One would wonder as to how the media, especially the State media, could criticise the US and the Western countries for their double standards in dealing with human rights in various countries, once the proposed State - sponsored code of ethics for journalists which stipulates against publications which “contain criticism affecting foreign relations” comes into force. Also it is not clear as to what would be the remedy, in the event the media goes ahead with such criticisms even after the said code comes into effect.
Needless to say that the media industry has been faced with problems in respect of ethics and professionalism for a long time, sometimes making blunders that are sufficient to invite the governments that are stalking behind the media, to take blanket action and promulgate repressive regulations against the industry. However, it does not manifest any need of a new code of ethics, especially by the government while the industry possesses so many codes within it.
Already there are codes of ethics for individual media houses, apart from the code prepared by the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka, the implementation of which is monitored by the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka. To put forward a government-sponsored code disregarding the existing ones might create a division among the journalists on the lines of codes, which itself would be an ethical issue.
Ethics is no panacea. It has its own limitations and it only demarcates, sometimes vaguely, the boundaries that journalists should not overstep. However, it is the implementation part that has been sometimes contentious. Even if the government’s code is thrust upon the industry it is the journalists who have to adhere to it and implement it. What assurance does the government have that all would be well with its code and media would not face dilemmas?
" Even if the government’s code is thrust upon the industry it is the journalists who have to adhere to it and implement it. What assurance does the government have that all would be well with its code and media would not face dilemmas? "
The social commitment on the part of individual journalists as well as the industry as a whole is more important than the wordings of codes of ethics. There is no doubt that the government’s code contains healthy clauses in addition to those that are probably aimed at serving the government’s partisan political objectives. And also successive governments that occasionally called for ethical behaviour of journalists, especially when media cried foul to corruption, waste and lawlessness, but had never wanted the State media to adhere to the same standards when dealing with opposition politicians.
The professed intention of the government in presenting a code cannot be contested, though some of its clauses seem to run counter to the very intention. However, good intentions, real or professed alone would not serve the purpose. Only conscious and conscientious journalists can enliven the spirit of a code. It is not up to the government but up to the journalist fraternity, including those in the State media to bring the standards up through training, self-regulation and internal discourse.