Ethics in Journalism and PR
24 Nov 2020
The issue of journalistic ethics has always been somewhat polarising and notably tricky to navigate. There isn’t any one singular universally agreed upon code but the basic tenets are honesty, impartiality, accuracy and the limitation of harm. Although journalistic principles are not binding, they are by and large respected due to the element of social responsibility associated with reporting the news and delivering it to the masses.
The most common way in which we see news outlets compromise these ethics is through biased reporting. While there are instances in which this may be done deliberately as a ploy to appeal to specific demographics, one must also take into account the practical limitations of media neutrality that can come to prevent well-intentioned outlets from delivering the news in a wholly unbiased manner. Although it can be argued that objectivity is simply presenting all relevant facts to the reader and leaving them to form an opinion themselves, it is realistically impossible for a journalist to report every single fact of a case. It is up to them to decide which ones are relevant and when piecing this together, they may end up unconsciously forming their own narrative.
In many cases, consciously attempting to report the news in an unbiased manner is not enough as one’s ingrained biases might yet manage to find their way into a story. This can prove to be especially harmful when it comes to issues dealing with religion, caste, gender and political parties. The issue extends beyond unconscious prejudice, for there is also the matter of confirmation bias to contend with. This refers to the tendency to seek out information in a way that supports existing beliefs. Simply put, in the sphere of journalism this translates to having a habit of unconsciously selecting information that supports one’s preconceived views while simultaneously ignoring information that does not support the same. Journalism carried out in such a manner only results in the polarization of opinions and increases distrust of the media.
The most important way in which one can prevent this from happening is by first identifying one’s blind spots. It is only after the recognition of them that steps can subsequently be taken to actively ignore them altogether.
So why is ethical journalism that important? The answer boils down to the aforementioned aspect of social responsibility ingrained within the fabric of what constitutes journalism. This is a responsibility to provide the public with truthful information without furthering any hidden agenda by doing so. Beyond just fulfilling this responsibility, ethical journalism is also important as it helps establish public trust. Public trust is the lifeblood of any news organisation and the solidification of it through fair and objective reporting is paramount in importance.
Just as the field of journalism is associated with an element of responsibility towards the public, the same can be said for PR companies. An important step towards avoiding bias from tainting one’s work involves the disclosure of affiliations that may be considered conflicts of interest. This is important when it comes to establishing a firm as trustworthy and for projecting an image of objectivity. It is important to review all statements that are put out by the firm and ensure that they comply with the same standards of journalistic ethics that news agencies are held to – namely those concerning fairness and accuracy. Star Squared PR, a leading PR agency in India is cognizant of this and takes particular care in driving an ethical approach in all their partnerships.
The field of journalism as a whole and the perception of it will be strengthened by a move towards ethical and unbiased reporting. This is especially important to keep in mind when one takes into consideration the manner in which social media threatens to encroach upon the space traditional news agencies have carved out for themselves. Public trust is paramount in this case and fair reporting is the only way in which it can be attained.
Avaantika Vivek is presently interning with Star Squared PR. She is a 12th grade student studying in Mallya Aditi International School. She is an avid writer and pursues this passion in her spare time. In her own words, “Article writing is something I am relatively new to, but is a skill I wish to hone and improve over time”.