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South Asia: Absence of an ethic is shared by journalists
By Victor Gunewardena

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1. Introduction

The term "South Asia" as used in this essay denotes only the countries of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Bhutan and the Maldives are not included although they, too, are member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). In those two countries the mass media of social communication are of recent origin, are restricted in scope and have neither a regulatory framework nor an ethical code comparable with those of the other South Asian countries.

It is also pertinent to note that of the five countries that are the focus of this essay two are of recent origin as separate national entities. Pakistan was created in 1947 by the partitioning of India, and Bangladesh came into being in December 1971 after its war of liberation from Pakistan, of which it was part since 1947 as East Pakistan. Those three countries of the Indian sub-continent share certain commonalities that have their origin in history, culture, ethnicity and religion and the fact that for nearly 150 years of their modern history they were part of British India. Some such commonalities are reflected in the respective regulatory frameworks pertaining to media, which derive from ordinances enacted in British colonial times. Likewise, some media practices, especially in print journalism, are part of the British inheritance.

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2. National self-interest and media ethics

Consequently, media ethics in South Asia need to be examined not only against the background of each country's modern history and the factors that influenced its information processes and media environment but also in the light of continuing external influences that have an impact on the content of media and their day-to-day functioning.

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Thus, South Asian media continue to be open to external influences, notably Western news agencies that have an impact on the media agenda of the respective countries.

Each country's internal media environment is also influenced by the interplay of processes and forces that have a bearing on its self-under-
standing and its perceptions of its neighbours. Misperception and prejudice often cloud one country's understanding of another and media focus on the conflictual and aberrational aspects of a situation tend to negate or compromise whatever media ethics each country has chosen for itself. The prevailing paramountcy of national self-interest does lead at times to a country's media disregarding some of the cardinal principles of media ethics that they profess to uphold.

The media messages originating even in the neighbouring countries of South Asia are among the multiplicity of interactions, both inter-country and intra-country, which influence governmental attitudes as well as people's perceptions of their own country and neighbouring countries. Often such perceptions result from information about a country situation and its interpretation by a non-regional news agency, which has its own peculiar orientation, and at times bias, too.

This phenomenon of emphasis on the aberrational aspects of a country situation is despite the call for a New World Information Order that seeks to achieve a relationship of equality between developed and developing countries in the global flow of information. Equality was perceived not so much in quantitative terms as qualitatively, so that there would be a greater sense of objectivity, fairness and balance in reporting and interpretation.

These values, which are at the core of media ethics universally, tend to be disregarded at times by South Asian media depending on each country's perceived self-interest in relation to its neighbours. Thus, in the reporting of the internal happenings in another country the emphasis is on sensational happenings, especially if they contribute to destabilisation of the political system. Success stories or programmes of economic and social development seldom receive the coverage they deserve, apparently because they are not considered "hard news." Such event-oriented news

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derives from the traditional Western journalistic concept of "newsworthiness." [ Chowla, N. L., Role of Media in South Asian Reality, in South Asian Journal Vol. 2, No. 1, 1998 p. 29, sqq.]

Consequently, indigenous journalists brought up in such a tradition of news concepts also tend to overlook the right of every person to have access to the information they need for their own development and that of their social community. That media must not only function with a sense of responsibility for what they diffuse as information but must also be socially responsive to the public need for contextualised information which would relate events to their respective political, economic or cultural processes, is not sufficiently recognised as an aspect of media ethics.

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3. Historical context

This lacuna in media ethics in South Asia needs to be perceived in an historical context, namely that the countries of the region, with the exception of Nepal, were for many years under colonial rule. All newspapers and other journals that existed from about the early 19th century functioned under constraint, the colonial office in Britain ensuring that they were not too critical of the colonial administration.

This situation changed gradually with the nationalist revival in the latter half of the 19th century. The criticism was directed at the agents of cultural alienation, be they the Christian missionaries from the West or the Westernised indigenous upper class. The polemical literature that characterised this revival was no respecter of persons who participated in the debate on the subject. Contempt for the other on account of the beliefs he held or the aping of foreign models of dress and social habits led to ridicule and the absence of respect for the protagonists and antagonists in the debate. One felt that the attitude adopted was that the end justified the means, especially if one honestly believed that one's own position was true and the opponent's beliefs were myths, superstitions or fallacies, or that they sought to alienate the indigenous people from their traditional culture.

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With time the nationalist revival provided a stimulus to the respective movements for freedom from the British Raj. The protest literature, including newspapers and other journals in the indigenous languages as well as in English, became increasingly strident in tone in their agitation for national independence. With newspapers making common cause with the political movements for freedom they experienced a sense of growing power. While for the most part the newspapers functioned within the limits of the Penal Code and legislation pertaining to newspapers and printing presses, there were instances of newspaper editors being convicted of criminal defamation and of contempt of court. Perhaps such lapses stemmed from an attitude of confrontation with the ruling power which newspaper proprietors and editors shared with the political leadership in their agitation for their countries' independence.

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4. Pre-independence situation

There were two broad discernible attitudes of newspaper journalism in South Asia during the period prior to the respective countries gaining independence.

