In an age when it appears that the public around the world is falling out with facts, humanity and accountable truth-telling, the future of ethical journalism appears rather bleak. This situation is dealt in detail in a report titled Ethics in the News, compiled by the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), which throws light on the challenges for media and gives journalists tips on ethical survival techniques.
The report also examines the continuing global rise of hate speech, particularly in Asia, where there are increasing regional tensions, not least because of territorial disputes and increasing nationalism.
Beyond politics the report examines how media covers the plight of women who are victimised by repressive social and cultural attitudes that continue to dominate media coverage of the shockingly misnamed ‘honour killing’ in Pakistan.
However, according to the report, it was not all bad news for journalism. Perhaps the biggest single, corruption-busting story of the decade came from an unprecedented piece of investigative journalism carried out by 400 journalists in 80 countries — the Panama Papers. The report highlights two areas of particular ethical practice that make journalism a cornerstone of reliability and trust: firstly, a tribute to all the whistle-blowers and sources who make public interest journalism possible; and, second, an examination of how we use images to tell stories.
The report also provides tips for journalists on how to stick to facts, protect sources, report fairly on regional disparities, identify hate speech, block fake news and guard against war-mongering and propaganda. The report notes a growing movement to strengthen the craft of journalism and how journalists committed to accuracy are doing good work and connecting with audiences.
But more needs to be done to support media. The report calls for action to strengthen media professionalism and for new directions in public policy:
• To develop practical and sustainable solutions to the funding crisis facing independent journalism.
• To support the public purpose of journalism through more investment in public service media.
• To launch campaigns to combat hatred, racism and intolerance.
• To provide more resources for investigative reporting.
• To encourage attachment to ethical values in the management and governance of journalism.
• To put pressure on social networks and internet companies to accept responsibility that as publishers they must monitor their news services.
• To support expanded media and information literacy programmes to make people more aware of the need for responsible and tolerant communications.
The moving spirit behind setting up EJN, Aiden White, has contributed a brainy piece to the report, excerpts of which follow:
“We also look at the role of war-mongering media in India where the year ended with a full-scale information war between India and Pakistan and with bellicose journalists stoking up the prospects of a new conflict between these nuclear states.
“The world’s changing culture of communications not only encourages users to create personal echo-chambers at the expense of information pluralism, it has also shredded the market models that used to nourish ethical journalism. Many observers inside media are not overly optimistic about the future, but although there may be more rumours, speculations, fake news and misinformation as the information market moves online, there is a growing movement to strengthen the craft of journalism.
“Public trust will only return when people have confidence that powerful institutions are accountable and listening to their concerns. Journalism at its best can do this job, but not without fresh support. The crisis outlined here is not just one of professionalism, it is a watershed moment for democracy and requires political will to invest in open, connected and pluralist systems of communication.”