Rights and responsibilities of our vocation

Rights and responsibilities of our vocation


But a sordid story within the story was exposed this month with the outrageous scandal of telephone hacking and other unethical practices which led to the sudden closure of world media giant Rupert Murdoch’s flagship, the ‘News of the World’. The fate of the popular 168-year-old News of the World, which was by far the largest selling English language weekly newspaper in the world, has important lessons for Sri Lanka and its independent media.

To reach and maintain the highest values and principles of journalism, those in the media need to remember that freedom and rights are directly linked to responsibilities. To the extent we fulfill our responsibilities, to that extent we are entitled to our rights. Similarly to the extent we fail in our responsibilities, to that extent we forfeit our rights whatever the government may or may not do and whatever crude or vulgar propaganda the kept press or other state media may propagate.

The lead story or the headline principle for the free media is a sustained commitment to free, accurate and balanced reporting, feature writing and editorial comment. Objectivity and integrity are essential. Journalists need to remember they are the voice of the poor, marginalized or oppressed people and the instruments through which the people exercise their fundamental right to the freedom of information and expression. If journalists forget or fail in these responsibilities and only seek personal gain or glory through bylines or unethical buy lines it would be better for them to find another job instead of causing serious damage to what is more than a profession and in the highest sense is the vocation of journalism.

Creative and imaginative writing, pro-active and investigative reporting and feature writing are important. As the famous American publisher William Randolph Hurst said – news is something that somebody wants suppressed, the rest is advertising. The rest include media conferences, political or other meetings and seminars and statements issued by state or other agencies. Yet if the fundamental principles are not maintained, investigative journalism may become counter productive and lead to sensationalism, scandal-mongering, unbalanced or unfair reporting and personal vendettas as we saw in the “News of the World” and other British tabloids in recent decades. To what extent the world news magnate Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation bosses knew about these scandalous practices or promoted them will be exposed in the probes to be conducted by a media committee of the British House of Commons next week

As the news that wrecked the News of the World is revealed, we hope that journalists in Sri Lanka and other countries will learn the right lessons and principals in balancing or blending rights with responsibilities to sustain and strengthen their vocation.

/ News

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