One attitude was to function under the protective umbrella of the ruling power, enjoying benefits such as advertising revenue from governmental institutions and easy access to official information. Criticism of governance was mild, often muted, while support for governmental actions was enthusiastic. If there was an ethic that governed such newspapers it was one of compromise, a type of quid pro quo journalism. It was supportive of the government of the day because it was the legitimate political authority.

The other attitude sprang from confrontational politics, agitation for change at different levels and for radical reform leading to self-government.

Neither attitude was characterised by a dominant journalistic ethic. Rather, in the one case there was a sense of power and solidarity with the regime in defending the status quo and benefiting from the exercise. In the other

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case, there was a newly sensed power by making common cause with agitational politics that had mass backing under charismatic leaders.

In Pakistan the second genre of journalism came to be both a political and a religion-oriented press, supporting the demand of the Muslim League for an independent state of Pakistan. [ Hussain, Syed Talat, in Press as Promoter, ed. Victor Gunewardena. Coordinating Group for Studies on South Asian Perspectives. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. Colombo 1993 p. 50.]

Thus, if a generalisation is possible about South Asian newspapers at the threshold of the political independence of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, it is that there was a pro-establishment press and an anti-establishment press, neither of which felt any need be accountable to the public. The press supportive of the political status quo felt that the legitimacy of the governing institution was an adequate rationale for its conduct. The occasional mild criticism of selected government activities helped to salve its conscience. It was a type of ethic of responsibility.

On the other hand, the thrust of the anti-establishment press was to move swiftly to the goal of freedom and with it, rapid and radical reform aimed at social justice. Its criticism of governance was basically that it served the interest of the ruling power and the social and economic classes allied to it.

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5. The case of Nepal

Of the South Asian countries covered in this survey Nepal alone did not come under colonial rule. It was a hereditary monarchy. Democracy was introduced to the country only in 1951 after the end of the Rana regime. Political parties and individual journalists began publishing small newspapers, mostly in the capital. But with the dissolution of the democratically elected government by the king in 1960, the nascent press functioned for 22 years thereafter under what was called "the black law." Under it newspapers were closed down while those that survived were

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obliged to support the monarchy and the partyless Panchayat system or resort to self-censorship. [ Koirala, Bharat D., in op. cit.]

Dissident publishers, editors and journalists were jailed or harassed and denied state subsidies and quotas of imported newsprint. Pro-government newspapers benefited from state subsidies.

The situation changed somewhat after the National Referendum of 1981 and the partial liberalisation of the press law. As a result there was a sudden mushrooming of newspapers, criticism of the government and court challenges of decisions to ban newspapers, close down printing presses or arrest journalists.

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6. Discussion on journalistic ethics

The discussion on journalistic ethics in South Asia relates for the most part to print journalism. The reason is that radio broadcasting since its inception in British India as a regular service in 1927, in Sri Lanka. (then Ceylon) in 1925, in Pakistan in 1947 and in Bangladesh and Nepal much later, has till recently functioned exclusively as a state venture and subject to constraints introduced by the state regarding programmes and advertising. Interestingly, radio broadcasting in India began with two private transmitters in Bombay and Calcutta, which in 1930 were taken over by the government, and in 1936 were named All-India Radio (AIR). At independence in 1947 AIR had only six radio stations, while at present with 106 stations it is one of the world's largest broadcasting organisations, transmitting in 21 major languages. [ Gunasekere, H. M., Media as Bridge Maker. Co-ordinating Group for Studies on South Asian Perspectives. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Colombo, 1997. p. 8.]

Television was a late arrival on the South Asian media scene and functioned initially as state undertakings. India with 21 state-run stations has the biggest number for any South Asian country. Bangladesh has 11 such stations. Pakistan and Sri Lanka each have two state stations and four private stations, while Nepal has four private stations.

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7. Governmental restrictions

Additionally satellite transmissions are available in almost all the countries in the region. However, all radio and TV stations are subject to governmental restrictions or codes pertaining to both programming and advertising.

In Bangladesh cable TV has been introduced recently while satellite TV finds Star, CNN, Zee TV, Jain TV, BBC and Pakistan TV (PTV) operating but with low penetration, while Bangladesh TV is the most dominant medium. Government restrictions for TV advertising include prohibition of cigarette and alcohol advertising (also on radio), undergarments and female hygiene products, contraceptive products other than the pill and foreign models for locally manufactured products. [ Bates Asia Media Scene in Asia/Pacific 1995. p. 25 sqq.]

In India terrestrial TV is government-owned and controlled by Doordarshan, a department of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Satellite TV was introduced in 1992 and has four state commercial stations and 11 commercial stations including Star Plus, BBC, Prime Sports, Zee TV and CNN.

On both TV and radio no direct advertising of cigarettes and alcohol is permitted. [ Ibid. p. 69-79 sqq.]

Radio broadcasting in Nepal, as in the rest of the region, is government-controlled. Radio Nepal reaches only about 55 per cent of the population. TV, introduced in 1985, is popular but has a limited audience, the four government stations covering only about 16 per cent of the land area. However, it is significant that in respect of TV programme type Nepal devotes about 30 per cent of broadcast time to news, the highest percentage for any TV station in South Asia. In radio programming, news, with 16.5 per cent, ranks second to India's 38 per cent. [ Gunasekera, op. cit.]

