This photographic essay asks the question what role does the media play when leaders don’t accept question and how does that benefit our democracy?
Democracy is about giving people voice and creating a forum for those voices to be heard.
Voice is not just talking; it’s listening, it’s asking questions, it’s giving answers, it’s a negotiation through which interested parties are able to find a place where there is agreement. It might not be agreement on the settlement, but at least it is agreement that the process was fair and each voice was heard, respected and considered. Without this process to give voice to a diverse group, but rather to limit the voices heard to a select group, we have an autocracy.
In our system of democracy there are several means to give voice: through parliament, letters, opinion polls, press conferences, interviews, etc. The press is an important component of our democracy as the individuals are in a position to ask questions, and they have the training and tenacity to pursue a line of reasoning and then to provide the answers they receive to the wider audience. It is an efficient way to communicate a leader’s points of view on matters of importance.
This form of communications is mediated through the reporter, which is often a point of contention. When a reporter edits the communication or colours the report with their own point of view they are criticized for bias. While such critiques might be valid, the listener also has a responsibility to accept that reporters are human and subject to inclinations as is everyone else. This should not devalue their report, but rather it should be seen by the listener as one data point among many. It is the listener’s responsibility to be sceptical, to question the questioner, to triangulate the different reports to develop their own view.
Yet it is worse when there are no reports. Then the listener has nothing. There is a vacuum. When a leader calls the press to a conference to make an announcement, but takes no questions, the opportunity to more fully understand it lost. The opportunity explore the motivations, context, rationale of an announcement is left unsaid. It is left to the assumptions of the listener.
When the press gather at a news conference, that is held without questions, they simply become stenographers documenting the words of the speaker. Their presence adds little value to the general public — the message could have been tweeted — and they simply become a prop to lend credence to the event. They are used like living room furniture.