The question of ethics and ethical standards in journalism practice has been one of the most debated at all fora of academic discourse. In fact, settling on the definition and dimensions of ethics in journalism has been battered beyond the skin right to the marrow.
The special syndicate session on journalism ethics during this year’s WJEC/Africa Highway Conference held at Rhodes University and hosted by the Africa Media Matrix was no exception. Led in discussions by Proffesor Kwame Karikari, the syndicate members tried to refresh on the definition of ‘ethics’ which ended on nothing but moral virtues on what is right or wrong; which needed to be done or not, written or not, published or not.
The need to find out what journalistic ethical behaviours were resonated on the above which, in deed, formed behavioural guide to journalistic practice world-wide. The common areas of interest bordered on institutionally operative environments from where a journalist practised. What are the political, socio-cultural and economic underpinnings within a given environment?
Of importance were ethical concerns on reporting on children and vulnerable groups such as people living with HIV/AIDS [PLWHAs]. Because children were innocent and ignorant, therefore meant seeking for parental consent in cases considered sensitive.
On the part of vulnerable groups, it was advised to report with circumspection since it was necessary not to compound the state of stigma and discrimination they already suffered.
The syndicate group also considered the linkage between products of j-institutions and industry. The question of ‘who needed who?’ was much of a dilemma in the sense that whilst journalists were trained to uphold moral values within the context of existing code on ethics [or code of conduct as existed in some countries], the demands of some owners of the industry usually questioned moral standards put out by some practitioners. The editorial policies, political atmosphere, and oftentimes the economic enticements posed challenges that called to test what was right to be done.
Between the law and thics, the dilemma was overwhelming. The syndicate group was not far from the reality that what could be morally justified might be unlawful, which was vice versally true.
From the point of view of the syndicate group, these reflections went to emphasize the need for a course syllabus that would dare come out with the much-needed tools for teaching ethics with the view to ensuring that, between what the students were taught and how they were expected to cope up with the real world of work, the bridge would have been narrowed to the thinnest possible. And that was exactly what the syndicate group on Journalism Ethics did.