Public value of journalism

Published On: November 21, 2019 08:46 AM NPT By: Mohan Nepali

Nepali journalists have a greater moral liability to act more sensitively to justly represent the population. Journalism is a public responsibility in a fundamental sense

While Nepal, through the approval of new bills, has been heavily engaged in institutionalizing the concept of federal democratic republic, the journalistic part of informing citizens is equally worth considering. Informing people on issues and events that matter to them is journalists’ public responsibility. Amidst the trends and tides of modern infotainment media powered by consumer markets, maintaining journalism as public service is definitely fraught with tough challenges and struggles. Nevertheless, the fundamental purpose of journalism “to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing,” as stated by Kovach and Rosenstiel, has not changed. Since journalism is about the democratic empowerment of the general public, its practitioners, despite their own belief systems, cannot explicitly distort its essential meaning. The journalistic coverage of business issues helps to stimulate the economic development of the country. Thus, journalism has a deep-rooted existence as public service to date despite a growing commercial influence. Practically, journalism functions to inform people about both positive and negative occurrences from a public perspective. Those with a positive intention of transforming their society or with a motive of positively managing contradictions and conflicts can make use of facts and data supplied by journalism.

State of Nepali journalism 
Nepali journalism, though market-driven trends create overwhelming pressures, faces a severe challenge of eschewing the growing disconnect from mass suffering. News-inducing forces may be far more powerful and equipped than the large-sized, structurally and socially marginalized sections of population. Considering this burning reality, pursuing journalism to be the voice of the voiceless appears a bit more idealistic in the contemporary world. However, it is a living truth that journalism itself is a democratic ideal geared toward creating a civilized society. The major cornerstone of a civilized society is a truthful moral character, which is never possible without truthful information dissemination. Hence the rationale of journalism founded on public interest principles. 

The Nepali society today is in an acute need of good governance, accountability and transparency. Mere piles of laws and regulations alone cannot ensure good governance, which really requires an uninterrupted environment for the mental and moral development of citizens from the very beginning phase of life. Frequent media coverage of public issues is distinctively for building mental and moral pressures for concerned stakeholders to become responsible for the consequences their decisions and actions bring about. Informing citizens about policies and the status of their implementation, journalism facilitates a democratic atmosphere of checks and balances. As an organized means, journalism develops a desirable level of transparency of public affairs. This is an important way of promoting the quality of democracy.

News media have a greater potential to become a truly invigilating force capable of keeping the state and people alert in all fronts. A considerable increase in the number of media outlets means an acute need to seek not only a greater degree of quality but also rich coverage diversity and wide-ranging thematic elements in addressing federal, provincial and local concerns. Honoring Nepali audiences’ right to develop a broader democratic outlook with the help of far-sighted and diversity-minded journalism would be appreciable. Equally important, an advanced verifying and analytical culture remains a need as far as covering vital public issues, such as public health, public education, public transport, and public security is concerned. These areas of media coverage are crucial toward making democracy ever more vibrant.

It’s a public service  
Preeminently, journalism is a public service marked by the necessity of the utmost degree of honesty and loyalty toward the general public. Facts and data obtained from various sources cannot be distorted. However, a lot of creativity needs to be used in the process of gathering authentic and valuable details from various sources and processing them into understandable, usable and analyzable informational products, from which stakeholders across the country can benefit to varying degrees. Journalism, with its macro and micro-specializations, entails the values enshrined in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent specific human rights treaties and their optional protocols. While journalism functions to protect and promote people’s fundamental rights, it has to be equipped with a serious sense of social responsibility as well.

Considered positively, journalists are also top-ranking knowledge workers. It is mainly up to journalists themselves to assume this grand role, not to be imposed. The reason why journalism can be internalized as an eminent knowledge economy profession is that it involves a lot of critical and analytical capacity without which it becomes ludicrous, or even a partisan tool. 

Journalism does have wide-ranging and long-term political, socio-economic and cultural impact, noticed and unnoticed, on the human society as a whole. It, in reality, is a primordial knowledge profession that can be geared toward enabling information recipients to become not only critical and analytical citizens but also wise and independent decision-makers. This being the potential of journalism, it needs to be founded on ethical conduct and wisdom to utilize media freedom as best as possible. In fact, current practices of journalism—heavily influenced by diverse constraints, especially the financial ones—give us the impression that our immediate priority should be to reduce the degree of superficialization, which surely cannot be conducive to enhancing critical and analytical citizenry so vital for making democracy work productively at grassroots level. 

In a country like Nepal marked by natural, economic and socio-cultural diversity, our journalists have a higher moral liability to act more sensitively and large-mindedly to justly represent the population in a proportional and comprehensive sense. 

Although journalism can be a profession like any other area of human service, there is no need to allocate a commercial role to journalists just because they draw living costs out of their profession. Journalism, obviously, is a public responsibility in a fundamental sense. Journalists and media entrepreneurs are interdependent. Media entrepreneurs take risks and provide a ground for journalists to carry out their journalistic responsibilities. In the same way, journalists draw public attention to media institutions, which provide space for commercial publicity. Journalists work for quality information marked by accuracy, truthfulness and diversity through which audiences can be retained or increased.  Due to its immediate and long-term impact on all sectors, journalistic practices involve much insight and wisdom. 

The duty of producing authentic information so necessary for the general public is a great job. In the long-run, the skill of gathering facts and data, analyzing and interpreting them can render promising journalists noteworthy issue analysts. They can utilize their art of knowledge economy as a vital capital for multiple intellectual purposes. Their psychological pattern of writing, the habit formed to inquire issues and events that matter to people and the updating nature can really empower them enough to become important assets of the nation.

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