Professional Ethics Key To Journalism


There are people here in the media business, who have been working for more than five decades, but they tell they still are not sure how this sector is functioning and what is happening where! The situation is really confusing and especially with individuals forgetting any obligation to the 'written' code of conduct, forget someone being ethical or non-partisan in whichever media outlets they are working for. Though the word 'ethics' is widely used in many professions, including in areas where human lives are concerned, it is not certain the professional themselves are ethical. One can see examples of unethical conduct in politics, the administration and judiciary and even in the medical profession where the life of a human being is at stake. 

But besides ethics and other theories, especially in the media sector, we will also talk about one editor's strange experience. And naturally having spent most of his constructive period in The Rising Nepal, we will dwell on it more. And the author would also like to share some other anecdotes while dealing with people of different kinds you meet every day in this field. One fond story I recall is when I was told to monitor reports about the hundreds of foreigners who came to scale the different peaks in Nepal. I did my best and it was me who 'exposed' the 'forceful manner' in which a team of police climbers were about to scale the peak of Sagaramatha (Mt. Everest), the tallest mountain of the world.  It so happened that the tourism ministry had not given permission to this team and actually it was only to clean-up the mountain that official clearance had been granted. There was a huge uproar and in the end the police alpinists only did some cleaning work and returned back, though it lost one of its senior-most climbers during this mission. 

While talking about climbing, this author remembers a tragic incident when many climbers lost their life almost at the summit of Mt. Everest. One media house from the United States called up this author and told him to send one reporter at once to cover the news. When asked how we could send a reporter so fast, that man's prompt reply was 'Tell him to take a cab, we will pay for it'. Probably sitting in a comfortable room behind a wide desk, and looking at the map of Nepal he probably thought Everest could be reached by cab within hours, when it actually takes days just to reach the Base Camp of that mountain from most parts of this country with difficult terrain.


While on this issue, it would probably not be inappropriate to talk of the issue of proximity while giving priority to some news being published. Here I would like to mention a newspaper I saw where a small vehicle mishap was given as the main news, because it concerned the local neighbourhood, but much other bigger incidents were tucked away in the inside pages. That was taking proximity to its heights. But it is right that when different incidents, even tragedies takes place, those who have suffered are taken only as 'numbers' if it takes place far away, but when similar incident take place close by they are given in much detail. The only exception seems when air accidents take place and the details of the people travelling are given with much human attachments.

Giving how much priority to which news is a challenging work for the sub-editors who usually look after such things in the News Desk. We see more coverage given to political news. The only exception seems to be TRN, which gives equal importance to development news as well. The International and Sports pages of this daily are already very popular among its readers. These sub-editors may not be in the forefront, but they play a major role in what type of newspaper or broadcast information the people get in the end.

Here, one may also make reference to mistakes and carelessness one sees, especially in newspapers. As journalists are also humans, they too can make mistakes. But many errors are seen due to the sheer laziness or rather carelessness of some individuals. This reflects badly on any media organisation, no matter whether they are in the print or broadcast sector. One other glaring fault is the lack of follow up stories. At least some broadcast media seem to be making efforts to initiate this important part of journalism and doing follow up stories instead of just only making sensational headlines. But to really inform the people and do full justice to any news, especially major news, there must be constant follow-ups and issues must not fade away from the minds of the people. Credibility of the media will soar in the otherwise skeptical minds of the people if this effort is made.


While talking of just a few aspects of journalism, the issue of ethical reporting also automatically come to the fore. But it is sad that few bother to follow code of conduct. We also know that most of the journalists are politically partisan. This is OK, as every citizen has the right to be a supporter of one party or the other. But the main thing is any partisan feeling should not overwhelm professionalism. If only all professions, not only journalism, worked according to ethical values, then there would be more awareness for the betterment of the country. 

Actually for journalists who write or anchor programmes, the most difficult part is objectivity. Being objective in one's approach to any event, good or bad or even personal is difficult and easier said than done. Even the most advanced and free media are not fully objective. But if they can be objective and ethical, it would be the biggest victory for any journalist no matter where or for whom he or she is working. For now, if the situation is that confusing to even older journalists, one can imagine the confusion of commoners who find it hard just to make out what is the truth and what is not.

(The author is former chief editor of this daily.)

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