Manish Tewari while addressing a conference on the topics of Freedom of media and ethics stated that, Freedom of the press and journalistic ethics is an important topic today in India — with the word ‘press' encompassing the electronic media also. There should be a serious discussion on the topic. That discussion should include issues of the responsibilities of the press, since the media have become very prominent and very powerful.
What is Media Ethics
The media is playing the role of the mirror which reflects the time and society we live in. Media can make or break one’s image. Because of globalization, a common man is able to know what is happening in the globe sitting at his home. He can understand, analyze, interpret and form an opinion with the help of media. Thus, media has a tremendous impact on society. In such a scenario, the social responsibility of the media becomes more important. But these days sensationalism has become a fashion. News channels and news papers intentionally present information in a way that is intended to excite or shock people. Sensationalism is the biggest drawback of today’s media, a cheap tool of gain TRP. Relatively insignificant news is presented again and again, high lighting not much what actually happened, but what all happen. Sometimes fake news Programs are aired which may be intended as advertising, or comedy and also imaginary, irrelevant and false. Many people see media today more unethical than ever because of their biased blogs, political lies, and appeal to base emotions, one sided presentations and attack on character. Electronic media sometimes broadcast programs which do not provide an objective view. Also it’s not the news but their own personal views are being shown.
In this article our aim is to provide a normative framework for the identification, analysis, and evaluation of the ethical issues that arise specially within media, including new media. “Normative” simply means the general principles that guide and should guide epistemological and ethical conduct. Epistemological conduct generally pertains to matter concerning knowledge and evolves principal of justification, truth and belief. Ethical conduct pertains to matters concerning morality, both private and public, and evolves general principals of harm minimization, and increase for the common good as well as respect for people’s fundamental right.
The explosive growth of both print and electronic media, their ability to shape public opinion, and the fierce competition for TRPs has made the term ‘media ethics’ a mere paradox. The fundamental premise on which the ethics are based theoretically is impartial observation, and not as the observed. But as we see all around us, media is not just an observer but a skewed opinion maker. Moreover, the recent trend has transcended the selling out of media to pure sensationalism. Shamefully, the real issues of real people have got lost somewhere in these blaring headlines and loud pulp fiction known as news. The unending capitalist hunger has also taken its toll on the Indian media in recent years. Practices like paid news (plugging articles or a news bulletin for someone who is advertising with the news publication or channel) is considered normal in the Indian media.
It is high time that media should understand that, the ethics can’t be a set of rules written by someone to be followed by someone. Then the question arises that how a person can learn ethics. There are two answers of this question. Some experts believe that ethics cannot be a subject of a study because it raises questions which cannot be answered clearly. Besides, some disbelievers claim that being familiar with ethical principles and norms does not automatically make a person moral. Another school of thought, which is represented by optimistic supporters of formal ethics education, think that ethics is a subject such as mathematics, physics or history, with its set of problems and unique methods of their solution.
Amid the ongoing debate over the media ethics ,the Parliamentary committee on Information and Broadcasting on 15th July 2013 discussed the recommendations of Leveson Committee report, which suggested setting up of a strong and independent media regulator in the UK, and its relevance and implications in the Indian context. The Leveson Committee report was brought out by a committee led by Justice Brian Leveson after the 'News of the World' phone hacking scandal in the UK. The 2000-page report had pitched for an independent and strong media regulator. The meeting of the Consultative Committee on Information and Broadcasting was chaired by I&B minister Manish Tewari and attended by several MPs. The members were given a presentation on the Leveson Committee report and they discussed whether in India we can follow these norms.
Leveson committee report
The British Government in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, set up a committee, led by Justice Brian Leveson to enquire into the ‘culture, practice and ethics’ of the press, including the media’s relations with politicians and the police. The panel’s 2,000-page report had slammed the media for “sensationalism” and recommended a strong and independent regulator. Let’s see the recommendation of the committee.
Regulatory Body: An independent and autonomous regulatory body should be established for the media. The regulatory body should take an active role in promoting high standards, including having the power to investigate serious breaches and sanction newspapers.
The regulatory body should be backed by legislation designed to assess whether it is doing its job properly. The legislation would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press. An arbitration system should be created through which people who say they have been victims of the press can seek redress without having to go through the courts. Newspapers that refuse to join the new body could face direct regulation by media watchdog.
The body should not recruit any current journalists, the government and commercial concerns, and not include any serving editors, government members or MPs. The body should consider encouraging the press to be as transparent as possible in relation to sources for its stories, if the information is in the public domain. A whistle-blowing hotline should be established for journalists who feel under pressure to do unethical things.
Legislation: The industry should set up and organise the watchdog, but new legislation should "place an explicit duty on the government to uphold and protect the freedom of the press".
Fines: The watchdog would be able to fine press organisations that breach its code by as as much as one per cent of their turnover with a maximum fine of £1 million.
Speed: The new watchdog should be able to arbitrate civil legal claims against the press. The process should be a "fair, quick and inexpensive".
No obligation: Membership of the new body would not be a legal obligation. But any newspaper that opts out would not benefit from the reduced legal fees enjoyed by members of the new arbitration service.
Phone hacking: There are no findings on any individual in the report, but Lord Leveson is not convinced phone hacking was confined to one or two individuals.
Havoc: The damage caused by "a recklessness in prioritising sensational stories" has damaged people like the Dowlers and the McCanns.
Fame: Celebrities have a right to privacy, too. Leveson found "ample evidence" that parts of the press decided actors, footballers, writers and pop stars were "fair game, public property with little if any entitlement to any sort of private life or respect for dignity". He adds: "Their families, including their children, are pursued and important personal moments are destroyed."
Covert surveillance: The press has been willing to use covert surveillance, blagging and deception to get stories in cases where it is difficult to see any public interest.
Complaints: Those who seek to complain about newspaper coverage of their affairs are rarely taken seriously enough. Leveson found "a cultural tendency within parts of the press vigorously to resist or dismiss complainants almost as a matter of course".
Police: There is a perception that senior Met officers were "too close" to News International, which was "entirely understandable" given police actions and decision-making and the extent of hospitality police officers received from journalists. "Poor decisions, poorly executed, all came together to contribute to the perception." The Met's decision not to reopen the criminal inquiry into phone-hacking was "incredibly swift" and resulted in a "defensive mindset".
With our Broadcast Bill to regulate the media pending since 1997, can we hope to follow media ethics as enshrined in the Leveson Report is a moot question. We can only hope and rely on the next government after the elections as now, every political party needs media support, good or bad.