A CODE OF ETHICSWhat are some concrete “rules of honour” for the newspapers to observe in building a stronger, cleaner press? Each newspaper will have its own “code of ethics” either written or unwritten. Freedom of the press is very essential if the press has to play a significant and constructive role in the life of a nation, especially in a democratic society. Unless the press itself enjoys freedom, how can it become the defender and protector of
the rights and liberties of the citizens? A free press signifies an open society where decisions are made according to democratic traditions and not according to the dictates of one person. The press can only perform its sacred duties of the fourth estate if it is free and independent in reporting its views and news.
Freedom Should Not Be Used As A Licence :
Like all other freedoms, freedom of the press should also not be used as a licence. It should not be misused to create a situation of the law of the jungle. The press should observe certain self-imposed limitations on itself, so that instead of publishing views, detrimental to the interests of the nation, it strengthens the national unity, upholds the laws of the land and contributes towards the emotional integration of the country. For
example, howsoever free the press may be, it cannot be allowed the freedom to call in question the integrity of the judges of the Courts, High Courts and the Supreme Court or to defame them. It cannot be allowed the licence to incite communal riots in the country. No state can grant such unlimited freedom to the press by which law and order in the country is endangered.
Balanced View :
The press should also not be afraid of upholding and supporting a just and righteous cause, because it may antagonise the governmental machinery or some influential interests. The press should also give a balanced view of the things and happenings, so that the people can be helped in the formation of a healthy public opinion and correct perspective of the events. The press can play havocs by suppressing a news, or giving it an importance out of all proportions. Our constitution has recognised the freedom of expression and speech of the citizens, which is the basis of the freedom of the press.
There is no doubt that censorship on the press violates the freedom of speech and expression of the citizens. It also violates the citizens’ right to free flow of information. Censorship cannot be justified except in times of war or internal insurrection. Freedom of the press is, in fact, the symbol of dignity and freedom of man. However, as already stated, like other freedoms, freedom of the press should also not be used as a licence.
Ethics in Journalism :
Imagine if there was no law and ethic in the world. What happened? Can civilization and democracy, even life is possible without codes, laws, or ethics? Certainly not. Right to know, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are conditional. If laws and ethics are for everyone, then, why not for journalists and media. Every constitution of the world guarantees freedom of press and freedom of speech, but conditionally.
No Written Code of Ethics :
Unfortunately, we have no written code of ethics in journalism. But some unwritten ethics and written laws may be followed. First we discuss some ethics, vital for every journalist.
Our society, customs, norms and ethics are much different from those of others. Obscenity may be allowed in western countries or elsewhere but not in our country. Journalists must avoid every item bearing obscenity. Obscenity may be found in pictures or written words.
Although the ethics and constitutions prohibit censorship as such, the courts have consistently held that obscenity, indecency, blasphemy, and profanity are not privileges of speech and press. Obscenity is punishable by the laws of several countries.
Probably the best test of obscenity is whether the writing or picture in question tends to corrupt or debase the mind and morals of those who read or see it; especially whether such material adversely affects the morals of young and uncritical persons who may have access to it.
Indeed, the definition of obscenity varies with different cultures, age or professional groups, or with the times within a given culture. A picture may not be obscene to an artist or biologist, but it may be suggestive to a child. Obscenity is regulated not only by legislation, but perhaps more effectively by the written and unwritten codes.
Codes of Ethics :
Codes of ethics have been developed at all levels-from the code adopted by the individual newspaper to those adopted by nation-wide associations.