In this 24/7 digital media age, there are many advantages to being first with the news.
But, for responsible news organisations, being first is only desirable if the story is accurate and devoid of inflammatory language.
Because, as press regulator Impress said in guidance offered this week on reporting the Israel / Hamas conflict, “publishing a story because it will perform well while neglecting journalistic standards carries serious risk and can have real world consequences for innocent people.”
Fact checking should come as a matter of course, of course, but now more than ever, journalists need to check before publishing:
- Is this story true?
- Is the source reliable?
- Can it be verified?
- Is the language I plan to use measured and objective or am I resorting to stereotypes and generalisations?
- What are the consequences of getting it wrong?
Jesper Højberg, executive director, International Media Support, wrote in a blog post this week: “As we look on in horror at the unfolding atrocities, it is of paramount importance that news media adhere scrupulously to the foundational principles of good journalism: accuracy, fairness and balance… The chaos descending on Gaza will have far-reaching consequences for many years to come. The exceptionally volatile and dangerous situation makes it all the more crucial that journalists and media outlets do their utmost to provide the fullest, fairest, most balanced coverage possible.”
Al Tompkins and Kelly McBride, in a post on the Poynter Institute for Media Studies’ website (‘The basics on Israel, Gaza, Palestine and Hamas for local journalists’) noted that, “journalists find themselves scrambling to get up to speed on what is arguably the world’s most complex conflict.”
The post contains useful background information on the conflict with some good advice for journalists covering it, including: “While there are many sources of information, it’s important to recognise that both Hamas and the Israeli government have an interest in presenting their side of warfare. For journalists, the ethical principle of independence requires news organisations to be open to completeness and accuracy.”
Journalists need to report accurately, to explain and, certainly, never to inflame.
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