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Research Paper: Freedom and Responsibility in the Media

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Free «Research Paper: Freedom and Responsibility in the Media» Essay Sample


Ethical practices and accountability are the key to success and better relations among the people of any profession. For instance, in accounting, ethics, moral values, accountability, and responsibility are some of the fundamental character traits which an efficient accountant should possess. Furthermore, individuals engaged in other professions, such as journalism and media, should also imitate these traits and employ them in their undertakings. At the national level, politics and current affairs are the primary resources of information which journalists collect and publicize for the public to read or view. However, reporters look for the areas with the most entertaining and dramatic events as they believe that good news is not good unless it is bad. Consequently, they present the acquired information to the common people, highlighting or adding some provoking details which evoke mixed reactions of the public and other stakeholders.

In cases of misleading news like defamation and slander, journalists should take responsibilities and provide justification for their actions. As choices have consequences, reporters should not misuse the freedom given to them to access and report on the news by exaggerating them (Merrill, 1997). Once caught presenting untruthful news and exhibiting unethical behaviors, journalism companies should take the necessary action to rectify the mess and ensure that the situation will not occur again. Not only in the media platform, but also in other fields, freedom makes people do crazy things, which may result in unpredictable adverse consequences. Therefore, this paper describes the connection between freedom and responsibility in the media and news reporting platform. It also answers the questions whether journalists should learn their lesson from the misleading information they give and whether the news reporting companies should face sanctions or jurisdictions due to the actions of their reporters. Moreover, this paper provides opinions on the ethical actions in news reporting and finally draws a conclusion.

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Circumstances under Which Reporters May Agree or Disagree on Facts

The battle for supremacy controls not only the political but also the business world. As business people run the majority of the news and reporting agencies, they attempt to make their news the most followed, reviewed, and watched. To achieve this goal, reporters try to highlight those event issues that will arouse mixed reactions of the media people who always criticize events. The disagreement or the agreement that the presenters express in the media creates some unethical behaviors that may even lead to cases in the courts of law.

For example, under the circumstance of the terrorist attacks by Middle-East or Arab extremists, different journalists tend to present their versions of the situation. In other words, most reporters invent stories to make their news circulate in the world and have better review rates on television and in the media industry, in general. For instance, the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the most searched and wanted criminal in the world, caused significant confusion regarding the details of the terrorist’s death. Most journalists came up with various versions of the event and presented personal views. Some reporters even accused the President of the United States of lying about the death of the terrorist. Nevertheless, international journalists protected the President and stated that whatever happened was truthfully depicted in the news. Consequently, these accusations and the whole disagreement scenario result in some unethical practices that drive reporters from different media houses to provide various versions of stories. However, with every detail that the journalists give, there is a consequence of the same reaction (Shirky, 2011). Therefore, once legal proceedings follow the accusations of unethical practices, journalists should handle their actions and deeds.

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Another circumstance under which reporters disagree or agree is the context of political affiliation. It is common in most countries where political setup takes the form of tribal, race, or other affiliation. Journalists affiliated with certain tribes, race, or political party will attempt to show their candidate in the best light and vice versa (Freeman, 2007). These actions result in heated debates that make reporters speak ill of their counterparts and invent huge stories to back up their allegations and propaganda. Politicians also give journalists cash bribes (Graber, 2009). With the influence of money, people do crazy things without taking into consideration the consequences. The freedom of expression that the reporters have makes them the best platform to spread propaganda and political insights. In case the journalist agrees to share propaganda and faces no consequences, it will create the conducive environment.

Reasons for Government or Media Organizations to Place Limits on Freedom of Speech

In many nations, the government limits the freedom of speech, especially in the media. Citizens of most dictatorship countries have no freedom to say anything in the media due to various reasons. Some media organizations also limit their reporters from making news from selected platforms that may sometimes be chaotic or bring about mixed reactions. The following are the reasons that make these stakeholders limit the freedom of speech.

First, lack of balance or fairness is a context that drives parties to quarrel over an immaterial thing. Some areas in the media lack neutrality and, therefore, the companies abandon their journalists from reporting in these areas. Some countries have the tendency of experiencing post-election violence and misunderstandings of people which lead to aggressiveness. Therefore, the government imposes sanctions on the media preventing them from reporting or talking about such events that bring incitement to the public. There are some governmental houses and selected media organizations that have the license allowing them to report on the events. Nevertheless, their reports are filtered to take care of the public interest and fuel the violence (Merrill, 1997).

