Does media = Power?

How much infldoes the media actually have?

An opinion piece by Valley Lizard

NOTE: This is mostly based on the Australian media system

While news media is subject to most of the same laws and ethical standards as everyone else there are some exceptions. These exceptions take into account the important role news has in society. Whether you write publicly or privately for the media, you have the same human rights as everyone else in Australia. There is also an international bill of human rights, but for this piece I will focus on Australian standards.

You may not realise just how much you are subject to media standards. Anyone with social media is required to behave ethically and legally, just as they would in person. The Australian Human Rights Commission explains:

Social media postings can be against the law if they discriminate against, harass, bully or racially vilify a person.

Discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably than another person because of a particular attribute they have. Harassment or bullying can amount to discrimination in some circumstances.

Inappropriate posts, comments or content shared on social media can amount to sexual harassment.

Discrimination can occur to anyone online or offline in any media form. When the media discriminate against a specific person they could be at risk of something called “contempt of court”. In extreme cases this could be labelled as “trial by media”.

The news media’s role relies on presenting fair, unbiased, accurate information. This can interfere with court proceedings, even subtlety, when the opinion and perhaps outcome of the case is influenced by what’s been presented in the media. When dealing with cases of criminal justice in particular journalists covering the case need to be extra careful. Most Australian journalists are part of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) which has a code of ethics all journalists who are members have to follow. Some of these ethical codes are quoted below:

Journalists will educate themselves about ethics and apply the following standards:
  1. Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis. Do your utmost to give a fair opportunity for reply.
  2. Do not place unnecessary emphasis on personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, family relationships, religious belief, or physical or intellectual disability.
  3. Aim to attribute information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances.
  4. Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence.
  5. Disclose conflicts of interest that affect, or could be seen to affect, the accuracy, fairness or independence of your journalism. Do not improperly use a journalistic position for personal gain.

You can read the rest of the code here. Most of these ethical standards seem like common sense. Difficulty arises when journalists are places in a context which may challenge this code. This is why the MEAA has a Guidance Clause as quoted below.

Guidance Clause: Basic values often need interpretation and sometimes come into conflict. Ethical journalism requires conscientious decision-making in context. Only substantial advancement of the public interest or risk of substantial harm to people allows any standard to be overridden.

Unethical and sometimes illegal journalism can occur when people put their own personal ethics above those set down by organisations. Sometimes this can be a positive thing when organisations are behaving unethically for journalists to stand up for their personal beliefs. On other occasions journalists may use various exemptions and the MEAA’s Guidance Clause as an excuse to get what they want unethically.

The media may seem at times like they have the ultimate power, but online media ordinary people can do extraordinary things. You can be your own journalist by reporting what you and your local community of friends and family want/need to know.

So who do you think has more power? You or the media?

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