New Ethics in the Era of New Media

Is it difficult to have rules or even more difficult to abide by them?

Christos T. Panagopoulos

The most important element behind a journalistic text, a breaking news story, a news report or an analysis is not simply the Truth, but the journalist’s conscience itself, to speak the Truth, to tell the story exactly in the way the current affairs have happened.

At a time when the volume of the information seems insuperable and the New Media live their own “Golden Age” via the plethora of the tools they offer to the administration and dispersal of the Information, journalists seem to constantly whirl on the tip of a spinning coin.

This coin sometimes raises either simple or complex dilemmas that govern their choices and decisions: to tell the story “roughly” as it is or to make it more – as said at the New Media’s slang – “saleable”, that is to sell, in order to gain clicks from potential readers, thus making possible compromises concerning the information’s credibility? To reveal their sources or not to reveal? Should he publish the identity of the 42-year-old woman who murdered her husband and child, presenting her as a new Medea, or should he protect her, by respecting the presumption of her innocence?

In this frenzy, which describes the constant flow of information that are propagated via different and various channels, one can imagine that the fore-mentioned coin is moving in a way that resembles to an ultra-fast vortex. In addition, if one takes into account all the pressure journalists accumulate every so often (i.e. “Publish the story now, even if it’s incomplete, otherwise we will lose the first in the Google Analytics and you… well… you will lose your job”), then things can get pretty bad, messy and difficult.

Dangerous beliefs and attitudes in times of ultra-high velocity

Basic rules of Journalistic Ethics not only constitute a map describing the mosaic that is composed by the tiles of thousands of new media, but it’s, mainly, the compass which shows to a journalist the way of good professional practice. Moreover, this way is governed by the undeviating expression of the “Truth Obligation Principle”, which he must put in practice, in order to protect the Public Interest.

The oversimplified and often aphoristic ascertainment that “there are big gaps in the regulatory framework of Journalistic Ethics” manages to propagate in two different paths. Either to give an alibi for inaction or to manifest the relation of cause and causality that governs a journalistic product of extremely poor quality; and it is the specific ascertainment that has nothing to offer neither to the Media’s evolution nor to the journalist himself.

At the same time, when rules of good professional practice are sidelined in the framework of an equally dangerous belief that “all these are just theories. In practice, all these are dead letters”, then the game of fake news – as the renowned media theorist Jürgen Habermas had once described – becomes more acute. This, consequently, results in the production of cheap and qualitatively poor journalistic content that resembles a lot to the material diffused by the gutter press. However, the worst consequence of fake news is the conservation of old or the incubation of new forms of corruption and entanglement of interests.

The example of the US Presidential Elections

If one observed the recent example of the Presidential Election back in the United States, would realise the destitution surrounding the US Mass Media; this is perceived more easily, when one understands how disconnected the media are towards the American citizens, let alone the utmost failure of polls to reflect the true sentiment of the civil society.

Moreover, lies become the absolute ruler in major global events, including the US Presidential Campaign.

In November 16th 2016, almost a week after Donald Trump’s victory versus Hillary Clinton, journalist Craig Silverman from Buzzfeed made an interesting revelation. He showed, through a graph and a special online application, that the 20 top fake news for the US elections had managed to surpass in terms of engagement (as shown on web analytics) the true stories published at the end of the 2016 US Campaign.

It was then Tom Law in his article “Ethics in the news after Trump’s election” who correctly underlined the failure of the US Media and most of all the consequences of the journalistic “unfair play” for Democracy itself.

Law described it clearly: it is one thing to shape public opinion and quite another to manipulate it. An analysis or a personal article cannot overlie news stories and news reports in the name of – or for the sake of – the Media’s preference for the one or the other candidate.

Hence, the keyword at that point is one: consciousness. It is the professional consciousness that can hamper the expansion of the “fake news” phenomenon and that comes in full compliance and synergy with the absolute and imperative need for topical and dynamically enhanced rules, not only of the Journalistic Ethics, but also for the good professional conduct and practice.

To conclude, this is the key for the creation of new standards, which would harmonically combine Journalism based on qualitative criteria with New Technologies and especially the New Media.