Journalism is Failing Us—An Idea to Fix It
If we are to become better leaders—as citizens—I believe we must improve journalism. I lament the dismal state of much media journalism around the world, but especially in the US, where most news outlets operate by two principles: promote its brand of politics, and maximize profit.
Here is a small illustration: What do you know about post colonial Africa? I recently traveled to Mauritania to help in a remote hospital. I wondered why our US media does not mention this country in their incessant 24/7 news cycle. A Google search under CNN, Fox News, and the word Mauritania reveals only a handful of articles about slavery in that country over the last 10 years and one video report from 2012.
There are two usual explanations for this: First, there is very little that would concern US citizens from Mauritania. Second, it is not the media’s role to educate. These are not sufficient answers.
I dream for journalism as a profession, like medicine, to have a code of ethics it adheres to that is centered on distinct and noble values. I suggest five of them below: inform, analyze, educate, elevate, and investigate. This new standard would serve our citizens and empower creative minds, who could then more effectively participate in and lead our democracy.
I call on new voices, especially thought and academic leaders in the world of journalism, to champion this. We need new leadership in the world of the journalism around the globe, but especially in the US.
The BBC is one media outlet that I believe aims to get it right. This is a direct quote from their Editorial Values: “The trust that our audience has in all our content underpins everything that we do. We are independent, impartial, and honest. We are committed to achieving the highest standards of accuracy and impartiality and strive to avoid knowingly or materially misleading our audiences. Our commitment to impartiality is at the heart of that relationship of trust. In all our output we will treat every subject with an impartiality that reflects the full range of views. We will consider all the relevant facts fairly and with an open mind.”
Mind you in the UK, there is a law that all television and radio media must be accurate, unbiased, and impartial. [Check out this article from NPR: A Look at Press Freedom and Regulation in the UK.] Print journalism in the UK is not subject to such laws, and are therefore biased.
Below is what I see as our current state, ideal state, and possible solution.
Our Current State
Today’s media is driven by profits, generally whatever brings the highest number of viewers determines what is broadcasted. It is also driven by a need to influence opinions to the causes it champions. Therefore, I see that media today has three objectives, all of which I disagree with:
- Advocate: Today’s media openly and covertly pushes the agenda of a certain ideology or leader.
- Sensationalize: Today’s media focuses on trivial events and scrutinizes it for days on end sometimes.
- Entertain: Many times, shows are very captivating with high entertainment value, but little educational and informational value.
The Values Our Media Should Be Held To
- Inform: Impartially let us know what is going on. Equally represent all points of views.
- Analyze: Bring in experts to calmly explore the issues at hand, not just a number of sophomoric, shallow pundits.
- Educate: Journalists need to not only inform, but educate. What if every day, there was a 20-minute show highlighting one country in the world? Learning about Mauritania will make a better citizen here in the US, or the UK, or Australia. It will give perspective with history, create empathy for our fellow humans, allow us to appreciate what we have, and learn from their march through history.
- Elevate: As a major influencer of society, journalists should live by a credo that they will elevate society, where they demonstrate and promote civil discourse.
- Investigate: This is a very important role that medial journalists should engage, yet these days I see less and less of it except for sensational purposes. Journalists must hold not only the government accountable, but all aspects of our culture. They must bring light to dark places.
A Possible Solution
I am calling on the journalism world to self-regulate. Maybe there can be a journalism body that each media outlet voluntarily seeks certification from. Such a certification would communicate to the public that that outlet operates by the high standards I am writing about here (or similar values). It would create a place where individuals could report biased or inaccurate facts (similar to the UK, however, make it voluntary, not legally binding). If that will not happen, then I invite us to have a national conversation about learning, and maybe emulating, the UK’s approach to new media regulation.
Journalism and free press is a cornerstone for democracy because it is designed to hold the government accountable and keep the citizens informed. People listen to journalists. We, as citizens, must demand that journalism operate with the highest of values and ethics.