The quest for sound ethical journalism
When Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi addressed the ninth annual conference of the Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism a few weeks ago he encouraged both new and seasoned journalists to pursue the truth rather than sensationalism and to focus on news rather than personalities. He also stressed the need for ethical journalism.
On Thursday, the Institute of Maltese Journalists (IĠM) announced that Kevin Aquilina, a lawyer by professional and a former CEO of the Malta Broadcasting Authority (MBA), has been appointed chairman of the Press Ethics Commission (PEC), succeeding Chief Justice Emeritus Giuseppe Mifsud Bonnici.
The IĠM also announced that the PEC would be recommending changes to the institute's code of ethics. Perhaps it should also study the possibility of finding a way of having one single code of ethics for all journalists in Malta. The MBA has its own as also do a number of media houses.
Dr Aquilina, his PEC, the IĠM and indeed every single journalist worth his/her salt will certainly agree with Dr Gonzi that ethical journalism is a must.
Malta needs good journalists if the country is to make further developments in mature political analyses and judgment. But, as the Prime Minister contended, there are structural determinants that come into play in ensuring good journalism. It is not just important to provide training for every individual who desires to take journalism in a spirit of service to society. For good journalism to happen, Malta needs the institutional environment that supports such a profession.
Journalists are mainly there to ensure society is equipped with that sort of knowledge that allows it to make informed decisions. They also serve to keep the Executive on their toes. Propaganda is not part of their role and neither should they be promoting exclusion or disrespect.
Alas, the involvement of the political parties in the media, including, unfortunately, their hold on the MBA, means they have the means to depict the world as a simultaneous oxymoronic co-existence of heaven and hell. Worse still, some of the so-called journalists they employ become participatory in such antics. The end result is that the public is not being served with news that allows for respect of individual citizens and consent building.
In the case of broadcasting, the Constitution demands balance and impartiality. When this clause was inserted, it obviously referred to the state broadcasting system that existed then, which was the only medium on the airwaves. With the introduction of broadcasting pluralism, the MBA interpreted this mandate in a collective fashion. One would be able to get a cumulative balanced view of the local situation if one were to attend to all the news bulletins of the different news sources. Such a decision, besides going against professional journalistic work, made sure that the media be itself a victim and, furthermore, reinforces the local tendency at polarising everyone and everything.
At a time when the public is being inundated with all kinds of messages, the issue of credibility becomes ever more essential. For political parties, the credibility issue is even more critical because they know that only influencing the undecided voter, ultimately carry the sway.
And a crucial ingredient that ensures credibility is sound ethical behaviour, which is what Dr Gonzi seems to be after and what the PEC under Dr Aquilina will surely pursue vigorously.