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Of Pakistan's 24 radio stations with a network of 55 transmitters, 22 are commercial. But radio is not considered a viable medium of marketing although it is powerful in rural markets. The advertising of alcohol is not permitted. [ Bates Asia op.cit.]

Pakistan has six government and four private TV stations, with a total of four terrestrial and five satellite channels.

Governmental restrictions on advertising include prohibition of alcohol in all media and partial restrictions on tobacco. Commercials produced in India cannot be aired, but other foreign commercial productions are allowed. Female models must be properly dressed and outfits exhibiting body contours and provocative gestures are not allowed. [ Ibid.]

In Sri Lanka, television, introduced in 1979, is expanding. Now there are two state-run stations and four private stations. Satellite channels were introduced in 1994 and included BBC World Service, Star Plus and Prime Sports. Now Sky TV and CNN are also available. The licensing procedure is subject to government control and the state has also introduced a programme code and an advertising code. Direct advertising of tobacco and alcohol is prohibited. While there is a code of ethics for print media journalists there is none for the electronic media.

Since 1993 radio has ceased to be a state monopoly. There are now three private radio stations, but the national radio broadcasts in all three languages in use and transmits national, regional and external services. Radio is a useful advertising medium to reach the rural market not reached by TV. [ Ibid.]

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8. Public service broadcasting

While all countries of the region have legislative frameworks governing the freedom of speech, expression, information and publication, the effect of such laws is to indicate the limits of expression negatively so as to protect the rights of individuals, the interests of the state, law and order and public security. The specific statutes pertaining to radio and television also relate to the content of programmes and the obligation not to condone or incite crime, not to blaspheme or offend religious beliefs and susceptibilities and not to offend good taste or decency. Regulations may also be framed to ensure that these standards are observed.

But state ownership of most radio and television stations puts the onus of monitoring programmes and ensuring the observance of standards on the government itself. There is now in India an attempt to create an independent monitoring body and forum for redressing complaints under the provisions of the Prasar Bharati Act. In Sri Lanka a Media Council Act has been advocated to carry out similar functions.

The structural constraint of state ownership of the electronic media also engenders functional constraints. There is an absence of editorial autonomy for the broadcaster, who is ultimately responsible to the political authorities. Although the five countries under study claim to be democracies, a culture of dialogue that also respects the opinions of dissenters is lacking. For the most part the state in the respective countries uses the public-funded electronic media in a politically partisan manner. The state's justification for such use is that the government of the day needs to project its development activities to the public as an expression of accountability.

In doing so the state overlooks the requirement of the media to inform the public on matters of public interest and to act as a watchdog of governance. This is difficult to realise in a culture of compliance, the absence of authentic professionalism and observance of a concomitant ethic.

The state's attitude to the information process has traditionally been to disclose as little as possible to the media, secrecy being the norm. Where it chooses the path of disclosure it is usually to further the interest of the regime or to embarrass its political opponents. The manipulation of the

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electronic media that function under government auspices leads to officialisation of the information process. Thereby broadcasters are denied their editorial independence and the professional obligation to observe ethical norms of communication such as accuracy, fairness, objectivity, right of reply and of dissent, and responsiveness to social need.

The absence of a clearly articulated media policy in respect of public-funded media organisations in pluralist societies such as the South Asian often results in propagandist and partisan use of such media, resort to self-censorship and cronyism among communicators.

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9. Human rights and journalistic ethics

The foregoing critique of state-run and public-funded electronic media institutions is also valid for newspapers that function under state auspices. Some such criticism is also valid for newspapers that are privately owned and deny editorial autonomy to journalists. Nor do such newspapers foster the observance of journalistic ethics in day-to-day functioning by providing for professional training and observance of ethical norms.

Although the newspaper enterprise in most South Asian countries is over 150 years old (except explicitly in Bangladesh and Pakistan for reasons of their recent creation as separate nations) there has been no formal code until recently. However, there are laws pertaining to newspapers and printing presses and the general law, several provisions of which are incorporated in the Penal Code.

It was noted earlier in this essay that private newspapers that were supportive of the ruling power in the respective countries experienced a sense of political, social and economic power. Consequently, they could hire and fire journalists at will and felt that their newspapers had no moral obligation to serve the public interest or to accommodate news and views favourable to those with whom they disagreed or whom they disliked.

It was the intensely partial, divisive and restrictive stance of some newspapers, albeit influential with the ruling elites, which led to public clamour for press commissions in some countries of South Asia. Partly,

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they were inspired by the initiatives taken in Britain (Royal Commission on the Press, 1947 - 1949) and in the United States with the publication in 1947 of "A Free and Responsible Press." An independent Commission on the Freedom of the Press issued it. Its report deals with the responsibilities of the owners and managers of the press to their consciences and the common good for the formation of public opinion. The Commission comprised persons of standing drawn from civil society. [ A Free and Responsible Press (1947). University of Chicago Press.]

The special significance of the US commission is that it predates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1976, in particular Articles 14, 17 and 19. The Commission focused on the moral aspect of freedom of expression, the right being based on the duty of a person to the common good and to his own thought. "In the absence of moral duties, there are no moral rights," the report states.

The jurisprudence derived from the recognition of human rights and duties, the inspirational religious and cultural values of the South Asian civilisations and a shared public repugnance at the abuse of power by some newspapers and journalists supportive of regimes that were authoritarian led to the appointment of press commissions.

