Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Are you an ethical journalist?

One of the most important assets of a journalist is their reputation. Therefore it is very important that journalists adhere to their range of rights and responsibilities in order to behave ethically and instill the public's trust. However, journalists come under pressure by many important groups in society, which may affect their ability and judgment in acting morally and ethically.
Click here to view this picture online and for more information about the pressures facing journalists

The thing is, journalists have no legal rights beyond those of an ordinary citizen (Pearson, in Tapsall & Varley, 2008, p. 199). However, they are sometimes awarded some special privileges such as access to court documents, withholding the name of a source, etc. Yet, we are given these privileges with the "proviso" that they are not abused and that we continue to perform our roles as journalists responsibly (Pearson, 2008, p. 200). If we abuse these privileges and perform irresponsibly, we will ultimately have an issue with the law and with our accountability and reputation as journalists. With this, comes the idea that no one will buy our papers, hence, we will find it increasingly difficult to find employers. The 'public interest' expression comes into this debate quite interestingly. Differentiate between what is really in the public interest and what the public may be interested in, and there shouldn't be a problem. It's when these lines are blurred that tension may arise. 

It is also important for journalists, especially us, budding young hopefuls, to make themselves familiar with certain terms applicable to these ideas. For example, 'sub judice', meaning 'under a judge, and referring to interfering with an individual's right to a fair trial, Freedom of information (FOI) legislation (to learn more about FOI click here) and Defamation law (to view more click here) (Pearson, 2008, p. 200-211).

For any young journalists, like ourselves, moving into the industry, it might be a good idea to quickly watch this clip, which points out some of the major ethical areas young journalists may struggle with in the future. 


Kenyan, A. & Majoribanks, T. 2007. Responsible Journalism: Defamation Law and News Production in Australia, The US and The UK, accessed 23rd September 2010,

Tapsall, S. & Varley, C.  2008. 'A Question of Legality', Journalism: Theory in Practice, Chap. 13, Oxford University Press: Melbourne.

The Australian Press Council. 2004. 'The urgent need for reform of Freedom of Information in Australia',
The Right to Know Conference, accessed 23rd September 2010,
The News Manual. 2008. 'Pressures on Journalists', The News Manual, Chap. 58, accessed 23rd September 2010,

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