Put truth into the public sphere, journos told

John-DingesKUALA LUMPUR: It is the journalist’s job to put the truth into the public sphere, even when the ruling government is a repressive one, says former Washington Post reporter John Dinges.

Dinges, a former foreign correspondent, recounting his experiences in Latin America in the 1970s, said: “None of the journalists tried to criticise the government, but what they did was try to be more factual and accurate to serve the people with more information.”

Now a journalism professor with Columbia University, Dingers once worked for Time magazine and the Washington Post newspaper.

Commenting on the time when Latin American dictatorships were beginning to acknowledge the American stance on democracy, Dinges said that news agencies began to work around the still-present, but loosening restrictions imposed by the government.

“People started doing real reporting again. There was a radio station that started a news programme: they couldn’t denounce the government, but they could call attention to how there are humans rights organisations and activists (outside the country),” said Dinges in a talk on Saturday at the Cooler Lumpur Festival.

In his talk, on Journalism in Service of Democracy, Dinges said that although the space given to news organisations in Latin America in the 70s was “infinitesimal”, he and his colleagues would later manage to function as journalists by reporting on international human rights issues.

“We created a news organisation, where we got permission to do a newsletter called Actualidad Internacional (International News). We couldn’t talk about Chile, only of other countries.

“So we talked about human rights in Brazil. There was US President Jimmy Carter, who was making human rights history. The Palestinian struggle…every campaign for human rights in history,” he said.

“It’s hard to say that changed something,” Dinges admitted. “But we were putting truth into the public sphere. That was important at the time.”

Dinges said journalists could call the people’s attention to how there was a version of the facts that they could trust.

“None of the journalists tried to criticise the government, but what they did was try to be more factual and accurate to serve the people with more information.

“That was the job of journalism: to fill the small space that was available.”