Sunday, 5 December, 2021

Lessons From North America

Aashish Mishra

Nepali journalism has come a long way in terms of professionalism over the past few decades. The Press Council, in coordination with the Federation of Nepali Journalists, has prepared a code of ethics that most media houses and reporters strictly adhere to. However, we cannot deny that our media is not where it needs to be. We still have some distance to cover and a few significant things to learn and for that, we should perhaps look to North America. This continent has three countries that follow two distinct systems of media with Canada following the public service model and the USA and Mexico following the libertarian or free press model. Since Nepal strives to achieve a mix of both – the state-owned media aiming to become public service outlets and the private media demanding absolute press freedom – the journalists of the country should learn a few practices from the countries of this continent to enhance their ethicality and boost their credibility.
While general principles regarding accuracy, balance, source confidentiality, stance against plagiarism and glorification of crimes, protection of the identity of minors and victims of sexual assault, acknowledgement and correction of mistakes, right of reply etc. are the same in there and here, the North American continent has a few unique provisions that could be contextualised and adopted by the Nepali press.
One of the major things the media should emphasise is that it must not unpublish or remove news once published except in the case of public safety or constitutional and legal restrictions. This violates the public’s right to information. If the published news happens to be erroneous then the media should accept the responsibility and correct the mistake. But the correction must be declared. Removal of an entire piece of news by any party is utterly unacceptable.
Similarly, another thing we must be firm towards is the rejection of media trials. We should also understand that we should never pay our sources for information because people will say anything for money. If any organisations pay for or support the coverage of news, it must be revealed to the audience.
Furthermore, parental or guardian consent must always be obtained when reporting on minors and an individual’s privacy should be judged on common sense, humanity and relevance. People thrust into the spotlight because of a specific news event are not “public” persons and cannot be treated the same way reporters treat celebrities or politicians.
Journalists must exercise autonomy from the government, advertisers, interest groups and even their own employers while reporting news. Gifts or favours should not be solicited and if they are provided without the reporter’s knowledge or consent, then they must be donated to charity.
The North American ethical codes even count the memberships of social media groups as a conflict of interest. This might be good to replicate in Nepal as it can help check biases and prevent social media trends, which may not always be truthful or legal, from driving news coverage. If membership of a group is absolutely necessary to obtain information, then the ethics asks reporters to have someone else subscribe on their behalf.
Also, journalists must declare their organisation while contacting sources. Even freelancers must disclose which media they hope to publish the news in while talking to sources. Undercover operations must only be conducted when there are no other ways to get the news vital to public interest and even then, the audience must be told that the information was obtained without the source’s knowledge.
These are some of the best practices that the press-related bodies demand their journalists implement in North America. This does not mean that the reporters and media organisations have been actually doing this but at least this provides with us an ideal to strive for.