Hate speech and the rush to publish are two great challenges to quality journalism

“We are seeing a decline in the quality of journalistic content, resulting in the decline of trust in media.”
At an international seminar in Vietnam, exploring Trust in Media in the Digital Era, Aiden White, Director of the Ethical Journalism Network, told delegates that free speech is not necessarily journalism.

“Hate speech and the rush to publish are the great challenges of our age for journalists. We need to avoid the rush to publish if it leads us to inaccuracy,” he said.
With the explosion of media technology and social media the audience can be publishers, but White says “ethical journalism is not opinion or free speech… ethical journalism is a public good. It is ‘constrained expression,’ which takes into account truth and accuracy, independence, impartiality, humanity and accountability.”
“Anyone can state their opinion in social media and can publish information that supports their own views or commercial interests, but freedom of expression is not necessarily good journalism,” he said.
While huge numbers of people use social media for entertainment, when they look for news the audience still wants accuracy and tested content. At the same time they also want to be involved in shaping the agenda and they want media to respond to their concerns. This is a dichotomy of this modern multi media age.
There are more than 400 codes of practice about good journalism around the world, “but it’s about putting them into practice, not just writing them,” says White, who sees that many media outlets are being lured into poor quality journalism by the commercial demands and the rush to publish material that keep up with competitors and bloggers.
The web is full of hate speech and wrong information that is pushed out to suit someone’s biased point of view, so quality journalists need to avoid being lured to republish this material until they have checked details and taken time to think about the implications of what they see on the net. There is lots of information on the net posing as news but it is just not true and is made up.
“Ethical journalism is thinking journalism, but when you don’t have time to think ethically then that is one of the greatest challenges we face.”
There is an important link between good journalism and good democracy. White especially urged public broadcasting to provide models of how citizens should receive good quality information that will improve society.
“We have begun to lose focus on delivering quality in the past few years. How do we refocus on that in a completely changing landscape?” asked White. Journalism is a public good, it contributes to a public discourse in society.
Quality broadcasters should make corrections quickly if they get something wrong. “You can express yourself or offend people on the internet and not say sorry. That’s freedom of speech and we are lucky to have it… but its not good journalism,” he said
“Accuracy is the cardinal principle of journalism. We are not propagandists, salespeople or spokespeople for someone else. We have to be impartial and show all sides of a story… Good journalists with within the constraints of society, respecting quality ethics, reliability and balance.”
In the same seminar, sponsored by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a range of speakers gave examples from their countries about trust in media.
The President of the Egyptian public broadcaster Shokry Abou Emira said his organisation has proved to the public that they can trust the public broadcaster in the most recent disruptions in Egypt.
“The situation now is good because we took the side of the people, they trust us now. In the days of Mubarak every tv and radio was serving the regime and the president. After the revolution we decided to serve the Egyptian people. We take our salaries from the people so we should serve them,” said Emira
Ovidiu Miculescu, Director General of Radio Romania, the national broadcaster of Romania, told delegates that the public broadcaster was previously “suffocated by communist propaganda… trust is difficult to achieve in totalitarian regimes.”
To try and maintain trust during the communist era, Radio Romania concentrated on honesty in cultural and other non-political programs “to try and keep trust with our audiences,” even though political programs were dominated by government viewpoints.
After the fall of communism trust in Radio Romania has increased. “We are making programs for citizens not for consumers. Our mission is to be independent, reliable and fair. Solidarity with the audience is the cornerstone of building trust with the audience… OK is not enough, we owe our citizens more than that.”
The transition from broadcasting within a totalitarian regime was very difficult, as Miculescu indicated when he told the story of how radio and tv had to change after the fall of communism and the exit of former president Nicolae Ceausescu.


Myanmar is currently transforming from a state (propaganda) broadcaster to public service media. Reform is taking place in three areas: legislation, content and technical. The broadcaster now has a more casual approach in presentation and increased news bulletins, up from 3 per day to one per hour. Other changes include increased news bureaus and more channels across the country. “We had tight censorship for many years which was abolished in 2012. We now need to strengthen our media institutions,” said Tint Swe, the Director General of Myanmar Radio and Television.
“The trust of public services media is not there yet in my country. We need to explain to the people what it means to be public services media because they still think of us as propaganda media. We are working with ABU and other organisations to help us build capacity and make these changes.”

Judy Tam, an independent producer who makes programs for America’s PBS network explained why Americans trust PBS because of itsindependence, diversity, authenticity and engagement.


Vijay Chabbra from All India Radio summarised the broadcaster’s principles for nation building: democracy, secularism and equality. With so much competition these days it is difficult to retain relevance and trust, but the national broadcaster has decided that it will try to maintain its high quality editorial policies. “We have shown that public broadcasting is commercially viable. We are in tough competition with our private broadcasters but we are succeeding because people trust us,” she said.