Journalism needs a new code of ethical conduct for the digital age, said Aidan White, a senior fellow at the Media Diversity Institute in London.
He said such a code should emphasize several points: tell the truth; be impartial; do no harm, and be accountable. Journalists, he said, should be aware that anything they do has an impact on others.
“Ethical journalism is about thinking journalism,” White told an audience at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre on November 30.
“In order to be a journalist you to have time to think, time for reflection.”
The demands of the 24/7 news cycle, brought about in large part by the digital revolution, often rob journalists of the time needed to think and reflect, he said.
He also criticized the behaviour of individual journalists and news organisations independently of the demands of digital journalism.
He was critical of the partisan journalism practiced in the United States by Fox News, a part of Rupert Murdoch’s worldwide media empire.
He was critical of the “red envelope journalism” in China, in which journalists are given cash rewards in return for printing or withholding certain information.
“Codes of conduct and ethics are what distinguish other work from journalism,” White said.
He said traditional journalism is in decline, and that within the media, there is often no longer support for quality journalism.
The result, he said, is a decline of public trust in the media due to the poor quality of the information being published.
White said the scandal of phone hacking and other practices by the British tabloid newspapers, especially those of the Murdoch media empire, shows that need for a new ethical pervades the entire news industry.
“The ethics of journalism is not only about the newsroom,” he said. “It is about the entire culture of media and media organizations, and when those are corrupt it is impossible to have real ethics.”
White cited the work of the Coalition for Ethical Journalism, a programme that was launched recently at a world summit in Hong Kong of the Global Editors Network.
The coalition’s aims are a fresh start for ethical journalism, an examination of the need for new structures for the self-regulation of the media, and a new mechanism to provide support for independent journalism.
The Media Diversity Institute, where White is a senior fellow, works internationally to encourage and facilitate responsible media coverage of diversity.
It aims to prevent the media from spreading prejudice, intolerance and hatred by promoting fair, accurate, inclusive and sensitive media coverage in order to heighten understanding between different groups and cultures.
White’s talk was presented as part of Associate Professor Miklos Sukosd’s course on Critical Issues of Journalism and Global Communications.
Watch the talk here: