A US Media academic, Elizabeth Medsger once said, “Journalism is story gathering and storytelling in words and visual elements – using rational and empirical methods, on behalf of the public interest and through any means of ‘distribution’ by independent gatherers, organizers and analysers of information and ideas – rather than by representatives of special interests, like advertisers and PR practitioners.”
Journalists commit themselves to the highest standards and avoids unnecessary harm; following the utilitarianism ideology that explains how journalists should strive to make decisions that maximises the value and minimises the cost to the public by putting the interest of the public first.
Whenever a journalist is in conflict with something it is important to know and refer back to the basics; the ethical frameworks. The classical and meta-ethical framework helps to recognise the problem that you as journalist might feel is the right thing; the framework evaluates the problem according to the principle described; it helps with reaching and motivating a decision that they can live with and it will only benefit the journalist and the quality of their work.
‘As an emerging democracy that has recently undergone dramatic change in both its political system and its media; media and journalists stands as channels of communication and are the lifeblood of the democratic process. The media plays critical roles in a democracy or democratisation processes – information, analysis, social representation just to name a few. When it comes to media and politics, media usually plays the watchdog role and with that, the challenge is in relation to the media it needs a diverse, free & professional media which actualises the right to freedom of expression – a right critical when it comes to politics and political reporting.’ [Davids, T; 2016]
Journalists should have the rights that every citizen of South Africa has; freedom of expression, free to have choices and take part in elections and we sometimes forget that journalists are humans too – you are a human first before you are a journalist, but of course for a journalist there is a limit when it comes to what they let out to the public.
As a journalist, knowing what your principles are and actually following it makes you a better journalist anyway, but having the ability to use the law as reference when reporting on a story, is a big plus. So law is used to govern the action and behaviour of the journalist and can be enforced by striking penalties.
When it comes to South African journalists or media supporting political parties, yes you can support and take part in elections and elect for the party you as journalist think is the right party to run a country, but it is necessary to not let a party or your opinion influence the way you communicate with or to your readers and these key roles are vital because the media needs to be free from all powerful forces and vested interests; ‘such as ownership, policy and regulatory constraints, the influence of funding and financing and in addition the
media needs to be ethical and professional and serve the public interest, as well as being free from the government and party control.’ [Davids, T; 2016] The code of ethics and conduct for South Africa media and print clearly states that “the media shall not allow commercial, political,personal or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting. Conflicts of interest must be avoided, as well as arrangements or practices that could lead audiences to doubt the media’s independence and professionalism”.
For a journalist to play the role of information, analysis and open forum for debate and discussion, the media act as institutional aid and guide to citizens in making decision when it comes to politics. These roles are critical because it comes to a point where political journalism is not just a form of journalism as one, but it links to Ubuntu journalism where if these roles are played well citizens stand a greater chance of making choices based on knowledge rather than being influenced by blind loyalties. In Ubuntu Journalism, the journalist is not a lone wolf separate from the community but of the community and one who assesses the value of information to a community. Independence is also of critical importance where media should enjoy editorial & programming independence from vested interests of all types and be professional and ethical at the same time.
Different from watchdog liberal journalism role, in Ubuntu journalism it gets to the place that takes a greater guide dog role. The guide dog role is one which empowers people and communities to solve their own problems and with the help of journalism in the correct form, without endorsing a specific political party it can happen.
Media has developed just as quickly as South Africa has and with that Politicians have become smarter, they know that the media is the one thing that gets across citizens and influence the actions, beliefs and perceptions of the people; thus it is seen as a way to enhance their parties and campaigns or even themselves. Where media has the urge to always get the story first and fast, so this would mean both would benefit from the connection it builds at the end of the day, but in the end it still comes to a point where you have to look at what does the ethical theories, teleology or deontology say – what will the consequence be? And what is your duty as a journalist? or what does the law say about a specific situation you are in.
- Davids, T; 2016. Media and elections. Live Presentation. July 21. Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
- Oosthuizen, L. 2011. Media Ethics as a field of study in Media Ethics in the South African Context. Juta
- Oosthuizen, L. 2011. Meta-ethics as a guideline for individual conduct in Media Ethics in the South African Context. Juta
- Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African print and online media http://www.presscouncil.org.za/ContentPage?code=PRESSCODE accessed 9 October 2017