The Media and Ethics

The previous article in this series looked at how the media is an important pillar of democracy and how unless there is a free and fair media, democracies cannot be well functioning ones. This article looks at the other side and that is the practice of ethics by the media itself. In a way, this article sheds light on the media, which is the other way round to what the media does i.e. shedding light on the other organs of democracy. At the outset, it must be mentioned that though the media largely observe restraint, there are instances where the media fail to do what they preach to others. That is the very conception of ethical behavior that the media demands is sometimes overlooked by the media houses. For instance, in recent years, there have been several scandals over the way in which mediapersons have engaged the other sectors in ways that can be called unethical.

Some of these instances relate to the Newscorp scandal that brought to light the collusion of the media house with investigative agencies so that the Newscorp papers get the scoops as well as engage in phone hacking and other unethical methods.

Elsewhere in the United States, we have had serious charges being brought against several media houses like the New York Times about the way in which they cover news. Closer home, in India, we have had leading industrialists accusing prominent media houses of extortion so that certain news items and reports would not be published. All these instances point to the fact that the media or the fourth estate that was preeminent and beyond reproach in earlier decades is falling prey to the same unethical instincts that the rest of the corporate world is mired in.

The point here is that once the media is corrupted, there is nobody to point out the several wrongdoings in democracies, and hence, it is by far the most important point that media in a democracy ought not to be corrupted. In addition, when the collusion with the government happens, it is more the case for concern. For instance, in India, the Nira Radia tapes exposed the unholy nexus of media collusion with the government and this was seen by many as an indictment of the media. Similarly, in the UK, journalists were questioned about their activities that included bribing senior members of the government to access juicy stories that were exclusive to their papers and television channels.

The latest instance concerns the venerable BBC or the British Broadcasting Corporation that until now was thought to the paragon of virtue. However, in recent weeks, it has become known that the BBC had covered up several stories that exposed the powers that be in the UK. All these instances are regrettable and point to the unholy nexus between the media and the politicians that is not healthy for democracy. Further, the nexus between the media and the powers that be often leads to the average person getting cheated.

Finally, while it is not the intention here to proclaim that mediapersons and the objects of their attention cannot form friendships or exchange favors. It is just that this cozy relationship ought to be restrained and cannot cross the threshold of the media acting in the interest of the powers that be instead of in the interests of democracy.


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