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Media ethics in journalism

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Aditya Aryan
Aditya Aryan
Aditya is a 3rd year Law Student, Having keen interest in writing for socio-legal issues. He has published several Article and blogs at various reputed journals and websites.

The impact of media on us has been enormous, with no doubt and reasoning being given. Trials undertaken by media have become very effective and dominant. It is well aware that it was due to the media which created public unrest in the Jessica Lal murder case. Also, the further delay in the judgment of Kasab was hampered due to discussions, polls, and reactions of people that were being passed on to the government directly through the media. The entire country became frustrated when they got to know about the money that was spent to provide ‘security’ to a person who was convicted in mercilessly shooting and killing innocent people. The most important incident that needs to be mentioned in is the case of the gang rape of a student (better known as Nirbhaya) in New Delhi in December 2012. Contradictory to many other rape cases that are pending in the courts for years, due to the pressure from the media the police force, ministries and judiciary were urged to give special importance to this case.


Now major question or doubt is whether such trials, run by media houses without any permission, are hampering the legal system or is a violation of media ethics. The fair side behind such trials by the public is that wherever or whenever the system fails to ensure justice to the victim, the mass shall come forward to adjudicate the issue by either impel the judiciary to punish the culprit by contriving new ways of governance, laws, and practice. However, the darker side, is that, if we comment on the judgment or the proceedings of the case, we will be liable for contempt of court and defamation. It will be an unethical practice and to carry out such trials by media because then the judge’s credibility will be at stake. The country doesn’t permit us to give opinions or remarks on a judgment. Making Remark or comment on a judgment might result in contempt of court.

Media power and its influence are realized globally for years now. Many tried to control its regulation by limiting its right to criticize, broadcast, and publish freely by trying to manipulate and use them as a tool of spreading their propaganda. This holds very true in a country like India. But The Constitution of India is there to safeguard the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression of all the media houses through self-regulation and advocacy. Universal Declaration of Human Rights states- “Everyone has the freedom of opinion and expressions, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and idea through any media and regardless of frontiers[1].

Ethical Journalism

Media ethics is a division of ethics that includes specific ethical standards that media should follow, be it, any form of media. Media ethics promotes values such as a universal respect for life and the rule of law and legality[2]. The main objective of Journalism is to serve people by collecting true information on matters concerning public interest. Free media should be there to acts as a watchdog to the government[3] and is also a channel to connect people with its government. The media has a great influence on the minds of the people and can help in shaping their decisions. The media is not just a fourth estate but has also had an influential impact on the society that the media on no ground, can lose sight of its duties and obligations towards the people. So, they are obligated to follow the ethical guidelines in the collection and distribution of information by double-checking the authenticity of the news.

Principles of Ethical Journalism

The principles of ethical journalism should provide a strong foundation for the movement of information. Responsible journalism is providing correct information only after thoroughly checking the facts learned and to present them without any false or twisted expression. Accurate information helps the public to understand the issues clearly so that they would be able to form opinions and choices of their own. There are five core principles of journalism.

Accuracy: It involves the collection of all the relevant facts and information media have and verifying them using more than one source. It also means giving equal representation to all of the sides involved so that it helps in deciding the authenticity and credibility of news.

Accountability: A sign of professionalism and responsible journalism is the ability to hold ourselves accountable.

Objectivity: It means to depend on norms such as doing a multiple source check for confirmation of facts and try to present all relevant and important aspects of a story.

Truth and fairness: This is known as a core principle for ethical journalism. Journalists should forever maintain truth and fairness in gathering news, reporting, and interpreting information.

Independence: Journalists should have independent voices and should not act on behalf of any special interests.

Ethical Neglect In Responsible Journalism

The primary function of media is to gather, convey, and comment on the information to create the administration of justice. This includes as a right also for cases of before, during, and after trial, without violating the presumption of innocence[4]. Today, the issue that created a problem with journalism ranges from paid news to news and show businesses. This shows a trend that is increasing towards the commercialization of journalism which has diverted their attention to increase in viewership. This often affects the collection of several issues that are of equal importance but are often ignored due to lack of attention.

Paid News:

The problem of ‘paid news’ goes way beyond the corruption of journalists and media houses. It is spoiling the democratic system in India. News is always meant to be fair and unbiased from all forms and this is what makes them different from the advertisements. However, this difference gets vanished in cases of ‘paid news’. In India, paid news came into notice during the 2009 General elections where reports suggested various under-table transactions happened between the media and political parties. To resolve the problem, the Press Council of India formulated a sub-committee to look at the issue and based on their recommendations appointed a drafting committee. The committee prepared a report and denied paid news as, “Any news or analysis appearing in any media (Print and Electronic) for a price in kind or cash as consideration.” This violates the conduct of the election and affects the objective of voters towards electing the right candidates. On the other side, media houses earn corrupted money which is exclusive of the Income-tax rules and Companies act.

Trial by Media:

Trial by media is another example of ethical neglect in journalism which has increased the concern of the judiciary. In several cases, media gives wide coverage unaccompanied with any verifiable facts of the story that already influence the views and opinions of people before the judicial trial even begins. The sensational presentation of sensitive events is a talent of media that they have self-assumed as the role of a ‘Public Court’. An example is from the 2008 Arushi Talwar murder case where the Apex Court has criticized media houses for assuming the role of an investigating authority and spoiling the image of the deceased and accused. This unwanted trial by media only hinders the right to a fair trial of accused and needs to be strictly regulated by the PCI. Media houses should never overstep their ethical boundaries and should never try to interrupt the functioning of the judicial system.

National Security:

The Constitution of India safeguards the freedom of media under the fundamental right of speech and expressions; however, it also restricts that freedom under Article 19(2) as reasonable restrictions. National security is one such restriction under the provision and acts as a ground of restricting the broadcast or publishing of any sensitive information concerning the security of the country. The coverage of the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008 is one of the instances about the media’s heartless attitude. Covering the attack live for 2-3 days, the media disclosed the actions and moves taken by police and armed forces in combating the terrorists which resulted in the transfer of India’s security plan so terrorists located in Pakistan who instructed their subordinates participating in the attack and ultimately leading to loss of life for policemen and armed personnel[5]. This is surely an incident where insensitive journalism endangered national security. Also, The news reports about communal conflicts are sometimes presented in such a manner that it incites the violence and worsens the conflict.


The implementation of journalistic standards helps in building public confidence and reliability. The absence of strict directions makes it difficult to choose the right path. Hence, there is a need for laying down directions for media functioning ethically and responsibly. The Press Council is required to make strict moral and ethical code of conduct for the journalist to be followed while expressing their freedom of speech and expression to deliver the unbiased truth with accuracy and in an impartial manner. This would help in lessening the preconceptions opinion and will make a way for everyone to make their views and opinions without getting influenced in the wrong direction.

[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, Article 19.

[2] Moldovan Gratian, “Media Ethics in the Ideological Context of the Twentieth Century,” Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, 6:589-593

[3] “Statement of Principles” American Society of News Editors (ASNE), last assessed April 27, 2020, https://members.newsleaders.org/content.asp?pl=24&sl=171&contentid=171

[4] Surya Prakash Khatri v. Madhu Trehan, 2001 (92) DLT

[5] The print media coverage of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks: A study on the coverage of leading Indian news projects and its impact on people, M. Neelamalar, P. Chitra and Arun Darwin, Journal Media and Communication Studies Vol. 1(6) pp. 95-105, 2009.

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Aditya Aryan
Aditya Aryan
Aditya is a 3rd year Law Student, Having keen interest in writing for socio-legal issues. He has published several Article and blogs at various reputed journals and websites.
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