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Ethics Of Modern Journalism

By Laxman Datt Pant

JOURNALISM is a profession related with the dissemination of news and views and as such journalists should work out of motivation and idealism for the truth, and journalism ethics should be about aspirations and goals rather than minimum standards. The difficulty is that ethical journalists first need to be moral journalists; and to be moral journalists they must first believe in some kind of overriding of conduct and belief. Professional ethics should make all aware of the need for aspirations and principles rather than rules. By emphasising the importance of personal integrity and collective concern for serving the public's right to know the result will be a cohort of journalists who will actively seek the best possible journalism. A clear and unequivocal emphasis on duty, responsibility and the vital role played by the media in a democratic society should make it abundantly clear to all journalists what sort of behaviour is expected from them.

Position

There is a greater pressure to conform: the possible loss of job; harassment by the government, or threats of prosecution for subversion of so-called state secrets. There are other pressures on journalists: from family, peers and from the hierarchy of authority within their own organisations. The climate of self-censorship is often set not by governments but by senior editors, publishers and proprietors. Their position on these matters becomes the tacitly accepted benchmark by which to judge, what stories to be covered and how they are covered. Journalists and editors can often find themselves being wooed by authority and businessmen by being offered favours and benefits, with some editors and reporters favoured by politicians.

Basic ethical principles transcend media forms and issues. The end result is that every journalist will be able to make a responsible decision alone. The primary objective of every professional journalist is to find and report the truth. Journalism ethics always demand honesty, fairness and courage in gathering, reporting, and interpreting accurate information. American Society of Professional Journalists (ASPJ) points out, "Journalist should conscientiously gather as much information as possible so they in turn can inform, engage, and educate the public in clear and compelling ways on significant issues. This goal includes giving voice to the voiceless and holding the powerful accountable."

Acting independently, the second goal of the ethical professional journalist requires that all journalists try to vigorously guard the essential stewardship role that a free press plays in an open society. It also requires journalists to remain free of associations and activities that might compromise journalists integrity or damage credibility. The basic philosophy of ethics should be concerned with truth, freedom of expression, objectivity, honesty of reporting, belief in fairness and the rule of privacy. Even democracy is an ethical, moral term, since it is concerned with the right or the best form of social and political organisation. Ethics is inseparable from journalism, the problem with ethics as a governor of the procession is that it can be used for control. All governments try to censor and control media. Owners use press as a means of satisfying their own lust for power and wealth. Even consumers often try to censor the watchdogs of democracy and freedom by their complaints or pressures. The discussions about journalism ethics are centred on serious matters: propaganda, sexism, racism, homophobia, personal unjustified attacks, deception, and betrayal of confidences and invasions of privacies. These are all matters of reprehensible unethical and unacceptable conduct. They all detract from the primary purpose of newsgathering and news reporting the truth.

Journalists should always remember that freedom is about choice, and choice is about making 'right' or 'wrong' decision. In other word, the freedom of the press is precisely about the freedom to make a mistake. The best way to show the importance of ethics in the profession is to adhere to a set of guidelines or code of conduct. Take privacy, for example. A journalist might have the highest regard for the right to privacy, but claim that some information about a politician doesn't qualify for his protection. The question then arises: does the end justify the means? A code of conduct, with regulations and guidelines by the journalists themselves is probably the solution.

Proprietors invariably seem to safeguard their position through the appointment of an editor who shares or accepts their opinions on general policy. The same applies in the relationship between newspapers and the state. The task of a good editor is to allow journalists to write without any conflict with their own principles or knowledge of the facts. This is editorial independence, and it sometimes means independence of complaint. There is never a good reason for not reporting a story simply because of reader or viewer complaint. However, as the battle for circulation increases and money gets tighter pressures on editors increase to erode journalistic standards on matters of truth, accuracy and ethical acceptability. Commercial decisions of marketing and the publisher's responsibility easily overlap with editorial requirements.

Sensitive

Thus, all professional Journalists should be honest, accurate and disclose all essential facts. They should never suppress facts or distort them and never allow personal believes or commitments to change the story. They must be sensitive and discreet at times of grief and trauma. They should not use their position for personal gain. The ethics of the modern journalists can be summed up in one word: truth.

Source: The Rising Nepal (October 30, 2002)

 
Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
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