Home » General » Journalists Must Uphold the Ethics, Always

ONE of the fundamental but often overlooked tenets of journalism is distinguishing fact from fiction which guides against probably the worst misdemeanour in the profession, which is misleading the public. Journalists in any society wield immense power in setting the agenda of not only what people think about but how they think about the events brought to their attention. The independence to decide the agenda is the privilege that the profession brings, the privilege which so often has been carelessly exercised in the process undermining the seriousness, trustworthiness and dependability of those that wield the pen.

Generally, scribes are expected to serve the public by informing them on issues of the time in a way that enables them to make sound judgments. It is, however, irremissible for the journalists that the information they convey is based on honesty, accuracy and fairness. The underlier, therefore, is to cover stories impartially and treat readers, news sources and others fairly and openly.

This in principle means protecting members of the public, regardless of their standing, from unfair publications unless the stories carried are based on substantiated evidence which is clearly demonstrated in the said publications.

Sadly, the fundamentals of the profession, it would seem, have found no footing in most mainstream newsrooms in Zimbabwe where malevolent journalism, driven by the desire to push interests of certain powerful individuals, seem to prevail over the journalists’ duty to inform the public fairly and truthfully.

This sloppy journalism is conspicuous in stories or events involving politicians where one politician’s mere palaver and venomous criticism of opponents, real or imagined, is delinquently elevated to facts and turned into headline stories. The excuse for such shallow journalism is usually that the subject of the story was given the right to respond and in most cases they are never available to enjoy that right. The phrase “efforts to get comment were fruitless” has hence become redundant in our prevailing media environment.

While journalists must indeed give subjects of their stories the right to be heard, the attempt to give that right, whether well-meant or not, is only notable if the subjects are being given an opportunity to comment on matters rooted on tenable suspicions – which are clearly laid out to the subject – not empty and baseless accusations from a probable antagonist.

This is why it is pivotal for a journalist to be able to distinguish between fact, comment or mere politicking and treat each case as such.

Politicians, the world over, make some of the greatest news sources for journalists and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them playing that role. But they remain just that, sources or providers of ideas some of which may be worth pursuing while others are clearly contentious designed only to serve the interests of the source. These ideas therefore, become newsworthy and the journalists’ sources worthwhile if the process leads to unearthing sound evidence upon which a fair and reliable account, valid for now subject of course to further investigation, can be conveyed. Basically, the source of the story does not matter much as long as that story is factual and objective.

Journalists are expected to be objective in the execution of their duties and although that objectivity does not imply that they are free of bias, it allows for a systematic format of testing information – a transparent approach to evidence – precisely so that personal or any other biases would not undermine the accuracy of their work. It is the format that is objective, not necessarily the journalist.

Checking the background of the source in relation to the subject matter, evaluating the substance of the claim, seeking out multiple witnesses or views on the matter, disclosing as much as possible about sources, or asking various sides for comment, all signal the required standards. This process of verification is what separates journalism from other modes of communication, such as propaganda, fiction or entertainment.

Basing stories on unchecked statements by politicians, is at its best reckless on the part of the journalist.

To quote former BBC writer Rick Thompson, in their independence, journalists must avoid any tendency to stray into arrogance, elitism, isolation or nihilism.

Independence is an underlying requirement of journalism, a cornerstone of its reliability. Independence of spirit and mind, rather than neutrality, is the principle journalists must keep in focus.

And while editorialists and commentators are not neutral, the source of their credibility is still their accuracy, intellectual fairness and ability to inform, not their devotion to a certain group or outcome.

Source : The Herald