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Journalism hijacked, says Danish national broadcaster's news director

Ulrik Haagerup is in charge of the news at the Danish Broadcasting Company. On 18 February he talked about Constructive Journalism at the Baltic Centre for Media Excellence in Tallinn. In an interview with ETV’s Neeme Raud, he explained the concept, and why he thinks journalism has been hijacked by different interests.

Haagerup said that journalism had been taken farther and farther away from its original role, which was to report facts and present a balanced view of how things are.

One of the groups Haagerup referred to as having hijacked journalism are those people who turn it into a business, where a provider of a service works for a customer. Following that mentality, Haagerup said, one then had to go and ask what people wanted to hear about; measure it; and then just provide that.

Another group Haagerup identified were activists, people who would put on the coat of journalism, but weren’t really interested in balanced reporting. Instead, these people were biased and followed their own agenda, Haagerup said.

The politically correct are just as dangerous in his view. He pointed to the example of the French Front National, which because of their racism and their ultranationalist program were ignored by the French media for a long time and just because of this managed to position themselves as a kind of political martyr.

Haagerup sees the same development currently happening in Germany, where movements like Pegida or the Alternative für Deutschland AfD have managed to gather an enormous following among all those who for whatever reason don’t trust the political establishment anymore.

Pointed by ERR’s Neeme Raud to his new catchphrase Constructive Journalism, Haagerup explained that what they were trying to do was to bring journalism back into journalism. Haagerup said he understood especially the role of the public broadcasters to be that of a filter between reality and people's perception of reality.

In his view, too much effort was spent on reporting the negative. Though fewer people died in wars today than ever before, though security for all of us in Europe had increased, the media concentrated on the negative, not reporting on the bigger perspective and the slower changes, which weren’t reflected in the news, Haagerup said.

"We don’t think the rest of it is news. We think news is about conflict, news is about drama, news is about crooks, and we think news is about victims,” he said. “We wrap all of this up in a program, or in a newspaper, and we call it journalism. But is it actually the right picture of the world? The truth is, it is not. And we need to change that.”

About the way the media treated the current migration crisis, Haagerup said that the most important thing would be to tell the stories of the people coming here. Why they are coming, and to get the facts straight. If many people were on the way to Europe for economic reasons, it wouldn’t do to just go and show the suffering of women and children.

To concentrate on criminal behaviour or cultural issues was equally bad. The aim had to be to do more than just tell the part of the story that fits a particular agenda - or, again, the idea that only drama was newsworthy.

Reporting the facts mattered, Haagerup said. Looking into the background of things as well. Once the facts were stated, one could then add stories. What would be the best practice when it comes to integration? Were there any historic examples?

Asked by Raud why it seemed that the Danes were always a little less anxious about trying new things, Haagerup said that the most important thing was not to be afraid of failure. He sees part of today’s problems of journalism in the fact that broadcasters are trying not to fail at what they do instead of trying to improve things.

Social media, Haagerup said, were seen as just another distribution channel, just another means of marketing. They were used to lure people in and watch and read and listen to what the broadcasters produced, but they could be used for much more than that.

He pointed out that journalism had lost its monopoly to tell people stories that influenced their view of current affairs. Today, everybody could tell a story. And often it would happen that a person’s world view was amplified and cultivated by their social sphere online.

What the media needed to do, Haagerup said, was to find a way into the feed, and to do this by encouraging debate. The next step would be to listen to what people say, and use social media as a means to establish a dialogue. Like this, the media could still challenge people’s world view.

Journalism needed to reestablish itself as an authority for truth. This was especially true for the public broadcasting services, Haagerup said. If people couldn’t trust anyone else, he went on, “we should be an independent force, trying to give people the best obtainable version of the truth.”

Editor: Editor: Dario Cavegn

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