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Keeping ethics, standards and moral conduct at the forefront
Former International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Secretary General- Aidan White believes that journalists need more training, be more informed and be knowledgeable of the importance of ethics if they are stay abreast of sweeping changes engulfing the communication and information sector globally.
“I hope to see much more discussion about the need to bring ethics and the question of standards and moral conduct of journalists into the debate, it’s going to be extremely important. “
He was facilitating a seminar titled ‘Keeping the Faith: Ethical Journalism in a World of Conflict and Crisis’ in Beirut, Lebanon on the occasion of the 16th International Freedom of Expression (IFEX) General Meeting.
The seminar noted that the news agenda in 2011 is full of challenges for journalists- religious rivalries, an Arab spring, race hatred on the march in Europe, drug- fuelled conflicts across Central Asia, poverty and social dislocation across much of Africa and Asia.
IFEX states that with so many threats on all sides there is an urgent need to reinforce moral values in journalism and to encourage transparent and responsible media that will continue to play pivotal role in shaping norms in society.
White has contributed to and written books on ethical journalism during his term with IFJ.
He said this is a time of more freedom of expression than ever before by many stakeholders but “I’m a firm believer still in the need for journalism because journalism is distinct, distinct form of expression, distinct because the very name journalist is framed in a set of values.
“It’s the notion that when you communicate information, whatever platform you use, you do so on the basis of a certain set of values.
“We know what they are- basically respect the truth, to be independent, to make sure that we respect our audience and do no harm, the aim is to be accountable.
“To make ourselves accountable to what we do, this is what makes journalism and journalists distinct.
“This is why journalism has in the past has been a force for social progress. Journalism has shaped norms in society. And that capacity for journalism to be a good contributor to society and to democracy is fundamental,” White said.
The debate as he put it focused on the defense of right, protection of human rights and the need for quality of information in society.
The need for people to have access to useful, reliable, truthful, honest information, without it democracies cannot function.
He highlighted several issues:
1) How to protect quality journalism and ethical journalism in a world of corruption and political intrigue and threats
2) How to provide systems of media accountability which build public confidence and faith in journalism and in media systems
3) How to extend the notion of values and standards to all of the communications community now, not only those who are employed in traditional media but all of the communications systems.
These he said were important questions and absolutely vital in defining and improving the relationship in the defense of human rights, freedom of expression and building up a culture of quality communication and information.
White told the gathering that codes of conducts say different things in different countries but actually they all say the same thing “tell the truth as you know it.
“Be independent. Don’t be a spokesperson for the ministry of information or the political party. Be yourself, have your own conscience, be respectful of the community. Be aware of the damage that could be done by the word and images that you use and make yourself accountable.
“That is to say, I’m a journalist, I’m proud of what I do, I’m ready to answer for what I do. “
In order for this to be made meaningful he quips that the codes have to be taken off the wall and put inside people and converted into daily practice in the way that journalists and media operate.
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