axiomatic these days that governments always lie.”

Morse agrees that governments do sometimes lie, and the mainstream media often do have an agenda, but he says the balance and context provided by mainstream reporters dealing with raw data is valuable. 

“That is the problem with the “information wants to be free” fetish that the Internet has spawned. So does a plague bacillus, I imagine, but organized society cannot afford either in large doses, or it rapidly ceases to be organized. The oldest social contract is freedom vs. protection, and the Internet has not altered that paradigm one bit. Who will watch the latest self-appointed custodians of freedom?”

Morse also says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has made himself a very big target for counter-intelligence agencies around the world, which are known to play rough. 

“For all the uproar he has managed to cause in the past few days, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s behaviour is that of a small boy throwing stinkbombs, for which he could well receive a nasty spanking.”