Journalistic ethics on the line in New Zealand


Have you ever read a by a (supposedly)reputable media source about something and wondered why on Earth the media is paying attention to the story? What about one where the story in question crosses or blurs the line between good and bad journalistic ethics?

Sometimes there are news stories that simply should not go to print, however much the journalist who wrote the article/s in question might wish. Some of these stories are simply premature and are clearly missing the full facts, leading to a half baked story that is about as nice as half baked bread. Some are proper stories that have been deliberately edited to paint a much worse picture than is the case or to deliberately tar a particular person, group or organization. Then there are some, such as those printed by the former News of the World, in Britain which abruptly closed in 2011 because it was caught in a scandal where the private e-mails and phones of unsuspecting people had been hacked into. The scandal reached all the way into the Prime Ministers office.

In 2014 an interesting press release from Massey University showed how journalists in New Zealand thought they should conduct themselves. Nearly all for example thought they should abide by a code of ethics, and that accepting money from sources, altering phone data or fabricating quotes can never be justified.

A few years ago, there was a potential suicide in Auckland where a man who had suicidal thoughts was considering jumping from the roof of a multi story building. A crowd had gathered to watch and there was keen interest on the Stuff media website on Facebook and on its own website, with many people commenting. Whilst most were really concerned for the well being of the man and hoping that the police would be able to talk him into coming down safely, there were – quite horrifyingly – a few who were telling him to jump. When I saw these comments I was horrified. I wondered if any of the mans family or friends were watching and thinking how sick they must be feeling to know there are people wanting him to commit suicide. I started pressuring Stuff by mentioning them in comments as did several others to take it down, and that it would really bad journalistic ethics to cover a suicide and give such revolting commentary air time. Eventually they relented and took the story down with a note to viewers as to the reasons.

Contrast that with Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater, who decided to defy a Court order not to publish the name of a convicted offender and ended up being charged with contempt of the Courts. Mr Slater was unrepentant. Last year Mr Slater was found in contempt of the Court for failing to ensure Court orders regarding the use of information taking from a businessman’s blog. Mr Slater had to pay a $1,500 fine for the 2015 case.

 

I generally prefer that the media be left alone to get on with their job as the fourth estate of uncovering the real stories in New Zealand and not manufacturing them. Infotainment is beyond the scope of this post, but I get the sinking feeling that somedays because of the human interest factor, it blurs the boundary lines to a dangerous extent. The media need to learn where these boundaries are and abide by them, not only for the sake of the public at large, but their journalistic credibility as well.

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