Growing up, I enjoyed listening/watching the news. I read the newspaper everyday. The media, I believed then, was a credible source of information. Fast forward to 2016 and I have to question the veracity of almost everything blurted out in the media. The Press Association has a serious task at hand to restore credibility to local media.
Many journalists/reporters have perfected their role in breaking news to the public while neglecting their role in helping to educate the people of the country. There is this immense desire to leave a breaking story after getting the reaction from the public or drag on a part of the story for the fame that comes with half truths. Let’s take for example what was referred to as the dead baby scandal, where members of media seemed to have adopted the political stance on the matter on the eve of a general election. Little attention was paid to the key fact that the mortality rate at the time was in keeping with our national mortality rate and that the figures were far from epidemic levels as defined by international health organizations. Advising the public that the deaths were caused by superbugs due to antibiotic resistance which we all contribute to, was also a difficult thing for members of the media to do. Advising John Public that very low birthweight and being premature comes with a greater risk of not making it home also did not satisfy what I believe was a clear agenda; a political agenda. 2016 and there’s a deafening silence on recents neonatal deaths. While I do not expect it to be politicized at all, (especially since there’s an election on the horizon and it wouldn’t satisfy the agenda) I would expect greater scrutiny as was the case in the previous instance. Instead, the conclusion that the mother’s vagina is the only way that Group B Strep could be transmitted was rapidly gobbled down.
I also take umbrage to reporters playing the roles of all professions; drafting their scandalous conclusion and publishing them before actually consulting the professionals from a sector in question.
Ethics in Journalism
The decay of journalistic integrity is a glaring problem locally and internationally. The desire for sound bites and stinging sensationalism has superceeded ethics. Releasing a child’s autopsy report before it is seen by parents or authorized to leave from within the bounds of the family just to be the one to provide news first; recording conversations had via phone without informing the individual on the next end of the phone; soaking up to political agendas and satisfying them without question are clear demonstrations of a decay in ethics and morals. Why publicly ridicule a press release sent via email when you can respond via email to notify the sender of errors and seek clarification? Is that any way for any decent organization/individual to operate? Again, the Press Association of Jamaica must put in place a standard and if there is one, the public needs to be aware of it and know that it’s being enforced. A medical doctor who malpractices is brought before the medical council to answer with the end result being either absolution, sanction which could include revocation of the right to practice. The medical personnel responsible for leaking an autopsy report could be held accountable if found but in journalism, you get a slap on the wrist and an award for being mischievous. Unless a standard is set and upheld, Jamaican journalism will continue to ethically and morally decay.
It would be remiss of me, even while critiquing some actions, to not acknowledge that many journalists have stayed true to their cause of putting forward the truth without bias and refuse to sell their soul in exchange for “breaking news”. There still exists probing and investigative journalists and their work I must say that I respect. Those who have maintained their integrity must now protect it at all cost and encourage some of the “wayward souls” to engage in a sort of journalistic repentance; seeking to act with integrity and without bias.
Not everything is a scandal. The Public Defender would have reminded the country and the media of this in the report on what was callously touted as dead baby scandal. The privacy of individuals should not be trampled on without consequence, in the selfish interest to break a story and gain notoriety.
If the Press Association is serious about maintaining the respect for and credibility of local journalism, a standard must be put in place to guide journalists. It needs to be clear that publishing half truths and lies as a professional isn’t acceptable. I long for the days when I’d reference broadcast news as credible information without question. Maybe it really wasn’t credible and I was naive when I believed it was, but in any case there’s a credibility issue to be solved.