Keeping the faith
Press freedom groups have an important role to play in shaping the future of journalism – not least by helping to build a media culture of transparency, quality and respect for ethics.
IFEX is always a great place to discuss the threats to journalism from bad law and unscrupulous politicians, but many current problems facing reporters come from inside the newsroom. Part of the discussion in Beirut will be about how we confront the crisis of falling standards in journalism, and not just that caused by government interference, but also as a result of the cocktail of corruption inside media and corporate misbehaviour.
There are major problems, even in the best of democracies. A couple of years ago the Press Council in India exposed a scandalous culture of “journalism for sale” to politicians across the country and recently, the publishers Gannett, owners of the lucrative USATODAY, announced plans to pay “cash for clicks,” — extra payments to reporters whose articles register high numbers of page views and attract online advertising.
Given that it’s gossip and celebrity that drives online journalism, reporters rightly ask who will cover public interest stories about budget deficits, social policy, and political intrigue when unscrupulous politics can buy space at will and when editorial cash prizes go only to the glamour and glitz end of journalism?
Many fear these are more nails in the coffin of quality journalism. Already, in many newsrooms, investigative journalism is virtually extinct, journalists work in precarious conditions and get no training and a “brown envelope” culture of bribes and backhanders greases the wheeling and dealing between journalism and power.
It’s time to get journalism back on track, but how do journalists keep the faith with their profession in an atmosphere of political tension and global crisis?
Whether it’s Arab spring, race hatred, drug-fuelled violence, human rights abuse, war and terrorism, poverty and social dislocation, journalists already have a near impossible job, but if they want to continue to play a pivotal role in shaping norms in society they must reconnect with their ethical base.