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IV. BRICS and changing communication practices

BRICS journalism as a new territory for localizing journalism studies

This chapter takes a second look at some of the findings of an empirical study of BRICS journalists, reported earlier in two collaborative publications (Pasti and Ramaprasad, 2015, 2018), using the ethical and epistemological analytic techniques of the BRICS perspective as proposed by Albuquerque and Lycariao (2018).Thus, respectively, we refrain from making normative comparisons within and outside BRICS, and we do not use country evaluations of BRICS made by non-academic, Western agents. The purpose is to situate interpretations locally, within the historical legacies and current dynamics of journalism, including its imported influences, in these countries. We selected journalists’beliefs about professionalism, functions of journalism and roles of journalists as variables to reconsider in this light because they comprise the essence of news. We also included social media use because they provide a new venue through which journalists practise their profession and deliver functions and roles, and is thus a new avenue to journalistic freedom.

Historically, the ‘journalisms’ of BRICS countries have all been sites of liberation movements, either against colonial Western powers (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) or tsarist autocracy (Russia). Today, the journalisms of BRICS are located in the relatively new conditions of their communist, post-communist, postcolonialist and post-apartheid societies, which are part of the global economy and have experienced the global trends of digitalization and liberalism. Contemporary BRICS journalists combine, to different extents, their domestic understandings of journalism, including emancipatory activities for marginalized populations, with ideas and practices from other parts of the world. This mix of local perspectives and global trends has given each country its own character, within which its journalism and journalists are situated.

Localizing journalism studies

In our empirical study, we did not consider the BRICS countries as sites of raw data to be analyzed through the prism ofWestern theory (Willems, 2014). First, we started from the vantage point of these countries, using in-depth semi-structured interviews that allowed journalists to voice their beliefs and provide researchers with nuanced and organic viewpoints that a standardized questionnaire, employed within a positivist framework and seeking a high level of generalization and universalizing theories, cannot. Second, to accomplish this large study in a localized manner, we adopted a committee approach, ‘in which an interdisciplinary and multicultural team of individuals who have expert knowledge on the cultures, languages and research field in question jointly develop the research tools’ (Hanitzsch, 2008: 101). As part of this approach, researchers from BRICS collected and provided interpretations of the data. And third, in this chapter, we conduct a place-based interpretation of the data rather than compare it against any normative understandings ofjournalism and its practices that might imply a hierarchy of countries in terms of their moral positions in the profession. Thus, we do not compare one BRICS country with another or one or more of the BRICS countries with Western countries and its normative assessments.Together, these three research strategies constitute our ‘localization’ approach.

Due to the genesis of communication and journalism studies in the West and other factors, such as the primacy of English as the language of research and larger opportunities for funded research in the West, journalism studies research has been dominated by Western scholars and is unmistakably influenced by the Western canon in terms of theoretical approaches, analytic methods and interpretive models (Josephi, 2005). Western societies, particularly the United States, support private ownership and task journalism with keeping the public informed and journalists with staying sources of power, especially the government, so that journalism and journalists may fulfil what it considers their primary function, that of sustaining democracy.

Journalism in the service of democracy and, in the US, journalists as adversaries to government, both ensconced in a private ownership system: these then have been the hegemonic normative underpinnings of considerable research in journalism, from which vantage point global journalism practice and journalists’ beliefs and values have been, more or less, judged (Josephi, 2005; Nerone, 2013). When other forms of journalism and its practice, and their differing relationship with society, are identified in research results or in critical essays, they are generally considered deviations and receive considerable resistance from Western scholars, practitioners and commentators.

This Western bias impoverishes journalism studies research, depriving it of a fuller understanding of journalists’ beliefs, views and practice, both within and outside the Western sphere. In a more general application beyond simply journalism studies, but in a more specific reference to the European region, Miike (2010) discusses the problems of Eurocentricism. According to him, Eurocentricism uses cultural origin to favour certain experiences; it essentializes all experience to the European one. It thus ‘totalizes’, adding up everything to the European perspective, and ‘trivializes’, diminishing all else (Miike, 2010: 3). Today, this increasing recognition and acknowledgement of Western bias has led scholars to call for ‘de-Westernizing’ or ‘internationalizing’ media studies (see, for example, Banda et al., 2007; Breit, Obijiofor and Fitzgerald, 2013; Korkonosenko, 2015; Mano, 2009; Thussu, 2009,2013).

From the point of view of avoiding any type of‘centrism’, be it Eurocentrism (Miike, 2010), Asiacentricity (Miike, 2010) or Afrocentricity (Asante, 2007),BRICS represents an ideal constellation, uniting different regional cultural centers (Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa), and thus eliminating a centre of domination. Thus, the very fact of conducting a study of BRICS journalists by researchers from the BRICS countries may be considered a joint act against normative frameworks. Further, and more specifically, we question the normativity ofWestern ideas about journalism, through our analysis ofjournalists’ beliefs about the qualities of a professionaljournalist, the functions of journalism and the roles of a journalist and their social media use.

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