The new press code needs you to flourish

2011-10-15 08:07

The media is an important element of our democratic institution. It is the only trade that is protected by name in the Constitution. This gives those of us who work in the industry ­tremendous privileges and responsibilities.

Sad to say, our media has not always lived up to the high standards it sets for others. Our code has proved itself outdated.The newly unveiled modifications to the press code have met the challenge faced by modern journalism head on.

They have come not a day too soon, especially when the media is facing an erosion of credibility, some of it justified and in other instances manufactured by those whose abuse of power our industry continues to expose.

For the first time the code recognises dignity, reputation and dignity as being worthy of protection and only to be overridden in pursuit of a ­legitimate public interest.

The code also expressly outlaws plagiarism ­instead of the previous industry norm of taking it for granted that journalists know not to steal ­other people’s work and pass it off as their own.

It also seeks to protect children by regulating that no child under 18 years of age can be interviewed, photographed or filmed without the consent of a parent or guardian.

However, on their own these important additions to the code will not totally eliminate bad journalism. Journalists have argued that for as long as newspapers are created by human beings, human error will from time to time rear its head.

This is, however, not an excuse for producing poor quality journalism. What will go some way towards reducing incidents of poor journalism is a commitment by ­media practitioners to knowing and living the code.

Second, is that of the average citizen making an effort to familiarise themselves with the code and holding the relevant media outlet to account where it has flouted the rules of engagement.

The fixation in some quarters that the Press Council has made changes to placate the governing party misses the point altogether. What is important is whether the changes make sense and whether they respond to the problems the media and its consumers experience. Newspapers and readers have a symbiotic relationship. None of us should feel they are more important than the other.

A common understanding of the rules governing the gathering of news and expressing opinions is in everybody’s best ­interest. The worst that could happen is for the media to fail to rise to the challenge and for the public to continue with the perception that the media is a law unto itself.

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