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Investigative Journalism and elements of Ethics

  • Category
    Ethics
  • Published
    19th Oct, 2021

Context

The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia.

  • This prize awarding stretches the focus on the deteriorating situation of democracy. Democracy is at risk in many parts of the world. Autocracy is back in vogue. Unprecedented wealth is accumulating in ever fewer hands.
  • Trillions have gone missing offshore. Even in mature democracies, the restraint on power is often alarmingly feeble.
  • Thus, it becomes for the Governments globally to keep the powerful honest, and the honest powerful.

Therefore, investigative journalism can be the solution.

How investigative journalism can be considered as a ‘Public Service’?

  • Exposes corruption at the level of the government
  • Reveals abuse of official power
  • Brings out the denial and delay of justice
  • Questions the official facts and figures
  • Shows how laws are violated and circumvented
  • Discloses cover-ups
  • Identifies shameful societal practices

Major Principles of Ethical Journalisms

  1. Ethical journalists should seek truth and report it
  • The saying ‘honesty is the best policy’, and this stands particularly true in journalism. 
  • Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
  • A consistent theme throughout this principle is that journalists can practice ethical journalism by ensuring that the information they are reporting is accurate and truthful. 
  • They can do this by using original sources when available and verifying information as they go. Furthermore, journalists should never plagiarise but always credit their sources.
  • Journalists should clearly identify their sources — ensuring that they are reliable and have no hidden motives. 
  • Moreover, journalists should take a source’s motives into account before promising anonymity. Sources should only remain anonymous if they face danger, retribution or harm as a result of coming forward with information.
  1. Ethical journalism minimizes harm 
  • This pillar of ethical journalism highlights the importance of respect. “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”
  • Exercising compassion is one of the key themes under this principle. Journalists should strike a balance between the public’s need for information, while remaining aware of any possible discomfort or harm this information may cause them. 
  • This compassion should be extended to the groups that may be affected by your reporting, such as minors or victims of sexual abuse. Additionally, awareness and sensitivity towards different cultures when covering a story is key.
  • Sensitivity in this regard is important because you never know how a story may affect the person reading it; you want to avoid triggering your audience. 
  • Another theme in this pillar is consent. Journalists need to be aware that civilians may not be as inclined to share personal information like public figures would.
  • Journalists should exercise caution regarding the details they share with the public, as content that is published is permanent and will accumulate a significant reach with time. 
  1. Ethical journalists act independently
  • This pillar is centred on journalists avoiding special treatments or gifts given in an effort to sway reporting. This helps to avoid biased reporting. 
  • To remain ethical, journalists should decline gifts, favours and any special treatment that they may be offered as this will “compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.” 
    In the same breath, they should also avoid giving information in exchange for money or favours. 
  1. Be accountable and transparent
  • This pillar of ethical journalism is all about being accountable for yourself and your work, as well as remaining transparent in your reporting.
  • It is crucial to “take responsibility for one’s work and explain one’s decisions to the public.” 
  • This pillar could be considered the core of ethical journalism because if you are being accountable and transparent, you are unlikely to act unethically in other aspects of your career.
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