Monday, 16 January 2006

Journalism ethics

Although the makers claim it's in no way a statement towards the political climate of today, I couldn't help but notice the simularities with today's relationship between politics and journalism when watching the excellent Good Night and Good Luck (which at least should get some oscar nods) the other night. The movie is a retelling of Edward R. Murrow's work in questioning the work of senator Joseph McCarthy who used very questionable methods to rid the US of communist influences in the early 1950's. Abuse of power by governments, or even companies, is still an issue today, so it's a good thing that the media questions the methods and actions that are being used. Because of some excellent journalism numerous scandals have been uncovered during the years.

But with the emergeance of blogging and online news sites, the news travels faster then ever before and competition is murder. The constant need for news makes it impossible for journalists to sit on a story and make sure that every fact is being checked, worried that a competitor will publish it first. This sometimes leads to shabby reporting, even unfactual. And there seems to be a growth of reporting that is based on sensationalism. Reporting that shouts the biggest headlines to get noticed without being informed or fact-based (reporting on celebrities is a good example of this). And it's not only the tabloids that resort to this behaviour, more and more main-stream publications go towards this type of reporting.

Although Murrow believed it was his duty to report this abuse of power by a political figure, he frequently questioned himself, knowing full well that his actions and influence would be an attack on an individual. Nowadays media should take that example and run with it themselves. Not hide behind freedom of speech, but make sure the stories are factual and take responsibility for when they offer news that is not. Retractions in publications are often but a fraction in size than the false headlines. Not to mention that they're usually burried somewhere.

Media should scrutinize dealings of governments and companies and report on any wrongdoing that's being done. But ethics should be observed. Careers or individuals could be damaged by false reporting. So it's nothing more than the moral obligation for the media to be factual.

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