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The ethics and agenda of Journalism
Information is the unmeasured currency of the 21st century. The words we consume affect our beliefs and views, our moods, thoughts and actions. How powerful then, in this post-modern age of 24/7 information, are those who report the news to millions?
Recent years have seen much sand being kicked in the air over the investigative and reporting tactics and practices of the media, but we cannot delude ourselves that the only questionable or concerning activities the media are guilty of have been brought to light. This is a corporate industry, not charity. People own the news, and people are making money from selling us the news. Profit is the core value of news organisations - not ethics and not objectivity – and every day we can see the consequences of this flawed power structure in the poor quality of journalism presented by the mainstream media as news.
The internal politics of journalism in the UK is something of which we should all be increasingly aware of and take an active interest in. The media is a massive influence on our culture, and because it has the regular attention of so many, it can provide a powerful platform for abuse.
Our objective with Outlaw Journalism is to provide fair and just analysis of news stories featured daily in mainstream print media.
The Sun is the biggest selling daily newspaper in Britain. It sells just under 2.5 million copies every day. However the content is devoid of quality analysis or information. News articles are laced with opinion and sold with sensationalism, while the regular Page 3 feature is typical of its antifeminist position on social issues.
Hard news stories such as the Hillsborough disaster have been distorted into smear campaigns and other important issues, such as the famine in South Sudan, have gone unreported in favour of features that cash in on celebrity culture.
Indeed, not just The Sun is guilty of poor journalism. Many red-top tabloids contain as much emptiness within their pages, the Daily Sport and the Daily Star being further examples cut from the same overtly right-wing rag featuring little content of any value.
Broadsheets and Berliners
Broadsheets and Berliners – referential to the physical format the newspaper is printed in – take the journalistic aspect much more seriously. They are culturally considered credible papers and feature the views of prominent columnists as diverse as Peter Hitchens and Russell Brand. The quality of writing is a selling point for these newspapers. However, they still contain deep seated failings that negate good journalistic ethics.
The biggest-selling Berliner is the Daily Mail. It is a right-wing newspaper and reflects similar antifeminist attitudes to the tabloid press, albeit in a less explicit manner. The TV & Showbiz section, features mostly women in the public eye and critiques their fashion and beauty, even if it is irrelevant to their role.
Popular digital commentators often highlight these issues and Russell Brand for example has claimed in his video blog, The Trews, that the Daily Mail adopts a critical stance on sexuality only as an excuse to include such content within its pages as a titillating selling point. In a similar fashion, the paper has expressed outspoken, at times, hysterical negative views on subjects such as public spending, immigration, Islam and alternative subculture, portraying each as dangerous threats that are a danger to families or the traditional, conservative way of life. By playing on people’s emotions – fear, outrage and even lust – the Daily Mail creates content that will catch attention, at the expense of truth.
The Guardian - a liberal, left-leaning broadsheet – is not exempt from criticism. Like any other corporate owned newspaper, its primary objective is to generate profit, a goal which is of course in conflict with true left-wing politics. As such, The Guardian could be better described as a safe and centralist newspaper, supporting the moral high ground in it’s news articles – splendidly, with regards to its coverage on Edward Snowden – while committing similar sins to the right-wing press: glorifying celebrity culture and promoting sponsors.
Increasingly common, are the sight of free newspapers on our daily commutes. The most widely dispersed publication is The Metro, which is freely available on most public transport routes in several UK cities.
The Metro is owned by the DMG Media Group, which also own the Daily Mail. As such, The Metro acts as a stripped-down, promotional copy for The Daily Mail – normalising the format and style - rather than a stand alone publication in its own right.
Other free newspapers have been less than successful. The Daily Record introduced one in 2008 in Glasgow and Edinburgh, only to cancel the paper after 6 months. However newspapers continue to seek ways of increasing their reach and for example have exploited the trends in mobile technology. Three out of ten mobile phones sold in 2011 were smartphones and the growth in this market has allowed newspapers to create free news apps as promotional tools without having to pay for the cost of printing.
Why Journalistic Ethics are important
If 2.5 million people are relying on The Sun newspaper as their main source of news, what benefits are being obtained if the information contained inside is so poor? “Education”, said the late Nelson Mandela “is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and in this modern age where information is claimed to be at saturation point, we need gatekeepers more than ever.
We need journalists to tell the truth set apart from Twitter rumours, not retweet them. We need journalists to hold authority figures to account and not accept holidays from them. A fair democracy needs fair journalism. People need to be informed of what’s going on. By neglecting that duty, there will be no education and the population of our country will remain uninformed and blinkered by the marketing strategies and bravado currently lining newspapers.
Nelson Mandela went on to say that “Education is a primary role of journalists.” The words we consume affect our beliefs and views, our moods, thoughts and actions. As important as it is that our political and social leaders are held to account, so must the ethics and agenda of journalism in the mainstream.
With this blog, we will feature the headlines and hot topics of the day, subtract the spin and strip away the corporate agenda to reveal the nature behind each splash.
We will measure the objectivity of each article through use of language, facts and evidence against the context of the wider social and political landscape.
Our aim is to reveal what each story really means by running the story with the hope that you, also, will start to question the authority of what you are reading in the press.
The financial implications of press libel
Newspaper libel is a very topical subject and one that the press seem to run into on a regular and consistent basis. Libel and slander are legal remedies to counteract instances of defamation of someone’s character. Defamation has a variety of definitions but basically means some action that damages an individual’s reputation. Libel is defamation by the written word while slander is by the spoken word.
There seems to be an ongoing battle between the right of the press to report and inform through investigative journalism and the necessity to protect peoples’ reputation and privacy. Recent times have shown the law in libel to have shortcomings both for the press and ordinary individuals. The key reason for this is that legal costs for pursuing a libel action can be astronomical. On top of this the losing party also has to pay the legal costs of the successful party. There have been many cases of individuals who have lost libel actions and found themselves with bills they simply can’t afford and which has forced many people into bankruptcy.
One of the problems is that when people perceive they have been libelled they not only feel compelled to take action but they also think it will be a simple process to prove the wrongdoing of the other party. And so the pursuers will sometimes go into debt to fund their legal actions and when things don’t turn out as expected, financial difficulties ensue. This can lead to the requirement for formal debt solutions such as an IVA in England or a Scottish trust deed or in the more extreme cases, bankruptcy.
On the other hand it has been claimed that wealthy celebrities and other prominent figures have been able to use the libel laws to bring legal action against the press for publishing anything they don’t like. This has been due to the fact that someone claiming to have been libelled does not have to demonstrate that they actually suffered harm or loss but just that the libel comment was likely to cause harm or loss.
The libel laws in the UK are complex which means specialist lawyers are required and cases can be prolonged, both of which escalate the legal costs. However new libel laws are due to bring a better balance to the whole equation and provide ‘clearer, better protection for people publicly expressing opinions’.