Public interest, accuracy and diversity of opinion are amongst the editorial values that underpin ethical journalism. They are becoming increasingly fundamental in the era of social media, which allows for the public to scrutinise the media at the touch of a keyboard.
The media environment has changed drastically over the past decade, prompting journalists to meet the ethical standards of the profession. Reporting on matters of the public interest is a civic responsibility of the press. Although it is an integral principle of the practice, the notion of public interest is not universally defined. Each news organisations with varying objectives may interpret this term differently. Stories that raise questions about public interest may deal with the privacy matters, exposure of corrupt governments and politicians, as well as censorship in many countries. According to The BBC News, “it (the notion of public interest) can be used to justify the apparently unjustifiable”. Today, journalists must be able to distinguish between what is in the public interest, verses what the public is interested in.
Information is becoming increasingly easier to share through social media platforms. Journalists need to ensure that their verifiable facts are correct, as well as accuracy when reporting opinions expressed by others. Publishing misleading information online cannot be erased and can be shared at a faster rate than ever before. Not only could this damage an individual’s reputation, but undermine the trust of the whole organisation. The evolution of social networking has presented journalists with unprecedented demands of speed and accuracy. These conflicting principles are a source of great pressure as information can be spread rapidly through the internet. Journalists now need to compete for the millennial audiences who consume their news solely through social media, whilst maintaining the highest level of accuracy and truth.
Finally, impartiality is about providing a comprehensive and balanced view. This principle requires a journalist to actively research and report both sides of a story. In a country where cultural diversity is at an all-time high, journalists must be sure to report on political, racial and religious issues with total impartiality, excluding any preconceived bias. This is fundamental in allowing the diversity to enrich the lives of the growing population. It has been important for me, as a student, to note that the notion of impartial journalism does not rule out reporting issues that are seen to be controversial. Nor does it prohibit expressing a judgment if it is fair, researched and based on solid facts.