In countries where the media are fighting for survival amid economic pressures or political turmoil, it would be easy to put journalism ethics on the back burner.
But in Guatemala, where reporters are often poorly paid, bribed and threatened, a growing coalition is working to place ethics front and center.
Visiting Guatemala to talk ethics with journalists and educators there reaffirmed journalism educator Stephen J. A. Ward’s belief in the importance of ethics, he wrote in a blog post on PBS Mediashift.
Ward shared his ideas about why ethics matter in Guatemala—and in other countries with embattled media:
“We are acquainted with general reasons for media ethics. It encourages the responsible use of the freedom to publish. It encourages a more professional media that is aware of its social role and its capacity to help or harm.
In countries like Guatemala, where media reform is on the agenda, there are additional practical reasons to insert ethics into the mix.
First, journalists need clear ethical aims and principles to define and guide their movement, to justify their demands on government, and to criticize corrupt media practices.
Second, reformers need to articulate what they stand for, and they need to justify their ideas to the public. Journalists must explain how their calls for reform are not merely self-interested, partisan complaints. Reformers must show how their ideas would promote a healthy public sphere and are linked to the goals of other reform groups, such as human rights coalitions.
Otherwise, the public will dismiss journalistic initiatives, such as better freedom of information laws, as motivated by a prurient desire to report the private lives of individuals. This justification will rely ultimately on ethical reasoning about the value of a free press, why journalists should be independent, and the link between media and democracy.
Third, ethics needs to be part of journalism training and education programs so as to change the consciousness of the next generation of Guatemalan journalists, to inspire them with a larger vision of journalism.”
Read the full post on MediaShift.
Stephen J. A. Ward is director of the Center for Journalism Ethics in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the founding chair of the Canadian Association of Journalists' (CAJ) ethics advisory committee and former director of UBC's Graduate School of Journalism's in Vancouver, B.C.
This article first appeared on the site of IJNet’s partner, PBS MediaShift, a site which tracks how new media -- from weblogs to podcasts to citizen journalism -- are changing society and culture. It is excerpted and translated on IJNet with persmission.