Journalism on trial     

Tue, 13 Dec 2016 14:39:39 +0000

Journalism, that hallowed profession which seeks to know everything and everyone, including what they are thinking, received a battering this week from a very unlikely source –  Pope Francis.

It is not often that the Holy Father chides anyone, let alone use strong street language to
convey his message. When he does, the subjects of his criticism must stop and think.

Lambasting the world press and its craving for the ‘‘scoop of the century’’, Pope Francis says media organizations must stop focusing on scandals and smears and promote fake stories as a means of selling their newspapers, attract massive TV viewership or listenership by discrediting people in public life.

Using unpapal terminology, the Pope said journalists and the media must avoid falling into ‘‘coprophillia’’ – an abnormal interest in excrement because those reading, listening or watching such stories risked behaving like
coprophagics, people who eat faeces.

And addressing journalists in Lusaka last week, newly-appointed Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Kampamba Mulenga advised media houses to desist from sensationalising political squabbles at the expense of development stories.

The minister urged the Zambian media to refocus and redefine their reportorial agenda from ‘‘over-concentration on politics at the expense and exclusion of more urgent and important issues of development that put food on the stable (of citizens), drugs in hospitals and
improve the general wellbeing of citizens’’.

The criticism by both Pope Francis and Madam Mulenga highlights the dilemma in which the world media finds itself in today and drives at the core values of journalism. Being an industry that thrives on being the first to sell ‘‘hot’’ news in line with the demands of its ever-critical and cynical clientele, it has to strive to strike a balance between truth and sensationalism. It is not easy.

In the fast-changing scenario of modern journalism where the public’s appetite for the latest news, gossip and glimpse into the secret lives of public figures in the world of politics, sport, business and religion, the invisible line between ethical and unethical conduct has
become even more blurred.

Being the mirror of a value-driven society, journalism sometimes reflects the true and correct values of the society it reports about. In most cases the media simply adapts to the perceptions and aspirations of the society it which it works and tries to create in the mind of the reader or viewer the real world they live in.

When this societal view is exposed for what it is, the media – being the messenger of bad news and mirror of a corrupt society – becomes the culprit and is often accused of inventing the news. This is what the Pope calls ‘‘the sickness of coprophillia that is always wanting to cover scandals, nasty things, even if they are true’’.

Development stories, as the Minister of Information says, is great news. Unfortunately they cannot sell a newspaper or grip the imagination of a viewer for more than an hour the way television soaps like Telemundo would. In other words the readers or viewers are the ones prodding the journalist or TV producer to find them a ‘‘high’’ to feed on.

We agree and condemn journalists who make disinformation the tool of their trade to assassinate the character of their perceived enemies or political opponents. As the Pope says the danger of this type of journalism is that it ‘‘directs opinions in only one direction and omits the other part of the truth’’.

In Zambia this deliberate distortion of facts has been at the centre of debate whether the
so-called independent media is really independent in the rue sense of the word if it cannot regulate itself and report fairly about people and institutions it does not like. This is another form of coprophillia.

For us we are bound in our work by the six principles of journalism – truth, accuracy, independence, fairness, impartiality and accountability – and try to live by these high
ideals of the profession.

We may not be perfect but our calling
demands that we try to treat everyone we
report on with the humanity they deserve.


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