Ethics is a set of moral principles that concerns itself with good or bad conduct. It defines what is good for the individual and society and establishes the nature of duties that people owe to themselves and one another. This nature of ethics makes it particularly useful to be adopted by organisations and institutions to regulate the behaviour of their members and uphold a certain standard. Many professional associations release ethical codes, often in the form of codes of conduct, to outline what their members should and should not do and the media is no different. The ethical codes issued for the media govern aspects of accuracy, balance and credibility of the news, abuse of power by journalists, corruption, etc.
In Nepal, the Press Council Nepal, in coordination with the Federation of Nepali Journalists, has released the code of conduct for journalists and media organisations, the latest version of which was released in 2016 and amended in 2019. Every year, the Council gives an overview of Nepali media’s adherence to this code of conduct and the type of violations recorded. Going by this overview, we find a rather poor situation. Nepali media stand accused of everything from defamation, plagiarism, blackmailing, corruption and censorship to tax evasion and unregistered operation. And online media seem to be the worst offenders. They appear to manipulate visuals to distort their meaning, plagiarise openly and rampantly, publish advertisements without clearly separating them from news content and publish unbalanced and unverified news for personal interests and vendetta.
They also do not appear to respect the Council and its authority as they often do not respond to the Council’s requests for clarification, as per the annual reports. After online media, weekly newspapers are the entities that violate the code of conduct the most. They also plagiarise content, publish images and headlines that have no relation to the news content and deliberately put obscene visuals that go against public morality and decency on prominent display.
The ethical situation with the mainstream Nepali media, print, broadcast or online, seems encouraging though. Not many complaints are filed against the media which are considered mainstream to begin with and even when they are, the media are able to stand by their news and furnish proof of their claims and justify their actions. Most of the complaints against them seem to be filed by people unhappy with their portrayal in the news and not someone with a genuine grievance. The big media houses in Nepal are often accused of peddling commercial and other interests and engaging in closed-room deals but that is not reflected in the complaints filed with the Press Council.
They also seem to respect the Council and always respond to its queries and demands. However, the most ethical media in the country appear to be the state-owned ones. A quick skimming of the annual reports of the Press Council of the last few years reveals that not a single complaint was filed against Gorkhapatra, The Rising Nepal, Radio Nepal and Nepal Television. They seem to have an exceptional ethical record based on the Council’s reports.
So, we can see that Nepali media still has some way to go before we can say they are truly ethical. The state-owned and so-called “corporate” media have, at least visibly, adhered to the prescribed code of conduct but the fringe online portals and weekly publications have not. And in the age of social media, these fringe violators can wreak havoc by spreading misinformation and swaying public opinion in harmful directions. So, they must be controlled. A media that violates journalistic principles does not only disturb the professional scenario but also violates the people’s constitutional right to information. That is why they must be dealt with.