Objective Journalism

Topics: Mass media, Journalism, Ethics Pages: 5 (1477 words) Published: August 25, 2008
Those who are open to personal values influencing journalistic practice have criticized the issue of objective reporting by journalists. This is because of the present unbalance between journalists’ freedom and responsibility; their role as representatives of the Fourth Estate and their freedom and need to communicate and uphold ideas and values (Hirst & Patching 2005). There are many criteria for ‘good’ journalism and objectivity and has long been considered a vital factor, however is it fair to assume that journalistic practices change with the political and social movements of the world. This paper addresses the issue of personal and moral beliefs in journalism and whether it is acceptable or indeed required in today’s society, or whether it remains a hindrance to good journalism and the role of the Fourth Estate.

The Fourth Estate refers to the media’s role as an intermediary and watchdog whose purpose is to inform and serve the best interests of the public. It is documented by Carlyle that Edmund Burke coined the phrase, placing the media with the other three estates, parliaments, courts and government (formerly the church), he also emphasized its importance and influence. “Burke said there were three estates in parliament; but in the reporters gallery yonder there sat the Fourth Estate, more important than they all…Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority.” (Carlyle 1968)

Carlyle’s quote demonstrates why journalists are professional representatives of the fourth estate, journalists hold power as providers of information to the public and are essentially responsible or forming and shaping their moral values and opinions. It is for this reason that objectivity in journalism as long been a requirement, because it was thought only by providing unbiased and fair information can the public make an accurate judgment. This thinking is being challenged by ‘unconventional’ journalists who see reporting as a channel to communicate more expressively about and issue.

The case for expressive reporting of values is becoming stronger with many beginning to see it as a valid model. It is important to note that these values become innate as a product of upbringing and elicit automatic responses. Rather than blatantly displaying personal thoughts on an issue when reporting hard news, this refers to a much subtler approach, focused on reporting a ‘natural,’ uncommercialised response to the topic. As described by Maxine McKew about her first interview with Pauline Hanson, she reacted instinctively and irrationally to the challenge to her values(fine lines 2004). Every journalist will have their own set of values therefore it is impossible to be purely objective because everyone will react to a situation differently. These moral beliefs can range from religion to social issues such as obesity and same-sex marriage.

Commercialisation is one of the reasons for changes in the media, with commercial ownership and control of the media a threat to free and ethical journalism. The MEAA code of ethics clause one states, “report and interpret honestly,” the word interpret implies the judgment is the journalists own to make what is reported on and what information is most newsworthy. The second part of this clause states, “do not suppress relevant or available facts or give distorting emphasis,” this elaborates on the word ‘interpret’ directing journalists to do their utmost to be fair and reasonable (MEAA 2007). The second clause more specifically emphasizes a fair judgment of race, ethnicity, religion etc. in news, ensuring that these issues reach the news only if they are vital to the story. The code of ethics is possibly the most clear and concise definition of ethical journalism. The conclusion drawn from these two clauses is that while a degree of individual judgment is required in journalism, no personal opinion...
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