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Furthermore, some reporters do not have an ethics code or simply do not care about the viewers. In the cases of terrorism attacks and the public violence, they present horrible pictures of people fighting and killing one another. When children and family members of the involved see the actions on the television, it horrifies them. These actions make the government block the media houses from airing the events (Freeman, 2007). As the companies also do not need to be in trouble or engaged in unethical practices, they prevent their journalists from reporting on these incidences.

As any other worker, reporters have the ambition to improve the ranking of the organizations for which they work by presenting the most followed news. Moreover, to arouse interest, attract attention, and increase review rates, journalists give unjustified information to the public. To maintain ethical issues and reduce legal issues, media organizations limit these freedoms of speeches of their employees (Russell, 2011).

Distinction between Truth and Truthfulness

According to the journalism code of ethics, every reporter is expected to tell the truth and be truthful. Journalism provides rough drafts about the past, and, therefore, any information about the news should be accurate. News forms the history of the world, thus, telling incorrect information is the same as keeping the wrong history.

Truth and truthfulness are different but related notions. The former is about expounding only accurate facts of the event. In other words, truth requires a journalist to tell the actual findings without altering the information in any way. On the other hand, truthfulness is the act of giving an account not only of the accurate details of the event but also of the situation surrounding it. Truthfulness involves telling every detail surrounding the story. It is achieved through the commitment of both the journalist and the organization. Reporters should present truthful information in a balanced manner to prevent persuading the audience to believe only in their perspective without taking into consideration other sources (Russell, 2011). If the information is not balanced, then the journalist ends up reporting the views of people who have been interviewed. Providing balanced information helps to avoid bias. It also offers a fair representation without basing the argument on certain stereotypes.

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The truth is a vital element of the journalism ethics, which allows reporters to accomplish their responsibilities successfully. Lack of truth leads to inaccurate reporting and may give wrong information to the public, even though the information has been intended for a different purpose. In case of telling the truth, a journalist should be objective rather than subjective. Objectivity means setting standards defining where to collect information and whom to avoid. Reporters who want the truth should set standards defining what they need to research, what to ask, and what not to mention during an interview. Journalists should have an objective about what they want to achieve with regards to the journalists’ code of ethics. Consequently, reporters will select only truthful and credible information (Shapiro, Albanese, & Doyle, 2006).

The lack of truth can ruin the reputation of the organization and even cause unexpected negative reactions from the public. As a result, a journalist should seek information from reliable sources to avoid gathering inaccurate data. The truth also rests on the honesty of reporters because they are tempted to change the actual collected information turning it into inaccurate. In the attempt to achieve truth and truthfulness, journalists should not change a story to suit their interests or the interests of the interviewee. The accuracy of information is sometimes compromised when reporters accept to be corrupted by free gifts from people who want a report or a story to favor them. In this case, journalists should not take gifts in terms of money to safeguard information accuracy (Merrill, 1997).

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Moreover, journalists need to do much research concerning the news before presenting it to the public. Otherwise, reporters may collect inaccurate and incomplete information. Doing enough research enables a journalist to provide balanced information that is free from bias. In some cases, powerful organizations or individuals may decide to provide false information to a reporter. Thus, it is crucial to obtain information from various sources to avoid using such biased information or misinformation. The latter involves overwhelming journalists with inappropriate information and keeping the important details secret. Misinformation is a common strategy used by those in power when they do not want to tell the truth because it may harm them or their interests (Russell, 2011).

Journalists Reporting from a Particular “Point of View”

Journalists are not expected to report from a particular point of view. Every journalist knows the specifics of the work and the responsibilities towards the public. It is the responsibility of reporters to inform and enlighten people without focusing on a particular point of view (Russell, 2011). Journalists are aware that informing the public is the basis for justice and democracy; hence, any information should not be biased. The community has the right to know everything that is happening in the society, whether good or bad. Thus, reporters should provide only updated information that is not misleading to the public.

However, in abnormal situations, journalists can interpret the event from a particular perspective, if it is desired by personal interests or interests of other powerful and influential people. There are factors that influence their duties to provide the right information to the public. They include misinformation, conflict of interest, limited access to information, restricted independence, ethical dilemma, and intimidation (Russell, 2011).

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Nevertheless, it is not normal that journalists report from a particular point of view. In such situations, it means that there are other forces that are manipulating journalists, making them report according to their interests (Russell, 2011). People, who are economically and politically powerful, can use their position to influence the media. In such cases, journalists may be forced to report a story from a particular point of view which is against their wish. Such cases befall those reporters who fail to serve their duties and start following their personal interests. Powerful people have an impact on journalists by offering gifts, advantageous treatment, or money. Once a reporter is manipulated, the masses may never know the truth, as the news and story will lack transparency. Such cases frequently happen with powerful politicians who do not want their unfair deals, such as corruption, to be exposed to the public. It is easy to manipulate the media because the interested parties do not only have the money, but they also have powers leaving journalists with limited options.

