Journalism Ethics: An inspiration for free expression and media literacy was written for UNESCO by Aidan White in 2016.

Ethical Journalism: An Inspiration for Free Expression and Media Literacy

Aidan White

31st July 2016

On the 25th anniversary of his landmark invention of the World Wide Web in 2014 Sir Tim Berners Lee made a trenchant attack on governments and corporations who he accused of taking over the web.

His dream of an egalitarian tool that could share information for the greater good has been overwhelmed, he argued, by a culture of state surveillance and corporate secret tracking. He called for a new bill of rights – a global “Magna Carta” for the web – to protect its neutrality and the rights of its users worldwide.

He’s not alone in his concerns. Today many people are troubled by our modern information culture with its tendency towards strident communications and lack of humanity. The web itself has become a whirlpool of hate-speech, racism, bullying, misogyny, and propaganda. Berners-Lee’s enchanted vision has given way to a customised, commercialised online world.

“Sir Tim Berners-Lee at #WebWeWantFest” by Southbank Centre licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 –

The culprits in this process are not just unscrupulous governments and avaricious business. The Internet’s millions of users, knowingly or otherwise, are also implicated by their consent to the economic exploitation of their personal data in return for free online services.

For people who aspire to connected communities, open government, democracy, good public services, and a communications culture that provides diversity, the information crisis highlighted by Berners Lee identifies one of the greatest challenges of the modern age.

Journalists, teachers, researchers, artists and millions of people who work in public life and who see the benefits of a better connected world, are rightly troubled by the lack of attachment to values in our public communications. There is a widespread fear that today’s flawed culture of public communications is fracturing the political, social and cultural foundations of cohesion in our societies.

The Ethical Journalism Network is a relatively new group which has emerged from within the global community of media professionals and which aims to strengthen journalism and to raise awareness of the need for value-based communications in the public sphere.

In this article we examine how journalism, despite the difficulties it is currently facing, can give added value to work to promote more responsible communications. We conclude that there is a need for fresh thinking on how to prepare a detailed road map for balancing information rights, press freedom and human rights, and particular for a new ethic of information that provides a positive narrative about how media, and ethical journalism in particular, can serve as a public good.


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If you share our mission, please consider donating to the Ethical Journalism Network. Your financial contribution will help the EJN to support journalists around the world who are striving to uphold ethical practices in order to build public trust in good journalism.