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Securing human rights – the ethical responsibility of journalism

Today I am invited to deliver a guest lecture at Bharat College of Fine Arts & Culture, Dadar. The topics are all about today’s journalism. The subject is vast when it comes to talk or give lecture on but that is a hardly match in today’s media. The mainstream mass media (television, magazines, movies, music, and the internet) provides increasingly frequent portrayals of different issues. Art and culture has very less space in it, we still know relatively little about how this content is used. People are forgetting the legacy of traditional arts. Only those prominent are highlighted but those aspiring and famous but away from fame have no mentions. Media do have an impact and it keeps public and personal agendas, broadcasting portrayals reinforce a relatively consistent set of norms. More longitudinal research, especially with early youths is needed to learn more about how media content is attended to, interpreted, and incorporated into developing interest in arts and culture.

Well, modern societies could not be imagined without mass communication. Television, newspapers, radio and the internet are the main sources of information for citizens all around the globe. But what does this mean for the functioning of political systems and processes? Few would doubt that mass media in authoritarian regimes – which are typically controlled tightly by the state – serve to maintain the existing power structure. One only has to think of the pervasive state propaganda circulated by Indian media to keep the country’s citizens in line. There is also a broad agreement that mass media contributes to democratisation processes.

One needs to understand that the journalists cannot always guarantee truth, but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle of journalism. We should always strive for accuracy, give all the relevant facts we have and ensure that they have been checked. When we cannot corroborate information we should say so. Journalists must be independent voices; we should not act, formally or informally, on behalf of special interests whether political, corporate or cultural. We should declare to our editors – or the audience – any of our political affiliations, financial arrangements or other personal information that might constitute a conflict of interest. Most stories have at least two sides. While there is no obligation to present every side in every piece, stories should be balanced and add context. Objectivity is not always possible, and may not always be desirable (in the face for example of brutality or inhumanity), but impartial reporting builds trust and confidence. Far more important factor is that journalists should do no harm. What we publish or broadcast may be hurtful, but we should be aware of the impact of our words and images on the lives of others. A sure sign of professionalism and responsible journalism is the ability to hold ourselves accountable. When we commit errors we must correct them and our expressions of regret must be sincere not cynical. We listen to the concerns of our audience. We may not change what readers write or say but we will always provide remedies when we are unfair. In doing so, journalists and traditional media, will put themselves in a position to provide leadership about what constitutes ethical freedom of expression. What is good for journalism is also good for others who use the internet or online media for public communications.

Principles, practice, responsibility of communication and the convergence of print, broadcast and on-line journalism is the innovative era of New Media. Traditional news organisations are feeling the impact of two distinct and powerful trends: Internet news has not only arrived, but it is also attracting key segments of the news audience. Communications systems operate through two pathways. In the direct pathway, they promote changes by informing, enabling, motivating and guiding participants.

The Internet has made the greatest inroads among younger and better-educated people. More college graduates under the age of 50 connect to the internet every day than regularly watch one of the network news broadcasts. The digital tide is having less of a direct negative impact on radio and print outlets. But there is no evidence that internet use is driving down regular reading of daily newspapers or watching TV news. However, all news outlets are being affected by the public’s slowly declining appetite for news. The internet, with its headline-news format and its capacity for quick updates, is clearly attractive to younger news consumers. The Internet’s hypertext-based ability to provide more depth on a subject also appeals to those with large news appetites, such as professionals, managers and executives. As a result, the growth of internet news has had a dramatic impact on the way people with access to technology get information on business and financial matters.

Journalists’ main goal is to ensure the right of citizens to truthful and important information, which allows them to form adequate impression about social processes, their essence and importance, about the situation in the modern world. The newscaster bears responsibility before the society in general, before the law and before the professional association. The social responsibility of the journalist requires that he acts in accordance with his personal ethical standards. The ethics of the trade involve permanent responsibility of the journalist for everything he/she does in the framework of his/her professional obligations, rather than sticking to the rules which were established once and for all. The norms of the journalists Ethics Code cannot be used as the ground for holding media employees criminally, administratively, disciplinarily or otherwise responsible, except the responsibility in the framework of media self-regulation.

The journalist must defend the freedom of speech; retain independence of their political views and convictions. He/she must resist any efforts to distort information or introduce censorship. Like any other citizen, the journalist has a right to political and other convictions. However, in these professional activities they should remain neutral and objective.

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Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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