It is abnormal that journalists report from a particular point of view because, sometimes, they face restrictive conditions that leave them with no other choice but to depict information as desired by their superiors. Through this strategy, the media are manipulated by restricted access to advertisement revenue and restriction in the accreditation process (Russell, 2011). The media rely on the advertisements, which bring them some money. However, when the commercials are restricted, it becomes a challenge for the media not to comply with the manipulators (Hrynyshyn, 2005).

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Journalists are also forced to report from a particular point of view through intimidation. Those in power may threaten a reporter through death threats, undermining the journalist’s reputation, or filing lawsuits if the information provided to the public does not comply with their needs (Shirky, 2011). As a result, journalists may end up reporting from a particular point of view to save their career. Media companies also comply with those in power if they fear that they might ruin the reputation of the organization.

Misinformation is another reason journalists report a story from a particular point of view. Reporters may be willing to provide genuine and accurate information. However, this objective is ruined when they collect false information from the sources. Journalists also tell a story in a biased way due to the conflict of interests, which occurs when reporters have a personal interest in a story. In that case, they can present a story in their desired manner to gain something from it.

Limited access to information also makes journalists report only what they can access and leave out the rest. Reporters may lack full information about a story due to the denial of interviewees to provide details. Moreover, when those interviewed withhold key information, journalists can release only a part of it. If a person refuses to give the information, then the public fails to get the full insight into the event. Since reporters lack the full information, they reveal to the public only those details which are available, which may result in biased information.

Journalists also report from a particular point of view when faced with an ethical dilemma. Mostly, reporters deal with the challenges of ethical dilemmas in matters concerning justice and confidentiality. There are times when journalists are required to guarantee confidentiality to their sources. This type of dilemma is common while collecting information regarding a crime, especially when the source confesses committing the crime after having been promised confidentiality. In such a scenario, reporters should not expose the source since their welfare will be compromised. Journalists may want to keep their promise regarding confidentiality and, at the same time, they may want to fulfill their duty of serving the public interest by exposing this information. In such a dilemma, reporters should choose what to do by prioritizing the choices. They should weigh the options and choose to take the action that will have more benefits than damage. For instance, if it is a matter of national security, then the journalist will have to report the issue and not keep it confidential.

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There are other cases when a journalist reports an issue from a particular point of view due to restricted independence. Manipulators restrict reporters’ independence by putting them into a conflicting situation, such as giving them privileges. The assimilation of a powerful group into the organization restricts the independence of a media company. While being a part of the external group, a media organization may be convinced to adhere to its demands (Russell, 2011).

Differences between Journalism, Public Information, Propaganda, and Manipulative Discourse

Journalism is the act of gathering information, assessing its credibility, and reporting it to the public by the use of newspapers, magazines, broadcasting on television, and radio. Journalism is also the product obtained from the action. Journalism occupies much smaller space in the media than propaganda, advertising, and other forms of communication. Journalism is perceived as more valuable than propaganda. On the other hand, manipulation discourse is taking control over the information that journalists gather and present to the public. Circumstances and personal interests may force a reporter to present information that is not true or hide the truth from other people. When the media are manipulated, the public gets inaccurate or incomplete information. Manipulative discourse happens when a powerful person or group forces a journalist to report news or story that favors their personal interest. Unlike journalism, propaganda is giving information that is not true to the public. Propaganda is biased and misleading information probably used for a political purpose to promote the publication of misguiding information. Public information is any information coming from the public sector, unlike journalism that comes from the media. Public information is presented in the form of a case, document, a register, or a dossier.

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Journalists should know their rights well and also follow the ethical code of conduct if they want to avoid censorship and propaganda. Therefore, they can refuse to be censored by referring to their rights and the rights of the public (Merrill, 1997). Reporters have the right to enlighten other people and provide accurate information. Therefore, they can challenge propaganda by not accepting to report untruthful information no matter what. If journalists accept to follow the ethical code of conduct, then they cannot be manipulated to report propaganda.

Furthermore, journalists should fight for their freedom of the press (Merrill, 1997). The media have a major guarantee of freedom of speech and, in case of censorship, reporters should fight for it. A journalist who wants to be free from propaganda should develop a standard principle of collecting information. They should be objective, avoid false information, and use credible sources only. As long as reporters are using credible sources, they should collect details from all possible sources to ensure that they obtain complete information (Shapiro et al., 2006).

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