Ethical issues concerning fake news seem to be the order of the day as we have more and more hoax news thriving on the emotions of humans.
Hence, social life in the big cities is described at great length with its parties. The rural areas only come into prominence when there is a riot or bomb blast.
Most of the press is owned by wealthy men who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed in the newspapers.
Considering that almost all media houses depend on advertisers for survival, it has become inevitable that they espouse the worldview of the rich.
What about the downtrodden, who’s cause the media, was traditionally enjoined upon to fight? In the making of public opinion, print media has always played a robust role, and more significantly in those times when electronic media was nowhere, here in the sight.
Fake News and Fraudulent News: The Analysis
Since the media and the society are interlinked with each other, a healthy balance between the two pillars of society is imperative, lest the one should dictate the other for very untenable reasons.
If too much domination of the media, both electronic and print, is undesirable and uncalled for, it is equally unethical if the media becomes the slave of the society and cotters to its transitory tastes rather than highlighting the real problems of the people.
Increased interaction between both the media and the people can help enlarge their territories and thus keep at bay certain forces that are out of malign and make a fool of both.
Our values are under tremendous scrutiny and stress, and time-tested relations between individuals and institutions have come under close observation. Consumerism and ostentatious styles have affected our physico-mental setup.
No pursuit and profession are free from compulsive control of commercialization of attitude and approach. Even the media has not remained unaffected by this virus of money power over moral power.
Every time the social ethos and its harmonious canvas come as a threat due to excessive zeal or greed, the effectiveness of the media making people aware of their rights and duties is reduced.
If an obsessive craze for self and power is deplorable, commercialization of media leads to the negation of its social objectives and obligations is equally fraught with dangerous dimensions.
In some cases, professionalism in journalism to sensationalism that results in an improvement in the packaging of news features, leading to superficial presentation.
This change from social to commercialization has led to deterioration in public life. If at one end of the socio-political spectrum, the print media at the bridge between the people and the government, at the other should conduct itself as the watchdog, without being judgmental in reporting.
Having emerged as the strongest pillar of the democracy world over, media enjoys a unique place and privilege in society.
Concerns of Media Ethics
Some important concerns of media ethics are news manipulation, truth, and conflict with the law.
It is stated that news can manipulate and be manipulated. Governments and corporations may attempt to manipulate news media, governments, for example by censorship, and corporations by share ownership.
The truth may conflict with many other values. The revelation of military secrets and other sensitive government information may be contrary to the public interest, even if it is true.
Journalistic ethics may conflict with the law over issues such as the protection acceptable to break the law to obtain news.
For example, undercover reporters may be engaging in deception, trespass, and similar torts and crimes with undercover journalism and investigative journalism. Ethics in journalism is a utopia, can never be applied in practice.
The crisis in the media today defies any logic. By and large, the media are highly competitive, self-indulgent, profit-oriented, and largely devoid of any serious community responsibility for providing helpful and enlightening information.
Sex and crime, reinforced by athletic events and entertainment figures, (such as Music Channel – MTV, HBO, ESPN), dominate the news.
The modern media prompt the people to retreat into themselves, isolate them from the community behind their walls and fences, and just let the rest of the world go by. But this may be changing.
However, a more communal concern, a sense of democratic, citizen-involved journalism is evolving in Nigeria.
The rhetoric of media ethics, unimpressive at the moment to be sure, has shifted away from freedom and individualism to a concern for social control and cooperation.
Various voices in the recent past in Nigeria have spoken up generally endorsing some type of institutionalized community-determined ethics.
Although the heavy-handed government control in many countries discourages the development of alternate kinds of civic or communal normative ethics, the global reality is beginning to insist that there be an end to individualistic ethics. For such ethics has not worked.
Uncontrolled ethics has not made the media more ethical. Personal ethics have not spread to the media institutions, and public respect for the media is at an all-time low.
Professional standards for ethical and accountable journalism are an important defense against disinformation and misinformation.
Norms and values guiding people doing journalism have evolved over the years to give journalism its distinctive mission.
In turn, these uphold verifiable information and informed comments shared in the public interest. It is these factors that underpin the credibility of journalism.
