What is "good" Journalism?



What is "right" journalistic action? What is socially respon­sible journalist? What ethical system should a journalist subscribe to-if any? What values should be embraced by the journalist and how should these be determined?

What should the journalist do in regard to this or that story or picture? Should he conceal part of the story for all of it) to assure national security? What is the value to society (or to anyone) of printing any names of rape victims? Why should the impending invasion of a certain country be publicised by the journalist if he manages to get the infor­mation? Should he print the names of young people if they commit criminal acts? All such specific ethical questions as these must be faced at some time by the modern journalist and are related to the system of values which he has accepted as his own.

A broader question for the journalist is this: Should his ethics be "individualistic" or should the concern be with a "group-approved" (social) morality-with codes, creeds, standards and other collectively determined "arrangements" being the norm? Should the journalist, in short, determine his own ethical code or should he adopt the group values?

These are all questions being discussed in the journalistic world to-day, and from this dialogue various "proposals" are proliferating and new organizations, such as press councils and courts of honour, along with ombudsmen of one sort or another, are being born.

These organizations and arbiters, despite sincere motives, have the tendency to shift the emphasis from personal or autonomous ethics to socially pressured-or-enforced ethics.

At the heart of any discussion of values or of journalistic ethics generally is the clash between the traditional position and the more modern, more "scientific" and dynamic school of thought which espouses "relativistic" values.

It is very easy to assume that absolutist or "duty" ethics is not individualistic or autonomous, but this assump­tion does not necessarily follow; all that is necessary is that the "duty" ethics be personal or freely accepted.

On the other hand, relativistic ethics is easily thought to be individualistic in the sense of being freely willed or authentically personal. This may or may not follow, for it is quite possible for the relativist (as it is for the absolutist) to permit his standards to be imposed on him from some outside source-person, group or total society.