Thursday, 13 January 2011

What is the bearing of culture on journalistic ethics?


Culture is a system of shared belief, values, customs, behaviours and rituals that members of a society use to cope with another (the total way of life of a people). Moreover, communication cannot be over-estimated for human life, for without communication no society can exist, much less develop and survive.

This case, communication is the systematic process in which people create shared meanings. The meaning are created and shared by groups of people through participation that form the context of common interpretations.
Communication gives expression to culture while the latter serves as the basis and that which gives meaning to the former (communication code, context and meaning are determined by culture) (Kuncizik: 1984).
If there is to be successful intercultural communication (occurs whenever a message producer is a member of one experiential background and a message receiver is a member of a different experiential background), we must be aware of the cultural factors affecting communication in both our own culture and the culture of the party. Attention must be paid, for example, to cultural variables, which greatly affect the perceptual processes and hence, our intercultural communicative behaviour. A few examples of such variables:
Attitudes: these are psychological states that predispose us to act in certain ways, e.g. ethnocentrism, viewing people by using our own ways as the standard for all judgment and stereotype, assigning of attributes to another person solely on the basis of the class they belong.
Patterns of thought: these are methods adopted for defining sources of knowledge, and organizing coherent thinking- reasoning patterns. To improve our intercultural communication, we must be aware of the effects that differences in reasoning patterns have on communicative behaviour.
Roles and role prescriptions: they vary culturally- e.g. male-female role behaviours of members of one culture may seem strange to members of another culture. The holds true for such variables as social organization, language, space, time conceptulisation and the many non-verbal expressions.

All these variables have the ability to influence our perception and to affect the meaning we assign to communicative acts. Therefore, a need to improve our intercultural communication ability, we need to be aware of the effect which differences in all these have on communicative behavior.

Since the birth of modern journalism in the 17th century, journalism has gradually broaden the scope of the people that it claims to serve -- from factions to specific social classes to the public of nations. The journalistic principle of “serving the public interest” has been understood, tacitly or explicitly, as serving one’s own public, social class or nation.

The other principles of objectivity, impartiality and editorial independence were limited by this parochial understanding of who journalism serves. For example, “impartiality” meant being impartial in one’s coverage of rival groups within one’s society, but not necessarily being impartial to groups outside one’s national boundaries.

Growth of global journalism, then, can be seen as a platform that is now shaping journalism ethics -- to regard journalism’s “public” as the citizens of the world, and to interpret the ethical principles of objectivity, balance and independence in an international manner.

On a historical perspective regarding the widely differing ideas underlying free expression authoritarian, libertarian and social responsibility models, distinguished by the levels of freedom they each allow and by the attitudes of the ruling and political classes towards the freedoms grated to offer good point for discussing the press and democracy.

Of great importance in relation to culture and journalism is the social responsibility model.  Mass media had grown too powerful and needed to become more socially responsible. Key recommendations encouraged comprehensive news reports that put issues and events in context, more news forums for the exchange of ideas, better coverage of society’s range of economic classes and social groups (Campbell 1998: 442).

This is a normative theory calling for responsible ethical industry operation. Journalists being a part  of society means we need to adhere to rules that help that society work an ordered society is one in which everyone knows, accepts and ideally, adheres  to the rules and also accepts the right of society to judge and punish those who break those rules.

Some elements of unacceptable social behavior are damaging enough to a society for the whole of that society to be concerned with their suppression.


Although society is naturally concerned with actions that apply to the whole of society, there are a number of actions hat can only be perpetrated by certain people in certain positions. Some are so important to society that they are legislated. 

This is where professional ethics become important. A journalist is in the same position. For example, if he or she takes advantage of a situation and does not deal fairly with those to whom he or she owes loyalty the, it is unlikely that society will suffer directly. There are a wide range of issues in which journalists are involved that are not subject to the law but must be considered from an ethical viewpoint (Linard:2002: pp2).

