Ethical Journalism and How to Go on About it
The various social media platforms that exist in our society today, among them Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, have proven themselves to be reliable and quick sources for information. Journalism in this digital age therefore inextricably brings audiences and reporters together, and demands they work together to bring issues vital to our society to light. There is a stark interdependence required and it is important that all who participate in the creation and consumption of news treat the subject matter respectfully and ethically.
It has become rather easy to obtain vital information from social media, including quotes, videos, images and live-on scene commentary that eases the research process for journalists. Although this is beneficial, it can also be distracting from the more holistic view of the situation and it is the duty of the journalist to bring all these various perspectives from the audience into a whole. At the same time, it also has to be noted that consumers of news as well as those who contribute to participatory journalism are not faced with the same pressure as professional journalists, thus it would be advisable for journalists to take the responsibility of educating the masses on social media on ethical, considerate sharing of information.
The following is a proposed list on how professional journalists can effectively gather information in a manner that would be deemed generically ethical. This list aims to capture the principles journalists should uphold as well as their expected conduct while engaging with audiences and new information.
1) Journalists strive for accuracy and transparency in their reporting
- Journalists should not take or accept bribes of any form, monetary or otherwise, to attain information
- Journalists should not be swayed by personal biases and ideologies that may prove to cause potential harm i.e racism.
- All sources and the research method should be clearly identifiable in their reports
- Editorial, investigative and writing staff should not change or manipulate information to further personal agendas.
- Journalists must acquaint themselves with the subject matter they’re reporting on: cultural dynamics, socio-political history and international relations.
- The language employed in the report does not attempt to alienate social/financial classes of a society through jargon.
2) Journalism should serve the people, advocate for their interests and effectively capture their grievances.
- Potentially harmful Government practices and policies should be criticized and highlighted to the public.
- Journalists should not manipulate or coerce individuals into providing case sensitive information
- Individuals have the right to anonymity unless their motives prove to be harmful. There should be a justification for the granted anonymity clearly stated within the report.
- Unless permitted, interviews or any other correspondence with third parties is not to be monitored or recorded.
- Unless their safety is compromised, journalists should inform potential interviewees who they are and the purpose of their investigation/report.
- Graphic images and visuals should contain trigger warnings for rape, violence, depression, epilepsy and other factors that may induce traumatic memories in the audience.
- Journalists must justify their usage of images/visuals that contain violent or graphic content. Shock value should not be the main aim for news in order to bait more audiences.
3) Journalism promotes integrity, truth and objectivity
- Tweets, statuses, videos, images and other material taken from social media platforms must be credited accordingly. Plagiarism will not be tolerated.
- images and videos will not be shot without the permission of the individual, regardless of whether it’s in public or private.
- Images, recordings and videos of individuals taken without their consent should not be featured on social media, especially regarding celebrities.
- Journalists must acquire permission to employ quotes, statements and written work of others
- Any information that is translated from another language should be accurate to avoid misinterpretation. Divisive language should be discouraged
- Vernacular publications and radio stations should advocate for the interests of all and avoid spreading information that may cause tribal/ethnic tension.
- The culture, history and religion of a country foreign to a journalist should be respected during investigation
- Information should be clarified if it is unclear
- Editors/writers are not to delete any comments, tweets, statuses they post on social media that relates to their published reports. They are all open to criticism, are to be held accountable for everything they say and are expected to answer accordingly.
4) Journalism promotes diversity, inclusiveness and participates in mass education
- Journalists engage citizens in civil governance by adequately informing them of political campaigns, leadership and responsible voting
- Public figures, especially politicians (such as Trump), should not be given exclusive attention during election periods. Journalism is impartial and neutral.
- Regardless of whether it is domestic or international news, journalism should not condone acts of war or agreements that may contribute to war. Journalists should extensively cover new laws, agreements to the public.
- Unless their safety and that of their families is compromised, journalists should act as watchdogs of the state and criticize as well as expose harmful government practices.
- Personal social media profiles of journalists will not be utilized to gather information online.
- Under no circumstances should personal profiles engage with audience produced information.
The above is not an exhaustive list and it is important to be aware that different publications abide by different standards, principles and guidelines to ensure quality journalism. To this end, the following list takes inspiration from the works of Anas Aremeyaw Anas, a renowned Ghanaian investigative journalist, Buzzfeed’s Ethics Guide and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Ethics Code. This list attempts to capture the diverse audiences and information journalists have to consider in their gathering and compilation of news. Social media has abridged the access to information for different audiences, and although journalists cannot police audiences on the manner in which they ought to engage with the information, journalists should be educators and assist audiences in further understanding the implication of every news that is presented, in a manner that is morally correct. ‘Morally correct’ is ambiguous and as such different audiences approach to morality is different, hence the necessity for journalists to abide by generic principles and morals that respect all ideologies, religions, cultures and nationalities.