In India the first press commission was set up in 1952 and reported on the status of the press. Its unique feature is that it is multi-lingual, publishing in as many as 90 languages. The ownership pattern of some 25,000 newspapers and journals is varied, the largest number (nearly two thirds) being published by individuals. Their combined share of circulation is about equal to that of newspapers published by joint stock companies. The number of company newspapers is only about one eighteenth of the number published by private individuals. Societies and associations, firms and partnerships, trusts, cooperative societies and educational institutions are among the other publishers of newspapers. [ Kishore, Raj, in Press as Promoter, op. cit.]

This varied pattern of ownership, the multi-lingual character of the press, the diversity of the readership and the absence of an ethic shared by

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journalists and the public compound the issue of a common code of communication ethics.

The Press Council of India, set up by an Act of Parliament in 1965, was empowered to draft a code of conduct for newspapers, news agencies and journalists in accordance with high professional standards. But it refrained from doing so, hoping that a code would evolve from its own deliberations.

In 1984 the Press Council published an 11-point set of guidelines, which could serve as norms in the event of editors and journalists themselves deciding to draft a code. They were as follows.

  • Accuracy and fairness
  • Verification before publication
  • Respect for privacy
  • Recognition of the right of reply
  • Restraint in the coverage of communal disputes/clashes
  • Avoidance of plagiarism
  • Principles regarding recording interviews and phone conversations
  • Avoidance of vulgarity and obscenity
  • Caution in criticising judicial actions
  • Restraint in the use of photographs of bodies of victims of crime/accidents
  • Avoidance of crass commercialism [ Sanjay, B. P. in Communication Ethics: A South Asian Perspective. Asian Media Information and Communication Centre, Singapore. 1997.]

It has been observed that there is a low degree of voluntary compliance with the code. Nevertheless, public faith in the Press Council as a forum for redressing complaints against newspapers is borne out by the number of complaints it receives and investigates. The Council has on occasion deplored conflict between owners and editors that tends to affect editorial freedom as well as the proper functional relationship between the proprietors and the staff engaged in the production of the paper.

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A cause of conflict between owners and editors is the interlocking of the press with industry. Consequently, owners warn editors not to be too critical of the government, fearing reprisals that may affect their business interests.

Another ethical issue arises from the attitude to the newspaper as a saleable commodity, expressed by the Managing Director of Benett Coleman and Company, publishers of "The Times of India." [ Keval Varma, quoted by Leela Rao in op.cit.]

Such an attitude negates the human rights basis of media ethics. It is refreshing therefore to find a Code of Ethics of the All-India Newspapers Editors Conference. In several respects it is similar to the Guidelines of the Indian Press Council. Significant departures from the Council principles are that journalists are enjoined to promote the unity of the country and to be circumspect in dealing with movements and ideas which promote regionalism at the cost of national unity; the integrity of the country is to be regarded as sacrosanct; confidentiality and professional secrecy; obligations of propriety to fellow journalists, and personal integrity of conduct (see Appendix II).

The Code of Conduct 1993 for Newspapers, News Agencies and Journalists of Bangladesh framed under the Press Council Act of 1974 introduces the expression "moral duty" in several of its provisions. Among such moral duties is that the editor must accept full and sole responsibility for all that is published in his newspaper; that journalists should highlight degeneration of moral values in Bangladesh society; and exercise caution in publishing news of man-woman relationships or any report relating to women (see Appendix I).

In Nepal the preamble to the Code of Conduct for Journalists (1992) states that the country's new Constitution (1990) has established democratic principles and values, and by enhancing the dignity of the press has placed a greater responsibility on its practitioners to fulfil the professional duty entrusted to them by making it responsible to society.

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The Code, issued by the Press Council (initially set up in 1970 and reconstituted in 1992) requires journalists to "always remain dedicated to human values, democratic behaviour, national interest and public welfare."

Another article of the Code states that "news and views leading to communal fighting, terrorism and differences between different races, religious groups and communities should not be entertained."

Another provision states that resort to blackmail through journalism for economic or other benefit "is a serious moral crime."

In other respects the Code is comparable with codes elsewhere (see Appendix III).

In 1993 the Nepal Journalists Association adopted a Code of Conduct for Journalists, also called the Birgunj Declaration 1993 after the venue of the meeting. While it is similar to other codes for journalists, it is significant in that it requires journalists to be dedicated to ensuring that the people's right to be informed is secured. They are also required to "remain dedicated to human values, democratic culture, the country's well-being and for the public well-being."

The relaxation of restrictions on the Nepalese press owes a great deal to a 1981 Royal Commission on the Press that led to the enactment of the Press and Publications Act of 1982, a measure of reform. The Constitution of 1990 reinforced the liberalisation. Of special interest is Article 16, which states, "Every person shall have the right to demand and receive information on any matter of public importance." [ Koirala, in Press as Promoter, op. cit. p. 41.] The Press and Publications Act of February 1992 further consolidated the earlier gains.

Pakistan's articulation of media ethics is unique in that it illustrates how Islam tends to reshape the values and ethics of Pakistan's society.

The authoritarian regime of Field Marshal Ayub Khan had in 1963 promulgated the restrictive Press and Publications Ordinance. It was replaced by a mild regulatory law, the Registration of Press and Publi-

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cations Ordinance of 1988, as a result of the Federal Shariat Court judgement on a petition which entailed examination of the 1963 Ordinance. [ Sajid, Zakariya, in Communication Ethics.]

