Ethics in journalism

Sunny Dua
The Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra has very recently said and I quote “Freedom of press is the ‘mother of all liberties’ in a democratic society and the media should have its own guidelines for self-regulation”. Dipak Misra was delivering his presidential address at a function organised by the International Law Association where eminent jurist N R Madhava Menon had also delivered a lecture on “Courts, Media and Fair Trial Guarantee”.
Though our constitution guarantees us freedom of speech; freedom of press is another finest piece of legislation that according to Justice Misra includes right to know and right to inform. However, somewhere amidst this ‘knowing’ and ‘informing’ wrests a sense of responsibility or set of those principles of right and wrong that are accepted by an individual called ethics.
Usually, all the professions are primarily guided by some ethics be it medicine, engineering, law, business or education and likewise. In journalism by and large there are no laid down norms that control or guide functionality of a reporter, correspondent or editor but it’s the conscious, a set of principles and conduct besides morality that guides newspersons to perform their duties ethically.
Journalists don’t have any Hippocratic Oath or Civil Services Rules (CSR) to swear by but it’s their conscious and reporting of events without prejudice that makes them stand tall amongst the crowd. Readers or viewers usually take the journalists’ reports as God’s words and this is the reason they are supposed to be fair, impartial, correct to the core and alive to people’s reactions which often leads to massacres, riots or even genocides.
Each and every word needs to be weighed before woven into a story or report before presenting it to the masses. A good journalist while drafting his report has to be careful in even using the choicest of words. For example he or she needs to be sure of difference between “as said, as reported, informed, gathered or revealed” for the simple reason that the readers will be viewing the story from that angle only.
Justice Misra had also said that freedom of speech had played a pivotal role in generating public opinion in matters of national importance, adding that it had created an “informed citizenry”. He has also gone to say, “I am of the firm belief that there should be no guidelines (for the media). Let them frame their own guidelines and be guided by that. Nothing can serve better than individual or collective guidelines of the press. There should not be any imposition, but there should be some kind of self-restriction,” he added.
Here “ethics” come in picture. No guidelines or no imposition but self-restriction is to be followed in journalism. Knowingly that a particular official is involved neck deep in corrupt practices how could any journalist with conscious make a hero of that person just because of having close proximity with the accused. That’s what happens with many newspapers where a tainted official is exposed by one and projected as hero by another. That’s a matter of pure conscious known as ‘ethics’ in journalism.
Many credible politicians, achievers, sports persons, social activists, legal luminaries, engineers, doctors, painters, artists, journalists, bureaucrats or entrepreneurs that contribute in society in most fair manner for many a times live life of an unsung hero just because media stays glued to some chosen faces who know how to manage press. That’s not ethics!
A good journalist maintains objectivity while reporting, prefers to visit fields, record versions, report fairly and without prejudice, never distorts facts, doesn’t report bias, doesn’t succumb to any pressure, chooses right kind of stories, stays critical of establishment and also possesses a big heart to highlight achievements if any, meets deadlines, has a nose for news and doesn’t add his or her opinions in reports.
This all goes by the principle “facts are sacred, opinion is free”. Editorials, opinions, letters to editors, middle pieces, articles and dedicated or syndicate columns give journalists or writers complete freedom of speech but so far as news or factual reporting is concerned it has to be brought to their viewers or readers as it happens, when it happens and where it happens. That’s ethics!
Asking for press releases in press conferences, sharing exclusive pictures, plagiarism, not editing press releases, unable to find newsworthiness in statements, reporting without facts, wrong spellings, wrong information or wrong designations of persons are signs of bad journalism. There has to be a never dying instinct for learning and accepting mistakes or criticism and that becomes basis for writing good stories or being a good journalist.
Eminent jurist N R Madhava Menon had in his address at ILA function had also favoured not disclosing names of victims and witnesses which according to him hampers justice. Today social media encourages fake news which has become a matter of global concern . Desired captions are added to any picture or clip according to situation and circulated amongst masses who blindly believe it’s authenticity and also react in haste. That’s pathetic and many a times leads to unrest in the society.
For a journalist maintaining restrain is as important as reporting event without any delay. In nutshell he or she must find objectivity in reporting. Cast, creed, region, religion or even economic besides likes or dislikes should have no place in columns of good journalist. Today several journalists could be herd of spreading hatred through their reports just because they or their relatives are allied to a particular political party.
People while trust media blindly the other side is that they reject fake or baked news as well. Any media house resorting to plagiarism or favoritism can any time face sheer neglect by public thereby making it collapse as well. Impartial reports, balanced views, unprejudiced approach, sufficient verification and evidences are key to best reporting and needs to be followed by every good journalist.
I have seen many good newspapers accepting their mistakes and even issuing corrigendum at the same place where news was published. That’s another milestone in maintaining ethics in journalism. While good journalism teaches how to maintain privacy it also established that journalists have right to information. Respecting freedom of speech and not adhering to fallacious media trials while maintaining independence of reporting is another example of ethics in journalism.