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Journalism, Ethics and the Media.

Some thoughts on a recent non-disclosure by a leading Newspaper and the reaction of the Journalist in question on Social Media. A preliminary basis for a future open letter. Watch this space.

The role that media has in a democracy is of utmost importance. The media what holds the Government, The politicians and indeed, the State accountable to its citizens.

I am no one to pontificate my opinion and write on the necessity of free and unbiased media in a democracy, as enough and more has been written. Moreover, I am as a law student, uniquely disadvantaged to judge the ethics of any jounalist, or journalism for that matter. I am, like millions of Indians — a reader, a consumer of news. But there is an understanding of Morality and ethics that I have been more than glad to imbibe from my parents, and it is with this understanding that I write this.

While holding public figures accountable to the public, a question has emerged many a time; the question of “Who will media accountable?” In times since, a powerful tool has emerged. The Internet and Social Networks, by democratizing information have allowed ordinary readers to access information like never before. While this is not without its own set of problems, this in the context of Media, has allowed the reader to be informed from a variety of sources, and even produce his or her own content from the comfort of their homes.

The reader can now, with the information available with them, put the media to the scrutiny. One can easily see the difference in coverage between nominally “Left Wing” & “Right Wing” sites. The difference in coverage, tone and tenor is visible to a naked eye — just compare Scroll.in to Opindia.com, “Left wing” and “Right wing” sites respectively. To understand the difference in nuanced coverage between NDTV and Times Now on Television is also possible to a naked eye.

I would love to (not) foray into the influence of fake news, and much has been made in the United States, and recently in India as well. I think too much has been made of it and the effect that has bee vouched so vociferously is rather minimal in India.

All this said and done, while the readers can themselves differentiate between narratives, reportage & editorials, it is however important that the Media makes themselves accountable and open to review. A reader who has read a newspaper for many years would instantly trust the reportage of the newspaper and not be aware of possible Conflict of Interests that exist as a result in the relationship between the story, journalist, the media organisation, and its owners (if any).

Is it not the duty of the organisation to disclose such conflicts, so that the reader can themselves judge, at ab intio– from the beginning ? Is it not unethical for the journalist to not disclose the same? Does past association not compromise a journalist when they write about it?

As a journalist, shouldn’t you be accountable to readers first & then to your editor? After all, you are a professional, whose reportage should not be defined by your editors, or your organisation but by the content of it? If, as a journalist, you are asked to cover a story about an organisation that you were associated with in the past, then should you not first inform, and then if the editor or editors are okay with that, are the editors then not violating media ethics? Should you not then refuse to cover the story considering that you are compromised by past association? (regardless of the nature of the story, positive or negative — considering that there will be a bias in both)

I am of course, a Law student. I have no knowledge of Journalistic Ethics, but from what morality and ethics that I have imbibed, this is what I feel. I also believe, wrongly or rightly that you should be responsible to the readers as a Journalist first before anything else. Is that not the धर्म, the Dharma of a journalist?

Maybe I’m wrong in my naivete to believe so, but this is my honest belief.

To a better reader, to a better media.

धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah

Those who protect Dharma will be protected by it.

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