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Key functions of journalism

In response to our question on the three key functions that journalism should fulfil, BRICS journalists indicated providing information as the most important function but with different nuances. Brazilian journalists spoke about ‘informing with objectivity’, and Indian journalists about ‘provide right [accurate] information’, phrasing that implied the moral quality of being honest. In Russia, China and South Africa, however, journalists did not add an evaluatory phrase, while Indian journalists did not limit the main function of journalism to a single function. For them, it also included enabling communication between people and institutions, providing cognitive fodder for people, educating, regulating for societal order, engaging in activism in the vein of empowering people and working on social justice. That is, for them journalism is something more than just production of news, it is seen ‘as a resource to drive development’ (Ramaprasad et al., 2018: 27). For this reason, perhaps, Indian journalists did not prioritize the commercial functions of journalism. Indian journalists were also an exception in the BRICS group in that they did not mention ‘entertainment’ as one of the three key functions of journalism. While not as all-encompassing as in India’s case, the service orientation was present among journalists from the other countries as evident in their (and Indian journalists’) mention of the function of enlightening and educating the public.

Investigative journalism, akin to watchdog journalism, seeking to keep politics and business accountable to society, was not very popular among BRICS journalists. Only in the metropolitan cities of Brazil and the metro cities and provinces of South Africa did journalists consider investigative journalism as one of the key functions of journalism. Indian journalists did not mention this function at all. Both communist China and post-communist Russia do not have a deep tradition of and conditions for investigative journalism as it is understood in the West: ‘to discover information of public interest that somebody is trying to hide’.2 Investigative journalism may be permitted by the authorities for certain liberal publications in certain cities, for example, in Moscow or in Guangzhou.

Key roles of journalists

Journalists’ perceptions about their key roles were not too dissimilar to their beliefs about the functions of journalism. Thus, BRICS journalists were unanimous in indicating that disseminating information was the journalist’s main role, with nuanced differences. Brazilian journalists used the phrase ‘report objectively’, whereas Russian, Chinese and South African journalists stayed with ‘provide news’, and ‘inform the public’. In India, journalists put ‘educate and enlighten’, ‘protect people and society’ and ‘work towards social justice, to be watchdog’ on an equal footing with the role of informer, in that they considered all of these as main roles.

In South Africa, a key role was to ‘empower community’, in Brazil, it was to ‘provide service to society’, and in Russia and India, it was ‘to help people’ and to ‘engage in activism’. In Russia, journalists saw themselves as ‘teachers’, ‘enlighteners’, ‘moderators’ and ‘providers of communication between society and power’. The state-owned media journalists of China and Russia were similar in their perception of journalists as intermediaries between the government and society, a perception emanating from the service status of the journalism profession in the social structure of these societies, wherein state media journalists are trustees of the authorities. These journalists receive information from government agencies to inform society, but they also inform the government about the needs and aspirations of the people. In the interpretations of Chinese journalists, their role is to be ‘a bridge between the government and the public’, but also to be a ‘supervisor’, a ‘public opinion guider’, a ‘social order maintainer’, a ‘social observer and rational thinker’, a ‘social progress promoter’ and an ‘opinion expresser’.

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