Media Accountability and Ethical standards

Posted: June 9, 2017 in Assignments

-Ashma Gautam

[Media Ethics; BMS 3rd Year]

On June 06, 2016, Ekantipur[1] published news on the demise of Amber Gurung, national anthem music composer. Later, the news was found to be erroneous. A few hours later, Ekantipur published another news titled “Veteran musician Amber Gurung critical but stable” with a footnote “We apologize for the earlier erroneous news report regarding Amber Gurung. Any inconvenience caused is regretted.” No formal apology was noted. On 7th June 2016, Press Council Nepal asked for clarification from Ekantipur within 3 days for violating Code of Journalistic Ethics- 2008 Section 3 (4)[2] and (9)[3] and Section 4 (6)[4].

Mass media is a platform to exercise free expression and is a sensitive medium. Through mass media, information is disseminated in real time to the mass audience. Failure to impart true and factual information can create chaos in the society. This makes mass media sensitive and the importance of accountability emerges from this sensitivity. Media must have a sense of accountability and this is related to the ethical standards one follows. Failure to acknowledge the importance of accountability in Amber Gurung’s’ case not only created confusions in the Nepalese society but the credibility of Ekantipur also has been questioned.

Accountability is one of the most frequently cited ethical standards in Journalism. It is a phrase that can be understood as a belief where mass media is expected to accountable in the public interest. They are anticipated to behave in certain ways that contribute to the public good. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has developed some benchmarks of accountability for professional journalists that include “encouraging the public to express its grievances against the news media, admitting mistakes and correcting them promptly, exposing unethical practices of journalists and the news media, and abiding by the same high standards to which they hold others.” In addition to them, journalistic accountability can be justified by a range of activities, including publishing letters to the editor, being accessible to concerned audience members for discussion, archiving past news stories for future reference and informing the public about the correction of news (Singer, 2003; Friend & Singer, 2007; Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2001; Joseph, 2011).

In the nineteenth century, industrialization, technological innovation, democratization and increasing literacy helped in the expansion of mass newspaper. The mass media were regarded as the defenders of democracy. Near the end of the nineteenth century, Yellow Journalism scandal not only questioned the ethical standards in journalism but also concerns in professional practices increased. People began to voice for the responsibility of media to serve the public interest. Thus, in 1910, the first journalistic code of ethics was drafted and adopted in Kansas, a U.S. state, by the Kansas Editorial Association. In 1922, American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) prepared Canons of Journalism which widely accepted as a basis of the code of Ethics until the date. Later, in 1956, the concepts of social responsibility and public accountability were theorized by three scholars Siebert, Peterson, & Schramm in a seminal work entitled Four Theories of the Press.

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that favors social obligation. In media, ethics helps to maintain professionalism as well as helps to strengthen the quality of moral choices one has to make in their day to day life. Accountability is one of the important ethical standards that are discussed frequently. Ethical standards are important to make media responsible to the society and accountable to what is published. The ethical standards are derived also from religion, philosophy, culture, language, and customs and so on. According to Vivian, John (1999), there are five different duties to maintain accountability-duty to Self, audience, employer, profession, and society. In understanding there five different duties, one can maintain accountability in collection and dissemination of information.

In journalism, credibility is said to be the heart. Credible news wins the trust of the audience and for any media to survive, audience trust is important. While maintaining accountability, first of all, a journalist must understand their duties. In society, one gets the true respect only when they are dutiful of oneself. This respect is the power they can carry. With this power, a journalist can play the role of watchdog and thus, work efficiently. They can look for truth and maintain check and balance in the society. Also, while maintaining the duty to the audience, a journalist should not discriminate the readers at any cost. Race, religion, culture, political ideology, language, age can be some factors that can separate one person from another. A journalist while collecting and disseminating news must be careful not to discriminate the readers. A journalist must understand the sensitivity and thus should be in favor of protection of source. By following the journalistic ethics, one can make their profession worthy of pride.

Nepal has the Code of Journalistic Ethics, 2008 (Amended) as introduced, implemented and enforced by Press Council Nepal. This code of ethics creates a framework for the journalists to take ethical decisions while following their duties. In media, when something is written, one has to be accountable towards the consequences of the disseminated messages. The mushrooming media and unprofessional journalistic practice have time and again raised the question in the credibility of media. In the race of increasing viewership, sensationalized news, lack of proper sources and verification of sources has repeatedly created confusions. Mushrooming online medium claiming to be news media as well as so-called Big Media of the nation are equally involved in the race. Despite the error, lack of readiness to rectify errors has made journalism as one of the least trusted profession.

Media accountability is an important ethical framework that increases professionalism in Media. By following the code of ethics, one can perform responsibly in their profession as well as maintain their professional standard while fulfilling duty towards the society, self, and audience. The ethical standards vary from place to place but all aims to create a credible and accountable media/journalism practice. As mass media is a sensitive platform, one must be accountable towards the news collected and disseminated, thus, to maintain professionalism.

Works Cited

Friend, C. & Singer, J. S. (2007). Online journalism ethics: Traditions and transitions. New York: M.E. Sharp.

Kovach, B. & Rosenstiel, T. (2001). The elements of journalism. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Joseph, L. N. (2011). Correcting the record: The impact of the digital news age on the performance of press accountability. Journalism practice, 5(6), 704-718.



[2] Section 3 (4) Imparting true and factual information

[3] Section 3 (9) Rediness to rectify error

[4] Section 4 (6) Do not penalize the victims


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