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Media’s missing morals? It’s mostly a matter of skill Guy Berger, Rhodes University. MISA conference August 22-24, 2005. Windhoek.

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Presentation on theme: "Media’s missing morals? It’s mostly a matter of skill Guy Berger, Rhodes University. MISA conference August 22-24, 2005. Windhoek."— Presentation transcript:

1 Media’s missing morals? It’s mostly a matter of skill Guy Berger, Rhodes University. MISA conference August 22-24, 2005. Windhoek

2 Do the right thinks: 1.“I ought to be ethical” … is a start: –but not all share this attitude –So … need to name, shame, untame, enflame. 2.How do you know when “ethics” are called for? (Editor of UK Sun: county next to Sussex?). 3.What constitutes the “right” response? ☻

3 From head to hands… Once you’ve figured out, when ethics, and what ethics, can you do the quality practical journalism to implement it? In short, you need a moral compass… And…   You need the skills to make use of it in navigating daily journalism. 

4 Contents 1.Ethics-skills interface: eg. racism 2.Doing ethics – a skill on its own 3.Knowledges needed 4.How craft skills impact on ethics 5.SA findings – Sanef survey 2002 6.SA findings – Sanef survey 2005 7.Conclusion

5 1: Ethics-Skills interface 2000-1: Racism in SA media enquiry problem = skills, not racial malice. eg. how to avoid stereotypes Those anxious to equate racism with bad or sloppy journalism either do not understand racism or are simply wishing it away some editors HRC

6 So what’s the ethics-skill link? Ending media racism is about both ethical issues AND skills. i.e. ethics & skills can be separate issues, or interrelated.

7 One equation: Bad ethics can devalue good skills. –Specially relevant to tabloids!

8 The converse equation: Bad skills can devalue good ethics. –Specially relevant to worthy info But: good skills plus good ethics = combo!

9 2: ETHICS - A SKILL ON ITS OWN Doing ethics ≠ intuitive conscience. Needs systematic method: Eg. Stages model: –H…eart  –E…xternalise – under the ☼? –L…ook again at assumptions –P…ossibilities for alternatives? Eg. Poynter: traffic light model

10 In externalising, you need to know: –the law, –general canon of journalistic ethics, –your medium’s editorial code/policies. 3. KNOWLEDGE NEEDED  Often, result is: privileging one above the others, when they pull apart.

11 Law should be taken cognisance of. Violating a law should not: –be taken lightly –be done in ignorance. What is legal is not always ethical, What is ethical is not always legal. 3a. Law & ethics  You may need to choose the trump. There is skill in making the call.

12 Broadly accepted professional standards & dominant morality i.e. general journalistic ethics, (with cultural differences). A challenge: This knowledge must be used in less general form, i.e. to recognise where an ethical issue exists in given specific instances. 3b. Knowing the norms 

13 Formal & informal codes/policies. Qtn of degree of independence vs upward referral. Sometimes you have to choose general ethics over house ones … & argue or resign! 3c. Knowing house style If you don’t know the law, nor general journ ethics, nor house policies, you can’t “do” ethics. i.e. Knowledges need to accompany the skill of doing ethics as a method The Editor

14 Decide in murky & fast moving news; –Pinpoint the key issues, be decisive. 3. More skills needed so you can:         respect for privacy public right to know Handle conflicts between ethical principles – like:

15 Deeply understand issues: eg. greenlight on plagiarism if: –info in the public domain?, –if you credit the source?, But is it ethical to present near-verbatim a press-release as if that was your own work? 3. Understanding needed: ©

16 if you’re slow, and risk missing a deadline, you may chance rather than check. if you fluff the right photo, you might be tempted to do a digital manipulation. if your skills are too to poor find and tell good stories, you will be more prone to hyping a story, or to burning a source. 4. CRAFT SKILLS IMPACT ETHICS

17 6. SA FINDINGS: (SANEF) Two studies by SANEF –2002 – reporters –2005 – newsroom managers = insight into understanding how skills impact on ethics.

18 6a. Junior reporters Have poor skills in newsgathering, writing skills, law, and general, historical & contextual knowledge. Have attitude problems: lack concern with accuracy, low commitment to profession, lack of sense of personal accountability for what appears. 

19 6a. Junior reporters Not surprisingly, against this skill backdrop, many are insensitive re: covering HIV/Aids and race, and have weak knowledge of ethics. –Eg. 1/3 can’t see wrong in “black rapist” –Eg. 90% can’t see wrong in “died of AIDS” Editors: “approx 1 in 5 reporters are not honest & fair” 

20 6b. News editors Their incompetencies also impact newsroom ethics, helps us understand why problems with reporters endure. Also junior: 40% less than 3 yrs journalism 60% been in job less than 3 yrs  

21 6b. News editors Poor motivation, lack confidence to handle reporters, do not elicit respect. Reporters see them as: weak organisers, uninformed, unilingual, culturally limited, poor communicators. ,,

22 6b. News editors Reporters want briefings & feedback, but news editors unable. News editors say no time to “nurse-maid”. In other words: Skills deficits at ground level are ignored by skill-challenged managers. Result: ethics suffers. Senior editors: unaware of the problem 

23 7. CONCLUSION: Does ethics-skills buck stop with editors? ? Do they themselves have: –Pro-ethical attitudes? –Quality craft & ethical skills? –Time to intervene?

24 7. CONCLUSION: Or, are they setting poor examples? Are they themselves under pressure from bosses – diversions from skills, ethics, and the interface between them? What’s the answer?

25 7. Recap and last word Ethics is in every decision Attitude insufficient: doing ethics is a skill. Nec knowledge: law, norms, codes/policies SA experience with reporters, news eds

26 7. Recap and last word –Specific to media ethics –Quality skills related to the craft And…. –Managerial and leadership skills.  Ethics hangs on a range of competencies

27 Thank you Moral of all this? A willing spirit is necessary, but not enough All-round capacity- building is called for.

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