"There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth."
British, American, Australian, and Press around the world in general seem to be at their lowest ebb.
There appear to be journalists, editors and proprietors whose moral muscles have become enfeebled, desperate in their incessant search for scandals and stories turned into sensationalism, to form a platform for publishing terrible things about others in return for short lived remuneration and kudos.
With numerous examples in the press especially in more recent years, (Leveson's enquiry still strong in our collective memory), it would appear that a selection of journalists have sold their souls to the devil, for money and or the insatiable need for recognition at the expense of people's reputations, honour and decency.
Yet, whatever journalists' personal grievances, issues and agendas, they should never ever be allowed to print lies.
Defamation of private citizens seems to be as common as weeds. Curiously though it gets treated far less seriously than that of members of let's say royal families, or public officials and those wearing 'high profile individual' hats, who are renowned for brokering deals with the press elite to stand back. But only the few have the resources to broker such deals.
Take France for example - defamation of a person who holds a public position could result in years of imprisonment and a hefty fine, whereas slandering an ordinary, private citizen could get a person two or three days in jail and a few nickels in fine, if that.
This discrimination seems to have crept in 'unnoticed' around the world but also across the countries that trumpet greater freedom of press such as UK and Australia and label themselves as being at the fore.
The reality of this skewed kind of journalism was eloquently spelt out recently by Julian Disney, departing chair of the Australian Press Council: "The editorial approach has changed from 'go and find out what the story is' to being 'go and find a source who will say this is the story'.
Today's journalists have become the originators of stories rather than the reporters of stories that need to be told.
But, how much has truly changed (if anything?) since 1938 when Evelyn Waugh's naïve writer of nature columns, William Boot got his quick lessons in the devious way of journalism in order to deliver a scoop? As lighthearted as this farcical novel is, timeless is its deadly aim at exposing the newspaper industry and the journalistic profession.
Each time, and throughout history of any media regulation, when media has been found to behave in the most unethical manner towards either individual or a group, there were calls and demands for greater controls. And each time, thus far, the media has managed to avoid this by shielding itself behind the freedom of press and the virtues of self-regulation, a thinly veiled attempt at cloaking lack of self-responsibility.
In Truth has Freedom of Speech become a pseudonym for Freedom to Lie?
Media has a tremendous power to damage a person's reputation, mainly through fabrication, conjecture and bigoted campaigns. For decades (if not longer) until now these acts of foulness have been able to go on seemingly undetected, under the radar of humanity. With the public's pandemic hibernation at play we seem to have lost site of the 'enough is enough' switch.
As Grace Kelly once remarked: "The freedom of the press works in such a way that there is not much freedom from it."
There are on the other hand journalists, men and women of pen, well educated and concurrently well intended who have aspired to be the true representatives of the very people they write for and to tell the truth, repelled by the publishing of sensational, false, scandalous and malicious stories. To their very bones they know it is wrong to do so yet, some still succumb to the temptation of fouling their pen. Why, one might ask?
The entire press industry seems to be founded and carried out upon a contaminated money making, ego drilling field where journalists who do see better get ensnared in the pressure to oblige their editors and proprietors. Ultimately they are indulging in the demand and supply dance - giving the public what the public wants as we put pounds into publishers' pools through our own choosing. The demeaning and inglorious position some journalists place themselves in is not a great position to be in, indeed.
Then there's the competition - the old drive to making the supply as abundant as possible ensuring the public's appetite is satisfied full to the brim. Although, it is hard to think that those journalists are unable to feel the rot acutely, the responsibility to change the odious game lies entirely in their pen's modern-day equivalent - their keyboards.
It would appear that a very strong code of conduct would serve journalists very well by the virtue of taking away this unenlightened, "because I can", feudal inherited attitude from some editors, proprietors and journalists and to allow those journalists, true servants of people to exercise their freedom to speak and freedom to express yet, to maintain personal accountability for their expression if and when their integrity muscle is disregarded.
And equally on the other side of the responsibility scale stands the public - every single one of us. If Truth is what we are All seeking, which ultimately it is, than it is the Truth we should be demanding. This would make it difficult, if near impossible for publishing houses to give a pear when an apple is what we ask for.
With our ever-increased use of internet as a mean of communication we are all 'journalists' which then puts us All in the same basket as those who have made writing their living. Knowing this fact we need to collectively raise a bar on the level of the accepted quality of expression across every area of our lives, public and private, online and offline.