In its judgment the Shariat Court relied heavily on the Islamic Declaration for the mass media prepared and published by the Islamic Press Union. According to the Islamic Declaration, Islam lays great emphasis on freedom of expression and human dignity. It not only gives people the right of dissent but also makes it obligatory on them to protest against tyranny, injustice and oppression.

The Declaration adds, "Islam aims at creating a disciplined society where the rights and obligations of the individuals are in harmony with the broader interests of the community.

"These rights and obligations must not be curtailed, abrogated, suspended or transgressed by individuals, governments, parliaments or other institutions."

The Declaration articulates in some detail the rights of freedom of expression, or protest against injustice and evil and the individual's right to privacy. It goes on to spell out the concept of authenticity, which the media are required to uphold in practice. [ Sajid, ibid.]

Article 19 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, besides guaranteeing to citizens freedom of speech and expression, also guarantees freedom of the press, subject, however, to reasonable restrictions imposed by law "in the interest of the glory of Islam, of the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence." (See Appendix IV.)

The Sri Lanka Press Council Code of Ethics for journalists was drawn up in consultation with a group of editors and approved by parliament in October 1981. The Press Council was established in 1973 by an act of

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parliament. Its institution was recommended by the Press Commission of 1963, which recommended the broadbasing of the ownership of the press besides other matters. (See Appendix V.)

The Code of Ethics is comparable with codes in most Western countries, but many journalists are not aware of its existence nor does it form part of whatever training is provided in newspaper establishments. Even some legislators are unaware that the Code has been there since 1981. The principles enshrined in the Code derive from the human rights jurisprudence, which draws attention to both rights and duties.

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10. Observance of media ethics

The South Asian experience points to a gulf between the values and norms enshrined in the respective codes and the actual practice of journalism. It derives partly from a mistaken notion that the press is in a privileged position and that journalists are entitled to greater freedom of expression than ordinary citizens. Further, breach of the code of ethics is not punishable by courts except where the infringement is also an offence against some statutory provision.

While freedom of expression is exercised, at times to the point of license, there is insufficient evidence of the duty of care and respect for the rights of others. That the right of expression and publication has to be exercised with responsibility for accuracy, objectivity, fairness and balance appears not to be part of a professional code.

It requires an activist Press Council and a self-regulatory professional body of journalists to ensure high standards of journalism and promotion of the ethical values that the codes seek to uphold. Nevertheless, the interventionist role of the Press Council is minimal. It often acts only on complaints by aggrieved readers. It does not in addition perform a monitoring role. In any case, after inquiry all that the Press Council can do is to order the newspaper to publish a correction; an apology where it is required; and it could reprimand the offending newspaper. It has no penal power. So it tends to be regarded as toothless.

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The situation is further compounded by the absence of a public ethic based on a concept of morality and respect for human rights. At times readers tend to consider public curiosity about the private lives of politicians and celebrities a matter of public interest although the private conduct of such persons does not always impinge on the performance of their public duty.

The fact that newspapers are in a competitive industry is another functional constraint on the observance of media ethics. Papers not only strive to be first with the news, but also tend to sensationalise it to get the edge on competitors.

The link between newspaper circulation and advertising also tends to blur the ethical dimension. Dramatisation of news promotes sales and circulation and helps increase advertising revenue. Note the cynical attitude of the proprietors of The Times of India who regard the newspaper primarily as a saleable commodity.

Journalism schools endeavour to instil an awareness of the ethics of principle. But only a very small proportion of South Asian journalists have had pre-entry training in such schools of journalism.

In-plant training is mainly craft-oriented. Even if media ethics is part of the curriculum of such training, the practice of journalism leaves much to be desired.

The absence of professional bodies of journalists comparable with bodies for such professions as law, medicine, engineering and accountancy is a drawback to the self-regulation of the profession.

While there are many associations of journalists in the respective countries they function more like trade unions and are concerned mainly with working conditions, salaries, pensions, ancillary facilities and security of service.

The need for codes of media ethics is unquestionable. But codes alone have not been effective in raising ethical standards in the media. This was the consensus of a three-day seminar on "Communication Ethics from a

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South Asian Perspective," held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in November 1993.

The participants included 20 senior journalists and communication scholars from the South Asian region. The seminar was organised by the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) Singapore, the World Association of Christian Communication, UK, and the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, with support from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Colombo.

The seminar recommended replacement of press councils by media councils, which, unlike the former, should not be perceived as an extension of the state but as genuinely independent bodies. They should comprise respected media practitioners and eminent persons from public life chosen through a mechanism ensured by appropriate legislation.

The seminar also commented on the paucity of professional bodies of media practitioners in the region and called for the status of such bodies to be recognised by both the state and the social community. It would be the responsibility of such bodies to promote observance of ethical standards among media practitioners and a greater sense of social responsibility among media institutions.

While there is a growing degree of awareness among senior media practitioners of the need for adherence to media ethics there is little evidence of discussion of media ethics at the level of media owners. However, there is discussion by media owners on what they perceive as the intrusive role of the state in introducing new regulatory measures especially in relation to electronic media.

