Media: Friend or Foe?

Written by Mitchell Abram


These are really, really dishonest people. And they are bad people.

I think it’s fair to say that Donald Trump isn’t a fan of the media. Let’s talk about that. Despite Trump and his supporters continually targeting their fury towards the media, the integral duty of journalists is not to be an “enemy of the people” as Trump claims. Nor is it to be an enemy of politicians. It’s something many people, even some journalists themselves, seem to have forgotten. So just what is the job of a journalist?

It’s a simply answer really. Journalists essentially mediate society; we tell the people what they need to know, but we also hold those in charge of the people accountable. It’s power to the people; by the people.

The core values of journalism are; honesty, fairness, independence and respect for the rights of others. “Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts.” They’re not interchangeable; you can’t have one without the others; it’s all or nothing. Of course, you can still be a journalist and not be fair, balanced or accurate; but you’re not a good, ethical journalist, at least not in our society. To be fair, balanced and accurate means you must be objective and impartial. While true objectivity is impossible, we certainly must try out best to uphold those values. I even made a separate Twitter account for work; so I could share my work from a profile that hopefully seemed less bias and subjective than my personal account. But some of the things I re-tweeted conveyed my bias or opinions; and it’s not hard to find my personal account to see my not-journalist persona. The important thing is that we can try

Let’s look at the so called ‘gagging’ of ABC staff over the same sex marriage debate. It caused a bit of a stir online; some people saying that staff were being gagged, others worried it meant ABC did not support same-sex marriage. The email was simply a reminder to journalists they have a duty to report the news but that they need to remain impartial in doing so.

It is very important that we are impartial and that all perspectives are given a fair hearing and treated with respect by the ABC…

It was an acknowledgement that it is an incredibly polarising issue, with approximately “40% of the population opposing the change”. There is a very real danger that the inevitable media hype the postal vote could cause undue harm. Even the kind of language used in media coverage has the potential to cause harm. Not everyone believes same-sex couples should have the right to marry (of which they have a right to think that and/or to express that should they so choose); therefore ‘marriage-equality’ might unintentionally offend people. The word ‘gay’ has evolved meaning over time and in recent times has been used an insult by some people; so it’s fair to think ‘gay marriage’ is an inherently negative sentiment. “We should not offend our audiences without editorial justification,” the email goes on to say. And that is exactly the point of the email, it’s about trying to avoid offending people; obviously in this instance that’s difficult to avoid but what’s important is that journalists try to minimise the harm they cause.

ABC staff gagged over marriage equality

But let’s look on the flip-side; are there downsides to not having an opinion? Let’s ask Donald Trump.

Following the events of Charlottesville, the President’s lack of comment enraged a large portion of the American population; and his refusal to lay the blame on one side exacerbated the problem. Now it’s important to remember that journalists are not politicians- but we are people. Your job as a journalist to be as unbiased as humanly possible, to report the facts for what they are and not what you think they are. But as a person with thoughts and feelings; the freedom to express these thoughts is an integral right of our society. It can be difficult to manage but a balance between your work and the rest of your life is just as important as your work itself. It would be incredibly naïve to think a journalist has no personal opinions. A journalist without a personal opinion is either incredibly uniformed or there could be something inherently wrong with them as a person.

So in parting; remember as a journalist to stay as impartial as possible while reporting; but as a person remember to stay true to yourself. Opinion and interest is what makes something newsworthy; if it’s not of interest then it’s not important. Everybody can be a reporter, but not everyone can be a journalist. Your commitment to impartiality is what sets you apart as a journalist; it’s almost another persona. So keep the journalist detached from the stories you do, but don’t lose touch of the real you.

About the author

Mitchell Abram

Darwin, NT born and bred.
3rd Year Journalism Student at RMIT.
Journalist at ABC Darwin.
Enjoyer of film, television and video games.