Entretien avec Peter Gross : “Religious extremism is never compatible with a true democracy”Par : Salim Tamani
NB: Comme convenu avec l’auteur, je livre l’intégralité de l’entretien avec le professeur Peter Gross dans sa version originale. La version en langue française sera publiée dans l'édition du 29 novembre 2011. L’interview a été menée en Anglais dans le cadre du programme Edward Murrow pour les journalistes qui s’est déroulé aux Etats Unis du 24 octobre au 12 novembre dernier.
Peter Gross analyzes for LIBERTE the situation of the press, democracy and the Arab Spring : “Religious extremism is never compatible with a true democracy”
I met the professor Peter Gross in Knoxville in the State of Tennessee (USA) as part of the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists. He is the Director of the School of Journalism and Electronic Media College of Communication and Information (University of Tennessee). He agreed to answer the questions of LIBERTE about the future of the press, online media, democracy in the context of Arab spring and the awakening of religious extremism.
Interviewed by Salim Tamani
LIBERTE: You mentioned the future of print media through the birth of media on line. The press in the world has been weakened in terms of sales in 2010, how do you see the necessary adaptation of journalists to the technological changes and changes in behaviors of readers?
Peter Gross: It is premature to announce the death of the print media. It is true that in advanced societies the print media are migrating to the Internet but the actual newspaper is still alive even if it has an Internet version. The weakening of the press has to do with economic conditions, its credibility and also the availability of an array of other media options. Journalists, as is true of other individuals in every field of endeavor, have no choice but to adapt to new technologies and, in fact, these new technologies can help journalists do a better job; these technologies certainly allow for instantaneous and wide-spread distribution of news and information like never before. As to "readers," they will obviously keep reading; the only question is which platforms they will access and for what purposes. As far as predictions are concerned, one should never make any; if one does, he is liable to make a fool of himself as did Marechal Ferdinand Foch who, when serving at France's Ecole Superieure de Guerre said, "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."
You also indicated that the press could no longer be the preserve of professional journalists as long as anyone can use the net through Youtube, twitter and blogs to write comments and publish, how do you see as a professional and director of a major University's the future of the profession?
Whether the amateur or citizen journalist will take over from professional journalists is questionable, although they may play a greater or smaller role in some societies. The professional journalist will always be in demand but only in democratic societies where the need for fact-based reporting is a necessity tied to self-government. The future of professional journalism, as indeed is its present, is tied to adherence to standards from which cannot and should not deviate: absolutely accuracy in the facts disseminated, the completeness of facts related to any news story and analysis, credible and varied sources, balance and fairness, and the studied absence of personal bias in the gathering and reporting of news.
The profession is now increasingly dominated by money. In the United States for example, many journalists have already paid the price of the economic crisis. Pressures are exerted on publishers to make more profit. Do you think that the struggle of the journalist is to be reinvented?
The profession was always dominated by money, except in those instances when journalists were working for a cause, in which case they acted less as professional journalists than professional activists and public relations practitioners. The struggle to retain the separation between the money-making operation of a media outlet and its editorial operation has always existed and will continue into the future. The issue is not whether profit may be in conflict with journalism, that is a given; the issue is what systemic and cultural (general and professional) realities can be established in a society that keeps one side of the operation truly separated from the other. It is possible and it has been done in the U.S. between the 1930s and the 1990s, and to some degree it still exists today.
Democracy is closely linked to freedom of expression and the press; such a principle can not allow the death of newspapers?
The relationship between a true democracy and freedom of expression and freedom of the press is a reciprocal one. But there is also a major problem in answering your question, because it suggests state or government actions that would not allow the death of newspapers when in fact the life or death of newspapers are dependent on private enterprise and, equally as important, on the behavior of readers or citizens. If citizens are intent on living in a democracy, than they will also be avid followers of news and information as disseminated by professional media.
Arab revolutions have brought their hopes but also of concerns. Dictators fell but the Islamists took power, do you think democracy will survive the religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa?
The fall of dictators always offers a people an opportunity to have a say in what follows those dictators. Religious extremism is never compatible with a true democracy, in other words with respect for the widest possible array of individual rights. Religion itself is not necessarily incompatible with democracy; God is NOT an impediment to democracy, only people hungry for power and in need to control other people's lives, and intolerant and disrespectful of others are impediments to democracy.
You mentioned the ravages of Christianity in Europe in the 15th century. Do you think that the Arab world is condemned to live the same steps to establish democracy and individual freedoms?
Yes, but in an abbreviated way, which makes it double difficult to establish democracy and individual freedoms for the simple reason that the cultural changes that must occur only occur slowly over several generations. This is the ultimately problem that must be resolved. But none of this and other difficulties should be an argument to stop the pursuit of democracy. I repeat the famous line from Winston Churchill: Democracy may be the worse of all forms of government, except for all the others.
Who’s Peter Gross
Peter Gross, professor and director of the School of Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennessee, ( USA). Gross left Romania for the United States in 1963 because of political repression. He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism at Northern Illinois University and master's and doctoral degrees in mass communication from the University of Iowa. Prior to coming to UT in 2006, Gross held the Gaylord Family Endowed Chair in International Communication and was the director of the Institute for Research and Training and the head of the journalism area in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma. Gross wrote the first Romanian textbooks on journalism and public relations used after the 1989 revolution that deposed the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, as well as the first scholarly books on the evolution of Romanian media and journalism. Gross was instrumental in establishing a journalism program at the University of Timisoara West, and also was among the group of academics that developed the first post-communist-era journalism program at the University of Bucharest.