Last Updated 26 Jan 2021

Journalism Code of Ethics

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Thousands of journalists all over world voluntarily embrace the journalist code of ethics as a critical set of values and guidelines required to be a professional and morally upright journalist. The Society of Journalists (SPJ) says that “the code is not intended as a set of ‘rules’ but as a resource for ethical decision making”. Because it is not legally enforced, it is up to the integrity of the journalist to uphold the code of ethics. It is not possible to ensure that all journalists abide by the code of ethics.

There will be some, who could not stand by their codes, values and integrity when they are in the face of economic and social pressures, and choose to tread the grey areas instead. People do not become bad journalists in a day. It’s a slow fade when black and white is turned to grey. We must be very careful not to give ourselves away to unethical acts, and disregard our morals in order to get a good story or some physical rewards. In Singapore, we are blessed to have good, ethical journalists, who present very transparent news.

The same cannot be said for many journalists in other parts of the world. Breslin’s (1997) study found the following: In Japan, journalists voluntarily and regularly curtail their truth-telling through the practice of self-censorship -- not from coercion by the government, but by their own press organizations that cover government. In the People's Republic of China, journalists -- like all essential workers -- are in the employ of government and pay homage to the truth, but place a lower value on pursuing with any aggressiveness or perseverance.

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In Korea, journalists most often recognize truth as the word of government, and identify themselves with the elite ruling forces and identify their role as helping to ensure harmony between the rulers and the ruled. Their closeness to government is often measured by the amount of cash in the "white envelopes" they receive from their sources. Journalists cannot live in the clouds, doing what they think is right without pressures being put on them. Often, journalists face pressure from a variety of sources, all trying to make the journalist behave in a way which is not the way the journalist would choose.

Journalists are imperfect and fallible. But we must attempt to resist the pressures and take a stand. As such, it is important to review the current journalism code of ethics, and find out whether it is still relevant and sufficient. Indeed, the code of ethics should reflect values, challenges and realities of journalism. However, “too many of them are mostly lists of do’s and don’ts (usually more don’ts), rather than helpful guides to making ethical decisions in situations that aren’t as simple as the policies sometimes make them” (Buttry, 2010).

Also, with much of the articles and stories done on digital social platforms, the current journalism code of ethics is lacking guidelines on the use of social media. The journalism code of ethics attempts to direct journalists from difficult situations but as the saying goes; it is easier said than done. The scenarios portrayed are too vague and unrealistic. A journalist may find himself in various situations where the code of ethics fails to address. As such, the code of ethics is insufficient. I would recommend an update on the code of ethics with new rules to become more applicable to modern day journalism.

When using social media as a platform for a story, be aware of the group who might be misrepresented because they do not use social media as often. For the section headlined protecting sources of information; if a journalist assures a source that he would keep the informant’s identity a secret, he must keep his word under all circumstances. I would like to add, do not publish critical opinions from people seeking confidentiality. The motives of sources should always be questioned. People who wish to express personal opinions in the media should always stand behind their opinion. Objectivity and fairness.

A journalist must always be objective when he writes a story. I would like to add, keep an open mind to all views, even views that we are uncomfortable with. It is in reality, harder to write objectively if the subject interest or disgust us. Suppose men like Hitler and Osama bin laden whom many consider to be evil, are still living among us today. And suppose an update comes in and says that Hitler is now confirmed dead! Or Osama bin laden successfully unleashed another major terror act upon innocent citizens. And yet, the journalist must refrain from cheering or groaning in disgust and report fairly.

Also, journalists should be fair to all sources. Official and unofficial sources can both be of equal validity. The line between economic pressure and doing a favor can be rather thin at times. The same scenario stated in the study guide; if you work for a small-time newspaper, which is in financial difficulties, you might be asked by an advertiser to write an article in favor of a particular product, company or even a person in return for buying advertising space in your newspaper. It will be against the integrity of the journalist to praise said product, company or person if he does not believe in them.

He would be yielding to economic pressure if he complies. However, if the same journalist deems the product, company or person to be acceptable to him and the public and thus agrees to do the advertiser the favor, is it still against journalistic ethics? As such, I would propose a new rule; a journalist while in full knowledge that the product, company or person is of little or no benefit to the public, must never promote or write favorably about that product, company or person, to be better than it is. Acceptance of gifts is prohibited. A journalist should not demand payment in cash or in kind for journalistic work.

And he cannot accept them either, even if they come without demand. This is necessary to ensure fairness and credibility. However, the code of ethics offers no guide regarding how a journalist should donate to support a cause or a political group. A journalist is still a person with rights, and his job does not make him any less of a citizen of a democratic society. Referring to the controversial issue where Keith Olbermann donated $7200 of his own money to three candidates running for public office. The incident resulted in the dismissal of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC.

Greener (2010), posted: “Who among us needs to get their employer's permission before making an open and legal political donation? ” The code of ethics does not address how journalists may give, only on what we can or cannot receive. It is understandable, that the very nature of the job views any donations by a journalist to be a bias towards the organization. Thus the need for more transparency. I would propose a new rule: A journalist may contribute freely to any charitable cause, as long as he does it openly and state the details on any articles related to the topic.

What should a journalist do if he were to start a personal blog? In this new digital age, the code of ethics is not sufficient in covering the area of digital social media. Do the same rules apply as if the journalist was writing for an official paper? Can he have freedom of speech in his personal blog? Or is he still held accountable for every word. This new rule should be introduced: A journalist may post freely on his personal blog. But due to the nature of his job, he should not comment on any topics he discussed on his official medium, so that he does not compromise his professional integrity.

A journalist should be responsible for whatever he writes. The purpose of reporting objectively and fairly is to ensure as little people as possible get hurt or affected by what we write. Even so, it is inevitable that people can get offended sometimes. So, a journalist must admit mistakes and correct them publicly. Print is not the only platform for journalists. Other mediums include photography, video, graphic art designs, audio etc. Due to the different methods of communication, more rules and guidelines are required.

A lack of skill or knowledge about different media should not be an excuse for a lapse in ethics. In conclusion, a journalist is held accountable to his own integrity and morals. The journalism code of ethics is merely a guideline, for journalist to consider when they bump into situations in their professional work. Journalism is not as simple a job as what the general public thinks. Much is required of a journalist; commitment, responsibility, compassion, an inquisitive mind. These are merely the beginning of the many attributes a good journalist requires.

Of course, one cannot become a good journalist overnight. A professional journalist is built on confidence acquired through experience, by overcoming obstacles and holding onto ethics. References Brislin, T. (March 6-8, 1994). An update on journalism ethics in Asia: Values and practices as context for meaning in Japan, China and Korea. In Jounalism Ethics in Asia. Retrieved November 19, 2012, from http://www2. hawaii. edu/~tbrislin/asiaeth. html. Buttry, S. (November 7, 2010). Journalist's code of ethics: time for an update?.

In The Buttry Diary. Retrieved November 19, 2012, from http://stevebuttry. wordpress. com/2010/11/07/journalists-code-of-ethics-time-for-an-update/. Greener, R. (November 5, 2010). Keith Olbermann suspended by MSNBC: Like 'Louie" - I'm shocked! . In The Huffington Post. Retrieved November 19, 2012, from http://www. huffingtonpost. com/richard-greener/keith-olbermann-suspended_b_779736. html. SPJ Code of ethics. (1996-2012). In Society of Professional Journalists. Retrieved November 19, 2012, from http://www. spj. org/ethicscode. asp.

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