Culture influences language use of communication between members of diverse culture. This can be a challenge in the way culture influences communication styles. Therefore, as communicators, we should understand that:

  1. The media influences how we perceive social experience because they tend to depict us in ways that reinforce cultural views.
  2. The more media we use, the more accepting we tend to become of social stereotypes and the more likely we help perpetuate the unrealistic and limiting perception presented to us.
  3. The media helps socialize us. Through old and new media we supplement what we already internalized about behavior and values in direct counters with other people. Their portrayals help us access the preferred patterns of behavior and appearance. By doing so they teach us social norms and values, help us learn what’s expected of us including how we are supposed to think, act and look thus, they participate in our socialization.
On the other hand, culture has a great influence on group communication. It is one of the forces that shape the action in which they exist. Providing a set of constituted assumptions that determines how members will behave towards one another. Of importance is the collectivism aspect where societies feel loyalties and obligation to groups of which they are members.

This is an important perspective when relating culture and journalism ethics because Journalism ethics are becoming more “cosmopolitan” in tone and perspective.

Enhancing this aspect, trends working together to crystallize the growing need for developing intercultural sensitivities and improve communication techniques. Learning more about how culture affects behavior helps to reduce friction and misunderstanding. Cultures affecting the need to communicate across cultures are:

  1. Globalization of markets: today’s businesses are transacted by people from around the world. National boundaries mean less as businesses expand through mergers, alliances and acquisition. Therefore, different companies (the media not left out) must adapt to other cultures.
  2. Technological advances in transportation and information: this aspect is making the world smaller and more intertwined. Their defining characteristic is the capacity to harness access and apply information and diffuse knowledge at electronic speed to all types of human activity thereby giving rise to contemporary knowledge based economies and societies. Consequently, transforming social, economical, cultural and political interactions all over.
  3. Immigration: many immigrants from different cultures settle in different areas. This affect changes he complexion of the workforce. Therefore, successful interaction requires awareness and accommodation. Learning more about how affects behavior also helps you to reduce friction and misunderstanding.

The global journalist’s primary loyalty is to the information needs of world citizens. Journalists should refuse to define themselves as attached primarily to factions, regions or even countries. Serving the public means serving more than one’s local readership or audience, or even the public of one’s country.

The global journalist frames issues broadly and uses a diversity of sources and perspectives to promote a nuanced understanding of issues from an international perspective. Journalism should work against a narrow ethnocentrism or patriotism.  Under global journalism ethics, objectivity becomes the ideal of informing impartially from an international stance. 

Objectivity in journalism has usually been understood as the duty to avoid bias toward groups within one’s own country. Global objectivity takes on the additional responsibility of allowing bias towards one’s country or culture as a whole to distort reports, especially reports on international issues.

Objective reports, to be accurate and balanced, must contain all relevant international sources and cross-cultural perspectives. In addition, global journalism asks journalists to be more conscious of how they frame the global public’s perspective on major stories, and how they set the international news agenda. The aim of global journalism should be more than helping the public sphere “go well” at home, as civic journalists say. The aim should be to facilitate rational deliberation in a global public sphere.

Global journalism ethics implies a firm journalistic response to inward-looking attitudes, such as extreme patriotism. Cosmopolitanism means that the primary ethical duty of a global journalism in times of conflict and uncertainty is not patriotism of blind allegiance, or muted criticism. Public duty calls for independent, hard-edged news, along with investigations and analysis.

The functions a society assigns to the press or mass media are also decisive to journalistic ethics. Therefore To upgrade social values the journalist should:

  1. Accept and fulfill certain obligations to society by setting high standards of professionalism. Truth, accuracy and objectivity.
  2. Avoid disseminating material that might lead to crime, violence, a civil disorder or that may offend minority groups.
  3. Be pluralistic, reflect the diversity of the culture in which they operate and give access to various points of view and right to reply.
  4. Be accountable to society as well as their employers and the market.

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