MEDIA ETHICS: A Call to Responsible Journalism
By Baldwin Chiyamwaka, Executive Director, Media Council of Malawi
For many years now, globally, the media has assumed and reinforced its important role as a legitimate reflection of public interest and opinion. Since Edmund Burke’s famous remarks made in the House of Commons in England in 1774 in recognition of the important contributions the press made, the place and position of the media in society and governance structure of states continues to be recognized and consolidated as the fourth estate. This is very true of the Malawian media which is fast becoming a strong pillar, catalyst and tool of democracy since 1994 when Malawi re-embraced multi-party democracy with a liberalised, plural media.
The power and apparent influence of the media was long realised time in memorial. All governments since independence, corporate organisations, influential and powerful politicians and individuals have sought ways and means to control and regulate the media not only by wanting to limit its legitimate right to write, broadcast and publish freely but also to posses it, manipulate it, subject it to mere puppets that can be pulled by the string and as we observe today to reduce the media to tools of third grade propaganda.
Luckily, global, regional and local trends in good governance coupled with a Malawian constitution that provides for freedom of expression and above all media institutions that safeguards the freedom of the media through self regulation and advocacy, seem to be working in favour of the media by advancing the principle that a free media is one of the pre-requisites for good governance and a legitimate voice of public opinion and interest. This helps to remind those in power, whatever power, wanting to restrict the media, to be a little restraint for want of a good score on the governance record card.
However, the threat to media freedom seems to be beyond the powers that we know to have an insatiable desire to restrict the media. Malawian journalism, in some of its quarters, plays betrayal.
This presentation discusses what might be a grey area in the Malawian media, the ethical conduct that brings about a responsible and credible media. It explores the challenges that lie within the media threatening its very fabric of existence, that is, the fundamental principles and values of professionalism and the essential milieu of freedom without which media practice becomes almost impossible. The presentation tries to do so by firstly clarifying the concept of self regulation through a code of conduct or practice; the betrayal of the profession and breach of public trust through unethical and unprofessional conduct in the industry; the need for ethics; challenges to ethical conduct and finally the way to achieving responsible journalism.