As members of the fourth estate, journalists aim to serve the public by providing checks and balances on those who wield power in society. Aspiring journalists should serve their audiences with integrity and honesty. The media’s constant reports are a reminder to those in power that the world is watching.
But the recent News of the World phone hacking scandal has seriously tested the public’s trust in the media. That old adage about accuracy – ‘never believe what you read in the paper’ – has been joined by a new area of concern, as the public now focuses on the ways that journalists source their information.
Media website mUmbrella recently released figures showing that just 32% of Australians trust the media. Only people in the US and the UK have more distrust of the media than Australians. Considering the recent exposure of News of the World, part of the Murdoch empire, can we really blame them?
Crikey described the scandal as ‘Shakespearean-like’ in the way it highlighted serious flaws in the behaviour of News of the World journalists. These included the unethical practices of hiring private investigators, phone hacking and links to police corruption.
For Australians, events in the UK raise an obvious question: could that happen here?
While Australia’s major news organisations have distanced themselves from the practices of the News of the World, the Greens leader Bob Brown believes the time is right for a new inquiry into the Australian media.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) believes Australia is due for a broader examination of its media, than that proposed by the Greens. The MEAA proposal is for a thorough examination of the health and future of Australia’s media.
The MEAA’s Federal Secretary Christopher Warren, however, believes that the unethical practices of some News of the World journalists are not an issue in Australia.
‘I’m happy that Australian journalists, or the overwhelming majority of journalists, observe the Media Alliance Journalist Code of Ethics and I haven’t heard anything to suggest that journalists in Australian newsrooms would stoop to the sleazy and criminal methods employed by some of their UK counterparts,’ he said in a recent press release.
In Australia and overseas there are also independent organisations which are aiming to increase transparency and accountability in the media.
In the UK, the Media Standards Trust runs several projects to foster ‘high standards in news on behalf of the public.’ They include churnalism.com, a search engine helping people determine whether news is journalism or churnalism; the Transparency Initiative, which aims to make online news more transparent; and journalisted.com, a database which provides information about individual journalists.
The News of the World scandal is a timely reminder that journalism is a matter of trust.