Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Journalist and Ethics

Freedom of the press is vital to the sustenance of democracy.  No wonder the media is described as the fourth estate following the executive, legislature and the judiciary.  May 3 is celebrated as World Press Freedom Day to highlight the state of the press and focus on violations of this freedom.  The U.S. Embassy Abuja held a series of events to celebrate this important day focused on different themes.  At an event on journalism ethics the Embassy Counselor for Public Affairs Aruna Amirthanayagam said in many places around the world, the media is under tremendous pressure with threats to their safety and wellbeing.  He added that reporting the news accurately has always been challenging requiring great sacrifice on the part of journalists.

A panel of four experienced journalists drawn from the broadcast, print and journalist union body led a discussion on the topic of ethics.  They include the Director General of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria Mansur Liman, Editor in chief of Daily Trust Manir Dan Ali and Head of BBC Hausa service Naziru Mikailu as well as the Secretary General of the Nigerian Union of Journalists.  They raised a number of issues concerning the topic which I will outline below.

Truth, accuracy and impartiality are basic ethics that underpin the practice of journalism and without these there would be lawlessness.  People cannot just make things up and publish especially on the social media in the name of news.  Doing that is disservice to humanity because journalism has impact on the people being reported and the audience.

There should be every effort to get all the sides of a story represented even if some are not willing to talk to the press.  Although Nigerian press is one of the freest in the world this freedom is being abused through the use of sources.  Journalists need to go the extra mile to find credible and courageous sources instead of frequently using unnamed sources.  Check sources and double check to stand out in this era of fake news.  This will protect media organizations from lawsuits and the heavy penalties that they could incur.

Poor remuneration is not an excuse for a journalist to be on the take.  Journalists who do this truncate their career and are unable to act as champions of the people.  Journalists ought to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted not the other way round.  They should identify why they are in the profession and stay and fight for better working conditions or join other professions.

Reporting during conflicts still requires observance of ethical rules even though truth is said to be the first casualty of war.  Whether the conflict is internal or against an external aggressor it throws up ethical dilemmas like is there a meeting point between reporting the truth and patriotism?

The program included a question and answer session where practicing journalists and students asked questions that related to everyday practice of the profession.  The responses from the panelists all centered on the centrality of ethics in developing a career in journalism  and the fact that following this path ensures not just respect but rising to the peak.

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