Journalism thrives on integrity—not on shortcutsThe pursuit of a ‘scoop’ cannot come at the cost of honesty, veracity and fairness.
Recent decades have seen a sea change in journalism. The advent of digital media has meant that the way news is covered, reported, written and disseminated have all changed significantly. And yet, the core values of journalism—fact-checking, sourcing, using objective methods of investigation and following the truth—remain intact. But all over the world, journalism is in peril.
Ever since the first newspapers were printed, yellow journalism has always been around. But the rise of misinformation, often referred to as ‘fake news’ and propagated primarily through dubious online portals, has served to discredit a once-hallowed institution of democracy. Unethical practices, including unlabelled sponsored content and quid pro quo publications, continue to stymie journalism time and again, even as unscrupulous media outlets distort or misrepresent the truth to suit the agendas of the rich and powerful.
It is the job of journalists to counter fake news. Misinformation cannot be allowed to shape public opinion. The bedrock of journalism is objectivity, but this is not to say that journalists do not have biases. The journalistic method must be sound and objective—without fear or favour. Every story must present both sides of the story. Facts cannot be omitted for the sake of exigency or to suit a preconceived narrative. To be objective is to be fair and, as the Washington Post says, being fair is being complete.
The public once trusted the press to be fair and transparent while holding the powerful accountable. But there has been an unfortunate erosion in that trust, including here at home, making it difficult for everyone in the industry to pursue the truth. The distortion of the truth hurts everyone—not just journalists. A healthy democracy requires a healthy press. Speaking the truth will not always be popular but it will be necessary.
Journalists are the public’s watchdog; the media is the state’s fourth estate. But this status is at risk if the media, which also includes publishers and owners, does not have a moral compass and absolves themselves of a personal sense of integrity and responsibility. Therefore, our actions or inactions as journalists will have ripple effects in society.
When stories are sloppily written and contain only half-truths, the public’s idea of good and bad, wrong and right gets distorted. When this happens, we as journalists do a disservice to our profession.
On the one hand, the people’s trust in the media is plummeting and on the other, the state is poised to introduce draconian laws, like the Media Council bill, that will only stifle the free press further. A trust deficit in the media weakens the foundations of a democratic society, which an increasingly authoritarian government is already chipping away at.
It has, therefore, become more important than ever for journalists to do their jobs with the utmost integrity, without taking shortcuts. The pursuit of a ‘scoop’ cannot come at the cost of honesty, veracity and fairness. It is the job of journalists to tell the truth and inform the public. We must realise, at all times, that we are not the story—we only tell the story.