The writes and wrongs

Published on Jan 01 2010 // Media Monitor
By Sonam Pelden

January 01, 2010 – Public interest is one of the driving factors that help determine the journalists’ decision to tell stories, some 20 Bhutanese journalists were told during a discussion on the ethical dimensions of journalism.

Public interest, explained resource person Dr Venkat Iyer, includes detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety, protecting public health and safety, and preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

Dr Iyer, who is conducting the three-day workshop on media ethics, is a barrister and lecturer at the university of Ulster, department of school of law in Northern Ireland.

“Ethics are the ‘flesh which clothe the bare bones of the law’,” he said, on the relationship between ethics and law. “But simply because something is of interest to the public doesn’t make it a matter of public interest.”

Some of the main values of ethical codes, according to him, are fairness and accuracy, truth, correction and apology, where mistakes are made, protection of confidentiality of sources and respect for privacy of individuals.

“However what’s legal isn’t necessarily ethical and law normally prevails when there is a clash between law and ethics, because violation of law carries sanctions,” said Dr Iyer. “You could be free from legal constraints but could face moral issues. The breach of ethics could again depend on whether it justifies public interest.”

Organised to create awareness on media ethics for journalists, the three-day workshop will discuss ethical issues involved in privacy and intrusion, news gathering techniques, taste and decency while covering sex, nudity, violence and on treatment of vulnerable individuals.

“For a close knit society like ours, it’s important that journalists start thinking about what’s wrong and right,” said the workshop coordinator and programme manager, BBS radio staff Jagannath Sharma. “We hope this workshop will help trigger that thinking.”

Participants felt that ethics is something very subjective and, although the workshop was educative, some sessions could have been localised for better understanding.

Besides an educational purpose and to raise awareness, ethical codes can also enhance the image and add an aura of respectability to the organisation, said Dr Iyer.

“Sometimes Bhutanese journalists are a little too cautious,” observed Dr Iyer on the ethical code of conduct of Bhutanese journalists. “Given the pressure you work under, you might not have the luxury to reflect before you react, and that’s the real problem.”