Journalism has evolved into a highly professional discipline with strict media ethics to enable it influence and regulate societal values. Someone once said that journalism has gone beyond the era of simplistic reporting of “Goat eats yam in Maidugua”. Goat will always eat yam anywhere in the world where it is not given its rightful food in good time. The circumstance and background of the event is what matters in professional reporting. It is irresponsible and unethical if the story fails to reach out to both parties to report the circumstance, the nature and extent of their conflict.
Journalist is the torch bearer who must point the light for the people irrespective of party affiliation, religion or gender inclination to follow at all time. To do this, journalists are expected to place the interest of the society above any other interest that may influence his reportage in anyway. The potency of newspapers being part of the Press community can be summarized in the choice of a one-time American President, Thomas Jefferson who said in his essays on freedom of the press “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter”.
Today, I ask myself if our government officials can still make such choice anymore. Are the newspaper the same potent weapon to fight and address injustice and corruption as it used to be?
The media is the guardian of public interest. The media invariably is expected to hold elected officials and political office holders accountable for their action or inactions. Democracy thrives in an atmosphere of responsible government, accountability and transparency. The media can serve as a powerful counter force to corruption. There should be mutual distrust between media and government. The mass media occupy a very important place in the society. They are called “The Fourth Estate of the realm” because it is listed after the Executive, Judiciary and legislature. This position confers on the mass media the onerous role of being the “watchdogs of the society”, which means surveillance function of the mass media. The surveillance function of the mass media is to observe the society closely and continuously and warn the mass audience about threatening actions that are likely to happen in future in order to decrease the possible loss. Likewise, mass media also inform about the misconducts happening in the society to the concerned authority and discourage malpractices in the society.
The Press has another social responsibility that of promoting human right, every ones human rights, especially during periods of political uncertainty. Strong moral or sound ethnic are important aspects of professional media practice. Ethics or moral generally refers to the value system by which an action of a journalist in any situation may be assessed as right or wrong not only by his conscience but also against; certain acceptable standards, which have been established by the society, his profession or employer.
Professional Ethics: The foundation for a credible media practice, professionalism in journalism means performing journalism chores responsibly by following the tenets of the profession whose function lies in disseminating news and informed opinion to the public. An integral component of professionalism is ethnic. Communication professionals like other professionals are guided by specified set of rules, which they are expected to adhere to. Therefore compliance with professional ethnics will bring out best practices performance of duties. More importantly, commitment to professional ethics will make the mass media to be credible. In other words over time audience members will consider such mass media and individual practitioners trustworthy. These journalism ethics include objectivity, accuracy, truthfulness or non-misrepresentation of facts, integrity, equal opportunity, right of reply and of correction as well as respect for professional confidentiality. The Professional Journalist is expected to refrain from assassinating people’s character, deception, obscenity and vulgarity as well as infringement on people’s intellectual property.
Personal Ethics: Indispensable ingredients of journalism ethics. No matter how altruistic professional ethics are, if they are not backed up by personal ethics of integrity, honesty, high moral standard and commitment to best practices, such professional ethics would remain largely on pages of books. Personal ethics would prevent a journalist from soliciting for gratification to skew or kill a story, blackmail and extort money from people through different means. Other personnel ethnic which journalists should develop or exhibit are avoidance of political individual/partisanship, conflict of interest, deception, moonlighting, incident dressing, misuse of employer status or use of connections for personal gains and use of official resources for private purposes, among others. A journalist should be trustworthy in his private and public life. To maintain standard, media have to self regulate and develop mechanisms for monitoring adherence for air professional practices and conflict resolution. Though it is going to be a difficult task at a time like this were anyone with a smart phone and a modern can publish anything online.