Perhaps the weakest aspect of media ethics in South Asia is the absence of an articulate public ethic that could act as a countervailing force to both the state and media institutions. The restraint on such a cohesive public ethic emerging is media audiences being heterogeneous in composition and values, levels of appreciation of media content, diverse in taste and apparently shunning an activist role in safeguarding cultural values and promoting high standards of media performance.

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Appendix I


Code of Conduct 1993 for Newspapers, News Agencies and Journalists of Bangladesh

  1. It is the responsibility of a journalist to keep people informed of issues which influence them or attract them. News and commentaries have to be prepared and published showing full respect to the sensitivity and individual rights of the newspaper readers as well as the people.
  2. Truth and accuracy in respect of information available shall be ensured.
  3. Information received from reliable sources may be published in public interest induced by honest intention and if facts presented therein are considered trustworthy by logical consideration, then the journalist has to be absolved of any adverse consequence for publication of such news.
  4. Reports based on rumours and not supported by facts shall be verified before publication and if these are considered not suitable for publication, one should refrain from publication of such news.
  5. News items whose contents are dishonest and baseless or whose publication hinges on breach of trust shall not be published.
  6. Newspapers and journalists have the right to express their views strongly on controversial issues but in doing so:
    1. All true events and views shall be expressed clearly.
    2. No event shall be distorted in order to influence the readers.
    3. No news shall be distorted or slanted dishonestly either in the main commentary or in the headline.
    4. Views on main news shall be presented clearly and honestly.
  7. The editor has the right to publish any advertisement in newspapers signed by proper authorities, even if it is apparently against individual interest but not slanderous or against public interest. If protest is made with regard to such advertisement, the editor shall print and publish it without any cost.

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  8. Newspapers shall refrain from publishing any news which is contemptuous of or disrespectful to caste, creed, nationality and religion of any individual, community or the country.
  9. If a newspaper published any news against the interest and good name of any individual, agency institution or group of people or any special category of people, then the newspaper or journalist concerned should provide opportunity to the aggrieved persons or institutions to publish their protest or answer quickly and correctly within a reasonable period of time.
  10. If the published news is damaging or is improper, then it should immediately be withdrawn and corrigendum or explanation (and in special cases apology) should be issued so that the impression (bad or erroneous) created by publication of such news is removed.
  11. Sensational and pulpy news shall not be published to augment the circulation of a paper if such news is deemed vulgar, improper and against public interest.
  12. Newspapers may adopt reasonable measures with a view to resisting crime and corruption even if they may not in some cases be deemed acceptable to someone.
  13. The extent and durability of the influence of newspapers is greater than other media. For this reason a journalist writing for newspapers shall be particularly cautious about the credibility and veracity of sources and shall also preserve his source material in order to avoid risks.
  14. It is the responsibility of the newspapers to publish the news of under-trial cases at all stages and to publish the final judgment of the Court in order to reveal the actual picture of issues relating to the case. But a journalist shall refrain from publishing such comment or opinion as is likely to influence an under-trial case until the final verdict is announced.
  15. Rejoinder of the aggrieved party or parties directly involved with a news item published in a newspaper shall be quickly published in the same newspaper on such a page as would easily attract the attention of the readers; the editor, while editing the rejoinder, shall not change its basic character.
  16. If an aggrieved party sends a rejoinder for the damage done to him by an editorial, it shall be the moral obligation of the editor

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    to publish the corrigendum in the same page and also express his/her regrets.

  17. The publication of malicious news is far more immoral than that of wrong news without malicious intent.
  18. It is the moral duty of an editor to accept full and sole responsibility for all publications in his/her newspaper.
  19. A reporter while reporting on a case of financial or other irregularity shall, to the best of his ability, ascertain the facts in his news item and must collect sufficient material to justify the truth of the matter reported. He should adopt the necessary precautions while investigating the case.
  20. A responsible publication which has not been contradicted may be the source of a news but it shall be a moral duty on the part of a journalist not to avoid responsibility regarding the news on the pretext that it has been reprinted.
  21. It is the responsibility of a journalist to highlight any news which projects degeneration of moral values in our society but it is also the moral responsibility of a journalist to maintain extra precaution in publishing any news involving man-woman relationships or any report relating to women.
  22. Respect for the law shall be highlighted.
  23. All government employees and the people in general shall be made aware of the need to preserve national resources.
  24. No programmes shall be shown containing scenes of torture to human beings or animals.
  25. The programmes shall eulogise the role of the genuine freedom fighters during the wars of liberation.
  26. All scenes of indecent kissing must be avoided while showing local and foreign films or programmes. No programmes of terrorism, violence or other contents contrary to Bangladeshi cultural values shall be put out.
  27. In the case of advertisements, no commodity shall be undermined while promoting another. Commercials shall not contain any obscene words or scenes.

