Sunday, 27 July 2008

Serious, for a moment: Rights and responsibilities of journalists

What are the responsibilities of the media? What responsibility do straight reporters (of the not-investigative variety) bear? What necessity to examine the factual basis of the claims they pass on do they have, and if you are skimming news outlets for headlines that may interest your readers, do you need to vet them first?

I have now begun my education in journalism, and as one of my first post-graduate subjects is Law and Ethics, I will probably be finding this out very soon. I have read the MEAA Code of Ethics (here), and, being journalistic, it talks about openness, fairness, honesty and respect for the rights of others.

Let's move on and say that you are an organisation with a public safety or public welfare manifesto, committed to improving the lives of your members and in some way improving Australian society.

Should you report a news item which may damage this goal, simply because it is relevant to your members? Should you even include it in a list of news items culled at large from the media on the basis that they'll pad out a newsletter?

The reason I raise this question is because I have just gone back over newsletters from my old organisation, not having signed up to the newsletter with my private address when I left and therefore stopped being the one compiling the newsletter, and found an article which hits right at these questions. Should an organisation dedicated to improving the rights of a group of people with an acquired disability, report without prejudice a news item which claims that world-wide public health attempts to reduce the incidence of that disability are backwards, misguided and contribute to the problem?

Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof, and a journalist investigating this story would do well to examine the presented proof extremely closely, when the claims go against national and international concensus.

My concern is that members of the public, looking for any attempt to discredit laws or practices they find personally inconvenient or uncomfortable, can and will jump upon any excuse to discredit them, no matter how crack-pot they are.

So: Should a disability organisation run the risk of making the problem worse by re-distributing without fear or favour? I have my doubts, I have my very severe doubts.

Link to Media, Entertaining and Arts Alliance Code of Ethics.

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