Some good overnight news, to which readers have alerted me: Ayman Mohyeldin has been reinstated by NBC as their Gaza correspondent. This is an interesting sign of changing times: NBC, it seems, is waging a rearguard action, feeling the need to restore its credentials for editorial independence. Once it would have been taken for granted that a large media organisation was free and fearless; now increasingly it is not.
What was so revealing about NBC’s original move was that no serious reason was given by the TV executives for Mohyeldin’s removal from Gaza; and their grounds for reinstating him are equally opaque. That is because their decision can only be explained in cynical, political terms, as a response to, or pre-emption of, the Israel lobby and its chums in Washington’s corridors of power.
It is true that there are cynical journalists, but most genuinely believe they are independent and free to say what they like – even when the evidence screams at them that the opposite is true. But media executives, who should really be called what they are – money men and women – are the ones who make the key decisions. And they are entirely cynical about editorial policies. They are interested solely in revenues, access and remaining credible with and useful to powerful interest groups, including the massive corporations that run the media.
Journalists have a bad habit of ignoring the reality that these corporate titans run their news organisations, and they manage it by not examining their bosses’ motives, or their own, too deeply.
But Mohyeldin’s removal will have caused them problems. There were no possible editorial grounds for pulling him from Gaza. The executives offered a vague pretext – “security” – but then exposed the deceitfulness of their reasoning by bringing in another reporter to replace him.
This was doubtless too much for the journalists at NBC, who were threatened by the thought that their outlet might not be quite the bastion of free speech they need to believe it is. And that doubt will only have been reinforced by the popular campaign to bring Mohyeldin back.
In these circumstances, NBC’s original decision threatened to expose to many of its journalists and viewers the hoax of a free western press. That, I suspect, is why Mohyeldin was hurriedly reinstated. NBC’s executives understood that the illusion needed to be restored.
But, as I say, this is a sign of progress. These media corporations can no longer take for granted that we will continue believing they are committed to the truth or acting honourably.