'Don't Write Crap': Journalism Ethics and Moral Imperatives

UTS ePress
Publication Type:
Challenge and Change: Reassessing Journalism's Global Future, 2013, 1, pp. 126 - 156
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In the wake of the News of the World hacking scandal, there was a metaphorical and self-righteous global sigh that here, finally, was concrete and over-arching 'proof' to substantiate the ubiquitous discourse that indeed journalists, and their profession, behave unethically to get their stories; often criminally. The collective rationale made sense at the time, and as its more than 300 witnesses streamed to give evidence at The Leveson Inquiry: Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press in London throughout nine months of investigation, this rationale was not simply proven; substantive elements were extended. The Leveson Inquiry testimony and findings are not only as shocking as was suspected; they are worse. And as a treatise of how a hierarchy of power manages to exert an insidious downwardly vertical pressure, manifesting at the feet of sometimes the most vulnerable in a newsroom, it makes compelling reading. Concurrently but not as lengthy, and certainly not as broad, the Finkelstein Report in Australia has led to some of the most hotly debated notions of press freedom in this country for many decades. Politicians, academics, analysts, social commentators and members of the public weighed into a media legislation debate, still to be resolved. But where does that leave journalism practitioners now? Still tenaciously wedged between the people and government agencies; the people and the 'big' business end of town; the people and bureaucracy; the guardians, and attendant to that, the gatekeepers of the free flow of information between the people and the institutions, and policy makers who make the decisions. Is there a universal public interest test that can be rendered and applied, across the board, to shore up the existing journalism code of ethics, ironically so easily side-stepped with the existing public interest 'out clause'? To date, evidence suggests that media self-regulation is a notion regarded with an almost contemptuous arrogance, leaving risk of legislation with a potential to eat away at the edges of what many view as the bedrock of press freedom, and its more than notional fundamental function within healthy democratic process. It begs the question so elegantly pronounced by Justice Leveson on his inquiry's opening day in London: "Who guards the guardians?"
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