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Press Freedom and Ethical Journalism

Posted on 1st December 2014

Ethics and the media

Ethics and the media

'Press freedom and ethical journalism' a talk for the Media & Journalism group by staff member,  Joe Jenkins.

Joe Jenkins began his talk on ethics and the media by handing out a ‘Code of Ethics’ sheet, which is meant to be adhered to by all in the media profession. The code refers to such fundamentals as journalists should act independently and be accountable to the public. Jenkins’ purpose of the talk was to show how some forms of media do not adhere to these principles. He firstly gave the general example of  “Paparazzi”, (meaning a freelance photographer who pursues celebrities to get photographs of them), focusing on how such forms of journalism can be stressful for the interviewee, sometimes unnecessarily delving too deeply into people’s private lives. This is in contradiction to the code of ethics which, states that journalists should ‘show good taste (and) avoiding pandering to lurid curiosity’. Jenkins looked at examples of how this form of journalism can be damaging, such as was demonstrated by the death of Princess Diana. Although Jenkins did not suggest that the Paparazzi media caused her death, he said that their forceful form of journalism created the atmosphere that led to it happening.

Jenkins then went on to discuss a new form of journalism known as ‘Churnalism’. He explained that in recent years, various forms of media copy stories from other sources, yet pass them off as their own. He revealed estimates that suggest that almost eighty per cent of stories were not originally sourced by the reporter! Again, this flies in the face of the principles of the Code of Ethics, which asks that journalists act independently.

Incidences of where journalism has gone wrong, include the phone-hacking scandal, which led to the sudden closing down of a British newspaper the infamous News of the World. Again, the media ethics code was "stretched" to the extent that illegal activities were committed. Jenkins focused upon the case of Amada Jade Dowler, (known as Millie Dowler), who went missing in 2002, and her body eventually found some months later. During the period in which she was missing, the News of the World had reportedly hacked into her phone, in the hope of finding evidence of why she had disappeared. Jenkins believed again, that journalists were in breach of the Code of Ethics’, and emphasised the worry he felt with the extent to which journalists (prior to the hacking scandal) could go, in order to get the information they needed.

Furthermore, Jenkins talked about his concern with the closeness that there is between some media outlets and the government. He used the example of the relationship between the press and the government during the Great War. He believed that the government wanted the press to print only positive stories about the conflict, in order to keep public morale high, and the press did just this. Although there is indeed a certain distance between the press and government today, there is always a danger that in certain circumstances such as armed conflict the media in general may be towing the government line too much.

He also recommended that we read some of the works of John Pilger, an Australian-British journalist, who covered extensively the war in Vietnam, taking a stance against US Foreign Policy.

Alfred Rees-Glinos ~ Student Voice Team