Thursday, September 30, 2010

Journalism: Rights and Responsibilities

On the morning of July 7, 2005, three bombs exploded on three London Underground trains, and a fourth exploded an hour later on a double-decker bus. 52 people were killed and around 700 were injured.

Six hours after the terror-attack, BBC counted more than 1,000 photographs, 20 video clips, 4,000 text messages, and 20,000 e-mails – all sent in by citizens. New technology had enabled citizens to be players in the news and become partners of the media in a time of crisis.

Director of the news division, Richard Sambrook, wrote:
As we open up to contributions from the public, we must do so in a way that is consistent with our editorial values. However, I believe that truth, accuracy, impartiality and diversity of opinion are strengthened by being open to a wider range of opinion and perspective, brought to us through the knowledge and understanding of our audience.

Rights and Responsibilities

What should we as citizens expect from journalists and news organizations? And, what should we do if we believe we are not getting it? The elements of journalism are a citizens’ bill of rights as much as they are journalist’s bill of responsibilities.

Citizens should expect journalists to be aware of our basic dilemma: we have a need for knowledge of important issues in our community, but we lack the means to access most of this information.

Truth: Citizens should expect that newspeople pursue the truth.

Loyalty: Citizens should expect newspeople to serve the interests of the people.

Monitoring: Citizens should expect newspeople to monitor the most important institutions and centers of power, and focus resources on the major issues.

Forum: Citizens should expect newspeople to create several channels through which they may interact with them (e.g. e-mail) and other concerned citizens (e.g. chat room).

Proportionality: Citizens should expect the news to reflect the true nature of threats to their community, as well as those aspects of that are functioning well, so that they can make sound and well-informed decisions about the issues that touch their lives.

Citizens have a responsibility to set aside their prejudice and judge the work of journalists on the basis of whether it contributes to their ability to take an informed part in shaping their society

Citizens have an obligation to approach the news with an open mind and not just a desire that the news reinforce existing opinion, but be willing to accept new facts and examine new points of view. Citizens should help journalists if they can, so that important news can see the light of day. Citizens have a responsibility to show up at the public forum and be active.

The marketplace fails if we as citizens are passive, willing to put up with a diminishing product. News should not only engage us but also challenge us and make us think

What do we do if our rights are not met? We should contact the relevant news organization or journalist and tell them our thoughts. But, any criticism should be constructive, as advice or information, rather than condemnation. Also, praise are in order if journalists or news organizations does something good.

Journalists and news organizations should listen and engage in dialogue. So, if the complaint is ignored, it should be offered again through more than one means and other citizens be made aware of it. If the criticism is still being ignored, then withhold your business: drop the subscription or stop watching. Write a clear explanation of why you have done so and send it to the editor and media critics, and make it public any way you can.

Kovach, B. & Rosenstiel, T. (2007). The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect.

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