Fake news is the best thing that has happened for decades. It allows mainstream quality journalism to show that it has value based on expertise, ethics, engagement, and experience.
It is a wake-up call to be more transparent, relevant, and to add value to people’s lives. It can develop a new business model of fact-checking, myth-busting, and generally getting its act together as a better alternative to fakery. While seeking to be truth-tellers, journalists cannot always guarantee truth.
Nevertheless, striving to get the facts right, and producing content that accurately reflects the facts, are cardinal principles of journalism.
But what does ethical journalism look like in the Digital Age?
Ethical journalism that values transparent practice and accountability is a vital piece of the armory in the battle to defend facts and truth in an era of ‘information disorder’.
News journalists must be independent voices. This means not acting, formally or informally, on behalf of special interests.
It also means acknowledging and publicly declaring anything that might constitute a conflict of interest – in the interests of transparency.
As Professor Emily Bell of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University has explained, core professional journalism values are about: “Making sure news is accurate, being accountable for it if it is not accurate, being transparent about the source of stories and information, standing up to governments, pressure groups, commercial interests, the police, if they intimidate, threaten or censor you.
Protecting your sources against arrest and disclosure, knowing when you have a strong enough public interest defense to break the law and being prepared to go to jail to defend your story and sources, knowing when it is unethical to publish something, and balancing individual rights to privacy with the broader right of the public interest.
In the face of unscrupulous politics, the crisis of ‘information disorder’, the manifestation of online hate, the proliferation of ‘content marketing, advertising, and the self-serving spin of public relations, news organizations and journalists should still prize ethical journalism as the central pillar of a sustainable model of practice – even while battling financial and trust crises.
Democracies, too, should have a role in defending journalism, and in protecting them and their sources where public interest justifications come into play.
Ethical codes, designed to support information gathering and verification in the public interest, are what distinguish journalism, and in particular news reportage, from other types of communication.
This is of increased significance in the Digital Age where there is not just democratization of communications, but also a constant flow of disinformation, misinformation, falsehoods, and abuse.
In this context, ethical journalism is even more important, as a framework for establishing models of journalism that favor trust and accountability in the interests of building meaningfully engaged relationships with audiences.
Trust inaccurate, accountable, and independent reporting is essential to winning over audiences and enabling a common public sphere in which debate can occur based on shared facts. Informed audiences who engage with, and share, credible content are essential antidotes to the spread of disinformation and misinformation.
To embed and enforce these core values in a changing media environment, newsrooms and media organizations adapt and adopt codes of conduct and create mechanisms for the public to hold them to account – press councils, readers’ editors, editorial policies, and internal ombudsmen are features of these self-regulation structures.
Such structures allow for errors to be identified in a professional peer-review context, they can facilitate public acknowledgment of mistakes and require corrections, and they help to enforce professional norms concerning the standard of publishing in the public interest.
While often derided as ‘toothless tigers’ by critics who favor external regulation of the news media, these structures serve an important purpose in the context of the disinformation crisis: they help strengthen professional accountability and transparency and thereby can reinforce community trust in journalism.
They also help to mark out the distinctive characteristics of journalism that adopt the discipline of verification to achieve accuracy and reliability, distinguishing it from disinformation, propaganda, advertising, and public relations.
Way Out of fake news
Christopher Hitchens once said that he became a journalist because he couldn’t trust the newspapers anymore.
It is a known factor that some of the most prominent, even respectable people in the media are deeply compromised by their proximity to powerful politicians and businessmen.
Writers and journalists in most developed and developing countries increasingly constitute a new elite, their distance from the defenseless or the underdog of the society is getting greater.
Their membership of the privilege classes is the biggest and most serious change in journalism in recent years. It is probably the essence of the journalistic profession that reporters deal with ambivalent situations where the outcome is uncertain, the values are mixed, and the sides conflict.
There should be a political will to stop fake news. There should be a nodal agency to deal with fake news. There should be strict provisions for service providers on fake news issues.
Dedicated courts should be established to deal with fake news cases. The focus should be on cyber hygiene, cyber ethics, and regulating fake news at the school level. The use of fake news can always be checked through the available tools.
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