    (Source: Communication Ethics: A South Asian Perspective, Asian Media Information and Communication Centre, Singapore. 1997)

[page-number of print ed.: 179]

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Appendix II


Code of Ethics of the All-India Newspapers

Editors' Conference

  1. As the press is a primary instrument in the creation of public opinion, journalists should regard their calling as a trust and be eager to serve and guard their public's interests.
  2. In the discharge of their duties journalists should attach due value to fundamental, human and social rights and shall hold good faith and fair play in news reports and comments as essential professional obligations.
  3. Journalists should observe special restraint in reports and comments dealing with tensions, likely to lead, or leading to civil disorder.
    1. Journalists shall particularly observe maximum restraint in publishing reports and comments relating to communal tension, incidents, riots, incipient situations likely to lead to communal disturbances. The identification of communities which may lead to chain reactions should be avoided.
    2. Journalists should endeavour at all times to promote the unity of the country and nation, pride in the country, its people, its achievements and its strength in diversity. Journalists should be most circumspect in dealing with movements and ideas which promote regionalism at the cost of national unity.
    3. Any reportage on ideas of fresh partition and secessionism must be treated with the greatest caution. Any comment likely to give comfort to the proponents of such ideas and further their interests should be avoided. The integrity of the country and of Indian peoples must be considered sacrosanct and beyond question.
  4. Journalists should endeavour to ensure that information disseminated is factually accurate. No fact shall be distorted or the essential facts deliberately omitted. No information known to be false shall be published.

    [page-number of print ed.: 180]

  5. Responsibility shall be assumed for all information and comments published. If responsibility is disclaimed, this will be explicitly stated.
  6. Confidences shall always be respected. Professional secrecy must be preserved.
  7. Any report found to be inaccurate and any comment on inaccurate reports shall be voluntarily rectified. It shall be obligatory to give fair publicity to a correlation of contradiction when a report published is shown to be false or inaccurate in material particulars.
  8. Journalists shall not exploit their status for non-journalistic purposes.
  9. Journalists shall not allow personal interest to influence professional conduct.
  10. There is nothing so unworthy as the acceptance or demand of a bribe or inducement for the exercise by a journalist of his power to give or deny publicity to news or comments.
  11. Freedom in the honest collection and publication of news and facts and the rights of their comments and criticism and principles which every journalist should always defend.
  12. Journalists shall be very conscious of their obligation to their fellows in the profession and shall not seek to deprive fellow-journalists of their livelihood by unfair means.
  13. The carrying on of personal controversies in the press in which no public interest is involved shall be regarded as derogatory to the dignity of the profession.
  14. It is unprofessional to give currency to rumours or loose talk affecting the private life of individuals. Even verifiable news affecting the private life of individuals shall not be published unless the public interest as distinguished from public curiosity demands its publication.
  15. The Press shall refrain from publishing matters likely to encourage vice and crime.

[page-number of print ed.: 181]

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Appendix III


Code of Conduct for Journalists

(Issued by the Press Council of Nepal on 1st May 1992)

  1. Journalism is a profession which should be responsible to the entire mankind. As such, the people engaging in this profession should always remain dedicated to human values, democratic behaviour, national interest and public welfare.
  2. Every Journalist should make truth, mutual trust, honesty, justice and impartiality as his identity while publishing or broadcasting news or views.
  3. News and views leading to communal fighting, terrorism and differences between different races, religious groups and communities should not be entertained.
  4. If a published article is learnt to have caused unintentional harm to anybody or if the information proves wrong, then it will be the bounden duty of a journalist to publish correction of the news or publish it in an appropriate space when approached for publication of denials based on facts.
  5. Journalists should not disclose the confidentiality of the news source.
  6. Journalism should never be misused for self-benefits. It is a serious moral crime to try to take economic or any other benefits by making news as a tool. (Blackmailing)
  7. None should give space to publication of news or comments that are fabricated and are prejudicial to the prestige of any individual or a family and infringe on the right to privacy or self-confidentialities.
  8. No news should destroy the credibility of any institution out of malice or for self-benefits.
  9. Disrespectful language and obscene materials should not be given any space in a responsible press. While reporting on crime and rape cases, one should be vigilant over the fact that information does not fan out excitement and deviations and that it did not add further injuries on the afflicted parties.

    [page-number of print ed.: 182]

  10. Journalists should behave professionally towards each other. To blame each other through the publications will be viewed as contrary to professional ethics.

[page-number of print ed.: 183]

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Appendix IV


NECP Press Code of Ethics

The Newspaper Editors Council of Pakistan was formed on May 22, 1993. Its aims and objects include safeguarding the freedom of the press and working ceaselessly for healthy growth of Journalism in the country.

The Council believes that the duty of Editors/journalists is to serve the truth. It also believes that the agencies of mass communication are carriers of public discussion and information, acting on their Constitutional mandate and freedom to learn and report the facts.

Article 19 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan which guarantees the freedom of the press also places some obligations on it. The article reads ‘Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be Freedom of the Press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam, of the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence’.

