WITH news being readily accessible across various platforms online, there has been a growing concern over the credibility, accuracy and fairness of its source, especially in this digital age where everyone can be news content creators.
That said, even professionals in the industry like members of the media or journalists are sometimes guilty of misrepresentation or perpetuating inaccurate content in their news coverage and current affairs.
Some content created might also be sensationalised in order to garner more clicks and drive traffic to their page.
On this note, it is pivotal for news makers to take a step back, reflect and regulate how news content should be created and disseminated in order to maintain their professional integrity and uphold their reputation as a reliable news source.
In order to shed some light onto the importance of ethics in the news, the Content Forum together with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) held a webinar titled ‘Ethics in the News’, recently.
This full day webinar was aimed at raising awareness about the importance of ethics in news reporting and it was broken into three sessions titled Journalism Ethics and Standards, Responsible Reporting on Suicide and Shared Experience – News Reporting in Malaysia. Each session was represented by a panel consisting of news editors, journalists, medical practitioners and media professionals.
Before the first session started, keynote speaker Suhaimi Sulaiman, CEO of Sarawak Media Group Sdn Bhd said that journalists should stop worrying about their story count but focus on producing good stories instead.
“Your viewers are very intelligent so you would only be relevant if your reporter is well-versed in a particular field and is a great storyteller. We have to forget mass reporting and instead focus on areas that you are good at. Find your own specific niche,” he said.
Echoing his thought was Prof. Dato’ Dr. Ahmad Murad Mohd Noor Merican, Malaysian Journalism Teachers Society President and Pacific Asia Communication Association Vice President.
“Journalists have to be factually correct and impartial in what they do. If we are conscious of our profession then we will be able to know our set of ethical values as journalists.
''We are not saying that journalists must follow the rules and regulations but it is important to know the code of ethics because not everyone can write news that is accurate, factual and valid – the aspects in which every journalist should look into and be aware of,” he said.
Hits and Virals
During the first session about Journalism Ethics, the panellists discussed about how the media has been so focused on getting hits and going viral that they tend to forget the basics of journalism.
“Because there is a rush to produce content, considerations such as privacy of individuals for example, are completely thrown into the wind. Some even put themselves at risk of breaching confidentiality of sources,” said Institute of Journalist Malaysia board member Tehmina Kaoosji.
Panellists further reminded participants that everything posted online or tweeted will always be seen as a representation of you and the organisation you represent or work for. To this point, self-regulation of content created and posted is crucial in order to maintain a good reputation.
As the webinar progressed, panellists also discussed the importance of responsible reporting when it touches on topics such as suicide.
During the discussion, it was agreed that there is a lot more to responsible suicide reporting than just blurring out pictures.
The article should also take into account the victims involved and to approach it with empathy. To do so, it is crucial to self-regulate and think how the sensitive content can and will affect the victim’s families.
“Responsible reporting is one component that should not only be highlighted to the media but also to university students who are taking courses like Mass Communication and Film Making.
''We need people to understand that safe reporting is important, more so to young journalists or cub reporters. They need to be aware that when they report on certain topics, there are certain ethics that must be complied with,” said Dr. Nurashikin Ibrahim, Ministry of Health Malaysia Chief Sector of Mental Health.
As the webinar entered the last session, panellists opened up and shared their thoughts and experience on news reporting in Malaysia.
“The ethical dilemma that we have been facing is to decide on suitable content for news reporting.
''In this fast-changing landscape, I believe the most important thing when it comes to news reporting is to be in-depth, focused and to deep dive into a particular topic. We have to ensure that the content created is accurate, fair and balanced. To be an ethical journalist, there must be impartiality,” said Ashwad Ismail, Astro AWANI Editor-in-Chief.
On the same boat as him was Zulkarnain Mohd Yasin, MCMC Chief Regulatory Officer who delivered the opening speech, where he believes that it is important to build a strong news brand that is done through a high level of transparency, truthfulness and ethics.
“There are mainly four elements that are currently affecting the sanctity of ethics in news reporting nowadays – fake news, virality, unchecked resources and profit-driven content.
''Fake news is the biggest problem as most people would not know how to differentiate what is real and what is fake. Most Malaysians do not bother going to the actual news sites to verify or get their news but instead they think that forwarded WhatsApp messages are the real deal,” said Kenny Ong, Content Forum Chairman.
He added that media outlets also fall prey to fake news as they tend to take them without checking the credibility of the news source first. It is only later on that they find out it is wrong, misleading and misrepresented. Meanwhile for the younger generation, they relate more to social media platforms like TikTok and regard any news there as real.
“Moving forward we need to level the playing field between new media platforms such as Over-The-Top (OTT) and licensed broadcasters. New media platforms are currently not governed by any laws or regulations in Malaysia unlike the latter that is being governed by existing laws and guidelines provided by the Content Code. We need to standardise the level of governance for all existing industry players,” he added.
Aside from this, the webinar also acted as a refresher course for participants on the role of MCMC and Content Forum in managing the communications and multimedia industry. Participants were also kept up to date on the selected laws and Content Code in regards to news reporting.
All in all, participants had a platform to share their views and experiences about ethical standards in news content creation and also discussed how to further improve or strengthen their modes of working together to ensure safe and regulated content for the public.