Journalism as Public Good

Published On: April 6, 2023 08:30 AM NPT By: Mohan Nepali

In a world where misinformation and fake news can spread quickly, it's obligatory for journalism — also identified as the Fourth Estate — to maintain a level of truth and accuracy, making sure that people have access to well-verified and reliable information. This is an important aspect of democracy, as it allows citizens to make informed decisions and form opinions, essential for a healthy democracy. Healthy democracy implies the process of building a healthy society in terms of sound mental and physical actions that yield positive results, viz, the transformation of people's life indicators in general. Journalism, in this context, can be identified with the spirit of the news sector aiming to truthfully and accurately inform the public on current issues and events through journalistic processes, which more or less facilitate better pro-public policy formulation.

While people-oriented policy-making is highly challenging in an era of global conglomeration feeding every nook and corner with pre-designed formats, local media — national in Nepal's case — equally face tougher constraints, especially in connection with the media sector's financial viability and journalistic quality issues. Journalistic quality issues pivotally concern journalistic practices to be carried out by self-consciously setting first loyalty to citizens and the nation's sovereignty, with no less emphasis on promoting comprehensive and inclusive democracy aimed at transforming people's lives through vigorous policies and actions.

The journalistic spirit is primarily reflected in its practices, professionally meant for carrying out public responsibilities concerning gathering, processing and decently disseminating truthful and accurate information. Seemingly, it is an informing duty. But substantially, journalism does entail a profound responsibility of defending public wellbeing against vested interests. It has a noble duty to prevent society from getting misled by evil forces — morally and mentally corrupt. Highly challenging does the function of journalism become since there exists the possibility of itself being misled due to known or unknown factors.

Although it is customary for trend-pursuing media scholars to label journalism as a mere industrial profession drawing a monthly paycheck, the nature of journalistic practice proves it is far more. One should be aware of a growing tendency of characterizing journalism as a news industry driven by market values. For instance, the book "The Business of Journalism: Ten Leading Reporters and Editors on the Perils and Pitfalls of the Press" edited by William Serrin makes a strong case that journalism is indeed an industry that operates under significant financial constraints and that these constraints can impact the quality of reporting. Although we can agree that financial constraints definitely affect journalistic practices, it would essentially be unjust to equalize journalism with an industry. There is no doubt that the investment side of the media industry and the journalistic practices have intra-organizational cooperative relationships, their distinctive responsibilities segregating them into two different identities: private industry and public responsibility.

As media scholars often tend to interpret and promote the idea of journalism as an industry rather than the Fourth Estate serving masses in every nook and corner 24/7, this issue is worth pondering.

News journalism, an essential component of society's holistic system, carries out the vital task of informing policy issues bringing them to the attention of the public and the State. As an indispensable part of any democratic society, they play a pivotal role in sensitizing citizens on many different fronts. Besides, it is the duty of a journalist to ask digging questions and demand accountability from those who hold power. Such a critical and analytical practice is apparently concerned with the mission of public good.

According to Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, journalists and the technology or techniques they use do not determine the purpose of journalism. "The principles and purpose of journalism," they write in their long-researched book The Elements of Journalism, "are defined by something more basic: the function news plays in the lives of people." Further substantiating this idea, the online portal of the American Press Institute writes: the purpose of journalism is thus to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. These historically and experientially validated statements are logical and credible in practical terms, especially concerning the issue of adopting journalism as public good.

No matter how many mistakes journalists unintentionally make, we can never think against the duty of seeking and promoting the democratic principles of transparency, accountability and good governance. The concept of the free press in a country like Nepal is very significant to make power-wielders accountable and responsive to people.

The Nepali journalism sector is responsible for informing the Nepali public on all issues of collective significance, offering diverse viewpoints on contemporary topics, and engaging in discourses with their readers, listeners, viewers or users. As intermediaries between the government and the public, the journalism sector has a fundamental role to provide platforms for public debates, inclusive dialogue, and open critique of government actions and policies.

As the cardinal guardian of public interests, journalism functions as the unique watchdog of society, with its critical and scrutinizing role in ensuring transparency and accountability in public affairs. As a check-and-balance force, journalism balances different stakeholders.

Equipped with the freedom of speech and expression constitutionally propounded in democratic societies, journalism enjoys the opportunity to utilize its tremendous potential to influence public opinion and spark public conversations. Such a journalistic influence puts ample pressure on the government to make pro-public moves.

Is some sort of psychological formation of fascism in the shaping in Nepal? Although this is still a question, it deserves attention. The reason is: even after 70 years of political struggles and ups and downs, the prevailing political forces-the influential stakeholders-still appear vague in terms of sovereign decision-making to pursue a strategic national course and to secure public interests. Anarchic market forces are overriding public interests. Political organizations appear on a moral wane. State structures, though routine and ritualized de jure, appear to have practically evinced the symptoms of dysfunction due to the steep moral degradation of political forces and ever-occurring partisan contradictions. In this situation, journalism as a major public force is expected to be alert and attentive to sensitize citizens and the country's democratic stakeholders toward positively preventing any untoward political phenomena.

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