Everyone has a right to their own opinions and as writers, to our own opinion columns. Actually, it is only right to say that no one has a right to ignorance or to be ignorant. If you are not sure which side of the line you fall, ask yourself if you have spent more time talking about it rather than reading about it. You are thinking, right?
The purpose of a newspaper or any form of media is to keep the public informed with accurate, up-to-date and sound information. I have always been interested in writing opinions, even in all its subjectivity. Even so, I understand that opinions must apply respectable standards of accuracy. I also grew to recognize that opinions often play a significant part in people’s lives rather than hard news updates.
If you take away the weak, fragile mask of “opinion columns” from the face of any newspaper or magazine, you will find blind, uninformed hatred wincing beneath. Someone once said that when we pretend the partiality of opinions could stop the public from internalizing information as a fact we will just be thinking childish and irresponsible, dangerous and life-threatening.
This statement confused me for the longest time. Later I understood that notions such as ‘black people have smaller brains and a greater propensity toward labour’ were once only opinions or opinion columns. To say that Jewish people were to blame for the political problems of Germany was only an opinion. To insinuate that Iraq housed weapons of mass destruction was only an opinion at some point.
How did these opinions become worldviews? Well, we should realize that columns or opinion pieces, whether or not they endorse the opinion itself, they certainly approve the opinion as an agreeable, debatable point of view.
Recently, I had a conversation with one junior journalist who wanted to write for our Edupulse Magazine. I told him straight that I am not taking any opinion pieces from him. He said to me, rather arrogant, “But that’s how we get to exercise our freedom of speech.” I reluctantly responded, “Take this microphone. Shout in your backyard or write a blog. Your freedom of speech will protect you. But here, we shall enter no covenant to scatter off every opinion that lands on our table.”
It is of great importance for opinion sections to hold themselves to higher standards. Especially in a period of fake news and pretentious opinion columns. Especially when bodies bleed in our streets and activists community weeps for lives lost to suicide and assault. In this case, it is not the job of marginalized people to patiently defend themselves against willingly ignorant state vices.
Journalism should inform and engage. Opinion columns and editorials should, therefore, inspire discourse, spark dialogue and tackle the countless viewpoints of highly divisive subjects with equal importance and respect. But also note that there is a difference between encouraging constructive criticism, and authenticating sloppy, offensive and misinformed discourses simply to inspire a reaction. The basic but important pursuit of journalism is to seek the truth.
Editors, of any media platform, must insist not only that all opinion claims must be proven, but must earnestly oppose and consistently decline those opinions that threaten lives and target, marginalized groups.
Nevertheless, newspapers should never censor content or opinion columns for fear of offending readers. Or even prioritize simply pleasing the masses. With that in mind, we also know that not every opinion is created equal nor warrants respect. The privilege to assess and examine an idea is earned once you’ve dedicated yourself to understanding it fully.