Code of Conduct in Journalism

Need for a Code of Conduct

In recent months, the media world has been hit with several scandals related to the way in which they have tried to manipulate the system for their benefit.

If in the UK, the Rupert Murdoch owned NewsCorp was caught bribing the police to access personal details of people and to hack into their phones, in Asia, there were several scandals related to the blackmailing of industrial houses in order to stop bad coverage.

Further, the fact that “paid news” or “infomercials” (commercials passed off information) has dented the reputation of the media houses.

Hence, there is a need for a code of conduct for journalists if the present degenerative trend is to be stopped.

Indeed, the need for a code of conduct is becoming stronger by the day as the journalists have been proved as susceptible as anybody has to the lure of money. As the recent scandals show, the media, which is supposed to be the watchdog in a democracy, has been suffering from credibility issues.

How the Code of Conduct Works

The most important reason why the media needs a code of conduct for itself is that the media along with the legislature, executive, and the judiciary is the purveyor of public good and hence, must be above suspicion.

The code of conduct can be along the lines of having the journalists declare whether the article that they have published is being paid for by industrial houses or whether the information in the article has been obtained ethically.

In other words, the journalists should be scrutinized for unethical practices and made to observe the code of conduct diligently. Apart from this, though there is a need to protect sources since that is the bottom line requirement of journalism, there is also a need to report news in an objective and unbiased manner.

The function of the media is not to “massage the message” and “spin the facts” but to report them as they are. Hence, the code of conduct must incorporate ethical practices like not concealing key and vital information and declaring whether the information obtained is through ethical means and not through dubious means.

Voluntary Compliance is better than External Control

The other aspect of the code of conduct is that it must be made binding on the journalists and any attempt to circumvent the code must be punished. This calls for an ombudsman for the media who would oversee the various publications and ensure that the media is sticking to the code of conduct.

Apart from this, each media house must have internal vigilance wherein the voluntary practice of adhering to the code of conduct must be practiced.

As any industry veteran would attest, voluntary compliance is the best way for any industry and hence, like how some newspapers in India do (ex. The Hindu) there must be a Reader’s Editor and an Internal Auditor to check the content being published.

Closing Thoughts

Finally, prevention is better than cure and hence, the media houses and their unethical practices must be nipped in the bud and not allowed to outgrow the institution. This is the clear message that is being sent from the recent scandals where the institutions have been subsumed because of the presence of some bad apples.

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