Ethics indispensable in journalism

- Fr. Roy Cimagala -

I’m happy to note that a certain rise of interest in ethics in journalism is taking place in many parts of the world today. I just hope and pray that the same thing would also happen here in our own country.

This surge of interest can be evidenced by the growth of schools adopting and developing this subject in their curricula. Also conferences about this topic are spreading.

It seems more people are realizing how united ethics is in the search and presentation of truth as is the case of the dynamic, complex world of journalism. They now understand more keenly that truth is not simply a matter of showing facts. Other important considerations have to be made

There’s the angle of context and perspective that has to be factored in. The motivation and intention also has to be clarified. All these already require ever deeper moorings and broader vision of things.

Many people now are aware that journalism cannot be stuck with the knee-jerk reactions, shoehorned into catchy sound bytes, slogans and other forms of gimmickry and sensationalism.

More and more people are now convinced that while journalism is always on the heels of events and has to report things quickly, neither should it lose sight of the bigger picture and of the bigger if not the whole truth.

Some observers have termed this concern as complementing the fast news with slow news. That is to say, the initial, breaking news should be followed by more in-depth analyses and commentaries of the issues involved.

The current dynamic developments of information technology have not only increased the hunger for instant news. They also have stirred the desire for more opinion and thought pieces if only to give some element of balance, fairness, resolution and answer to the open questions.

Journalism has to deliver facts and data with greater sensitivity to human needs and dignity. It just cannot play around with them, easily falling into the manipulative hands of some users and readers’ biases.

More than merely informing, journalism has to deliver the truth in charity. It has to realize that objective truth is not a frozen truth. It is a living truth to be dealt with accordingly.

In that recent media coverage about scandals in the Church involving a few clerics in sexual abuse cases, the perception now is that the accusations were made more to bash the Pope in particular than to exact justice.

How else can one explain the one-sided attacks on the Church on this issue when the same thing happens even in far worse proportions in other sectors of society, and the Church complainants are quiet about them?

This is where ethics in journalism comes in. It precisely takes care of this delicate and complex aspect of journalism where the facts and data are presented always in the context of justice and charity.

Ethics does this, a Church official once said, “by encouraging everyone to be conscious of their dignity, to enter into the thoughts and feelings of others, to cultivate a sense of mutual responsibility and to grow in personal freedom, in respect of others’ freedom, and in the capacity for dialogue.”

This is a most tricky challenge. Ethics in journalism cannot just rely purely on ethical theories derived from philosophy, jurisprudence and theology. These obviously are indispensable, but it has to be crafted also from the very experiences of the practitioners themselves.

These experiences ground the abstract ethical theories. They make ethics more realistic, more practical, more immediately felt, and not just a set of rules and regulations or platitudes.

Nowadays, any effort to develop this ethics in journalism has to contend with formidable challenges. It has to examine the many ideological ethical doctrines to see where they are right, where they are wrong, where they can be helpful or dangerous.

Among these ethical doctrines affecting the world of journalism today are: utilitarianism (the end justifies the means), positivism (what is legal is ethical), emotivism (our feelings can tell us what is right and wrong), or relativism (there are no absolutes in the area of ethics).

Lastly, any effort to develop ethics in journalism should realize that more than coming up with relevant principles and doctrine, what it involves is the proper formation of the character of the persons involved.

Ethics cannot just be a classroom activity or an intellectual affair. It has to enter into the spiritual life of the persons, since that is how genuine integrity, not its caricatures, is formed and reinforced.

* * *

Email: [email protected]








  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with