In order to fulfill the afore-mentioned constitutional obligations without inviting government interference and to adhere strictly to the Canons of Journalism i.e. Responsibility; Freedom of the Press; Independence; Sincerity; Accuracy; Impartiality, Fairplay and Decency and to realise the goals expounded in the ‘Declaration of Objectives’ adopted by the NECP, we, the members of the Council declare acceptance of the code of ethics here set forth:

  1. The following are to be avoided in any form of publication such as news items, editorials, articles, photographs and advertisements:
    1. Immorality or obscenity;

      [page-number of print ed.: 184]

    2. Vulgar and derogatory expressions against individuals, institutions or groups;
    3. Allegations known to be false and malicious against individuals, institutions, groups, newspapers and other publications;
    4. Arousing of sectarian, parochial or provincial passions and prejudices and class hatred;
    5. Glamourization of crimes and vice;
    6. Incitement to violence.
  2. Editors/Journalists must be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know the truth.
  3. Will make constant efforts to assure that the public's business is conducted in public and that public records are open to public inspection.
  4. The right of the individual to protection of his reputation and integrity must be respected and exposure of and comment on the private lives of individuals must be avoided except where it affects the public interest.
  5. Presentation of news items and comments on events and airing of legitimate grievances should be fair and objective and there should be no wilful departure from facts. Headlines should be fully warranted by the contents of the items they accompany and photographs should give an accurate picture of an event and not highlight a minor incident out of context; off the record briefings should not be published and embargoes on release dates of news, articles and pictures should be rigorously observed.
  6. The journalist should be entitled to protect his source of information revealed in confidence.
  7. All paid commercial announcements, articles or advertisements should be specified as such.
  8. No newspaper shall accept in any form or shape any financial and pecuniary advantage or obligation from or on behalf of any foreign country, concern, or agency. This does not apply to paid advertisements appearing as such.
  9. Gifts, favours, free travel, special treatment or privileges can

    [page-number of print ed.: 185]

    compromise the integrity of Editors and influence their sense of justice and impartiality. Nothing of value should be accepted.

  10. Secondary employment, political involvement, holding public office, and service in community organisations should be avoided if it compromises the integrity of Editors. The Editors should conduct their personal lives in a manner which protects them from conflict of interest, real or apparent.
  11. Justified corrections or denials sent as a result of any incorrect information published by newspapers, periodicals or news agencies should be published within the shortest possible period of time so as to effectively eliminate the impression created by the original publication, which necessitated the issuance of a correction or denial.
  12. The Press shall refrain from publishing anything derogatory to religion or which may hurt religious feeling of any sect/minority.
  13. The Press shall refrain from publishing anything likely to bring into hatred or contempt the head of any friendly state.
  14. The Press shall not publish news or comments, photographs or advertisements which may undermine the security of the state or solidarity of the nation and its ideology.
  15. The Press shall refrain from publishing anything likely to undermine the loyalty and allegiance of the defence forces and the civil armed forces.
  16. The Press shall refrain from involving the defence forces in politics and offer only fair comment on its performance and conduct.
  17. In reporting proceedings of Parliament and Provincial Assemblies, such portions of the proceedings as the Chairman/Speaker may have ordered to be expunged from the records of the House shall not be published and every effort shall be made to give the readers a fair report of what has been said by all sections of Parliament and Provincial Assemblies.
  18. In reporting the proceedings of courts of law, care will be taken not to suppress the version or arguments of the contending parties.

[page-number of print ed.: 186]

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Appendix V

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Press Council Code of Ethics for Journalists

(Framed under Section 30 (1) of the Sri Lanka Press Council Law No. 5 of 1973, approved by Parliament and Gazetted on 14.10.81.)

  1. These rules may be cited as the Press Council Code of Ethics for Journalists Rules, 1981.
  2. Every journalist shall-
    1. use all reasonable means within his power to ascertain prior to publication the veracity of the contents of any article written by him for publication;
    2. refrain from reporting or causing to be printed or published any matter which he knows or has reason to believe to be false or inaccurate;
    3. refrain from distorting the truth by any act of commission or wilful omission;
    4. take all possible steps to correct within the shortest possible space of time any inaccuracy or incorrect information in any report or article the writing or publication of which he is responsible; and
    5. refrain from publishing or causing to be published, any matter which may offend public taste or morality, or tend to lower the standards of public taste or morality.
  3. Every journalist shall use all reasonable means at his command in any report or article he writes or chooses to be printed or published, to draw a clear distinction between any statement of fact on the one hand and any expression of opinion or criticism on the other.
  4. Every journalist shall observe secrecy regarding any source of information unless the person who gave such information authorises the disclosure of his identity.
  5. Every journalist shall respect the reputation of an individual, and refrain from reporting or causing to be printed or published any information or comment regarding an individual's private

    [page-number of print ed.: 187]

    life unless the publication of the said matter is in the public interest, as distinguished from public curiosity.

  6. (1) In reporting or causing to be printed or published accounts of crimes or criminal cases, a journalist shall not -
    1. name victims of sex crimes;
    2. name any young person accused of a criminal offence who to his knowledge is below the age of 18 and to his knowledge is a person who has no previous convictions; or
    3. name any person as being a relative of a person accused or convicted of a crime for the sole purpose of informing the reader of the relationship between the person so named and the person charged unless the public interest would be served by the publication of the said matter.

    (2) In reporting or causing to be printed or published accounts of matrimonial causes or actions, a journalist shall refrain from reporting or publishing any offensive details.

  7. A journalist shall not commit plagiarism.
  8. A journalist shall not present any matter in a manner designed to promote sadism, violence or salacity.
  9. A journalist shall not report or cause to be printed or published any matter that is obscene unless the public interest is served by the publication thereof.
  10. A journalist shall not report or cause to be printed or published any matter for the purpose of promoting communal or religious discord or violence.
  11. Every journalist shall safeguard the dignity of his profession. He shall not accept any bribe in money, kind or service for any matter connected with or incidental to his profession.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | März 2000

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