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MEDIA ETHICS & THE FREEDOM OF PRESS

Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan gives the guidelines under which the press is supposed to function in Pakistan. This article says:

Media is the fourth pillar of state. It is the institution that disseminates information on the latest happenings across the globe. Owing to its multifarious functions, especially being an opinion maker, the media has to dig out the truth. This is considered the right of media to do whatever possible to bring reality before the public. However, with every right comes a responsibility. So there is a dire need to set some standards or ethics for media.
Ethics are the principles that determine the rightness and wrongness of an act. These are the self-imposed principles that mainly aim at maintaining decency, harmony and positivism within the organizations. Ethics can also be termed as the canons of morality.
Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan gives the guidelines under which the press is supposed to function in Pakistan. This article says:

Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] or incitement to an offence.
In today’s globalized and enlightened world, media is considered as a double edged sword. It can be as lethal a weapon as a nuke. It is universally acknowledged that pen is mightier than sword. The principles of good journalism are directed toward bringing the highest quality of news reporting to the public, thus fulfilling the mission of timely dissemination of information in service of the public interest.
The codes and canons, to a great extent, evolved through observation of and response to past lapses by media personnel. However, it is heartening that the terms of employment mandate adherence to ethical codes equally applicable to both staff and freelance journalists. Upholding professional standards also boosts public trust in a news organization, which serves as an impetus to enhance the number of its audiences. The process of designing the journalistic code of ethics is full of difficulties, such as conflicts of interest, to assist journalists in dealing with ethical dilemmas. The codes and canons provide journalists with a framework for self-monitoring and self-correction.
In the present-day world, journalism has got an unprecedented importance in our lives because:
1. It acts as watchdog which means that it protects society from aggression.
2. By bringing in public awareness, it promotes public participation.
3. It projects the images of politicians and leaders, etc.
4. It challenges the acts of autocracy and dictatorship
5. World has become global village, people stay connected through it.
Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth, its first loyalty is to the citizens and its essence is discipline of verification. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
Following are the fundamental canons that should be opted as guiding principles of journalism.
1. Reporters must avoid conflict of interest incentives to report a story with a given slant. This includes not taking bribes and not reporting on stories that affect the reporter’s personal, economic or political interests.
2. Competing points of view must be balanced and fairly characterized. Moreover, persons who are the subject of adverse stories must be allowed a reasonable opportunity to respond before the story is published or broadcast.
3. Interference with reporting by any entity, including censorship, must be disclosed.
4. Confidentiality of anonymous sources must be maintained.
5. There should be the avoidance of anonymous sources to the maximum extent.
6. Accurate attribution of statements must be made
7. Pictures sound, and quotations must not be presented in a misleading manner.
8. Simulations, re-enactments, alterations, and artistic imaginings must be clearly labelled as such.
Reporters are expected to be as accurate as possible given the time allotted to story preparation and to seek reliable sources. Events with a single eyewitness must be reported with attribution, however, events with more eyewitnesses may be reported as fact. Independent fact-checking by another person is desirable and if any error is found, the corrections must be made. Opinion surveys and statistical information deserve special treatment to communicate. Special sensitivity must be used when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects. The journalists must be sensitive while seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by a tragedy or grief. They must acknowledge that private people have every right to conceal information about themselves than do public officials. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy. The media personnel must be judicious when naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
Freedom of press shall not be used as a weapon against any one. Ethics, canons and moral standards of journalism must be designed in the light of the Constitution of Pakistan so that journalism could truly be exploited for materializing positivity in the mindsets of the masses and constructive approach for all segments of society.
By: Dr Quratul Ain Malik (CSP)

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