Window Seat | Mrinal Chatterjee

Why ethics matters the most in Journalism?

In an age when everybody talks about paid news and fake news it is important to recall the basics. Why ethics matters the most in journalism.

The etymology of journalism, from Latin diurnalis suggests a daily account or record. The term has come to mean the collection and editing of news for presentation via one or more forms of media. Since journalism deals with news, which basically involves a factual recording of events for consumption by common mass, and since people get influenced by the media reportage, framing and analysis – ethics becomes important.

In fact, among all professions, ethics is central to the very existence of journalism as a profession, because of several reasons. Following are five major reasons:

  1. It is the foundation of the profession of Journalism:Journalism basically deals with news: recording of events, information, data. Therefore, truth, fact, objectivity, balance, propriety, social decorum assumes more importance. Without these, information does not remain information. It becomes gossip, propaganda, fiction, worse- out and out lie. In other professions like law, medicine, etc. expertise in the skill domain is the core area. Ethics remain at the outer fringe. In journalism ethics is the core. For without adhering to the basic ethics associated with the profession of journalism like confirming fact, being objective and balanced, etc.- it cannot be practiced at all.
  2. It gives credence to the profession: Journalism as a profession derives its social acceptability and respectability from credibility. Credibility is the fountainhead of its social acceptability, respectability and power. Credibility warrants ethical treatment of issues and events. Therefore, ethics comes to the centre stage. Impartiality, objectivity, balance, proper investigation, etc. become important. Without credibility, journalism has no use. It requires ethical back up for survival.
  3. It is a moral obligation as media has the unique identity of both ‘observer’ and ‘observed’: A theoretical issue peculiar to media ethics is the identity of observer and observed. The news media or press has taken unto itself the role of one of the primary guardians in a democratic society of many of the freedoms, rights and duties. Therefore, the ethical obligation of the guardians themselves comes more strongly into the foreground for the media.
  4. Ethical consideration is the benchmarking: It is true that unlike other professions, credibility of the information is the major consideration for people’s engagement with news media. Skill of collecting, collating and presenting the information is important. But in certain cases media also has to consider questions like: ‘information for what’, ‘to what end’, ‘how to present’, ‘what will be the consequence’. Often the conflict is between Consequentialism and Deontological ethics. It is the adherence to ethics that sets mainstream media apart from other information dissemination agencies and/or individuals.
  5. Journalism is for Service: The ultimate aim of journalism is service. Gandhi wrote in his autobiography The Story of my Experiments with the Truth, “In the very first month of Indian Opinion, I realised that the sole aim of journalism should be service”. Media, especially media in India rests on the philosophical base of service to society. According to Indian philosophy: the purpose of communication is service. And it is not possible to ‘serve’ without an ethical underpinning.

A Temple Visit

On 14 February which was Shivaratri and also Valentine Day I took my mother to a Shiva Temple. The temple was understandably crowded. Most of the crowd consisted of young girls with diyas in hand. There were men with their wives and kids in tow. Few old women like my mother were also there with their puja thali in wrinkled hand.
As I stood waiting for my mother to finish her puja, it occurred to me that a crowded temple complex is the best place to observe human nature. It also gives you some indications of a community’s collective character.
There were people who would stand in the queue, and then there were people, usually wearing better dresses and more jewelries, who were trying to enter the sanctum sanctorum from a side, without joining the queue. It is not that they were in a hurry, for I saw many of them taking selfie even half an hour after they finish their puja. It is just that they don’t like to join the crowd and want exclusivity.
See the irony: they are seeking exclusivity in a temple whose presiding god is supposed to be the most democratizing one.
I tried to persuade a pujari to ask people to stand in a queue. But he was least interested in ensuring crowd discipline. He was more interested in collecting the dakhina (offering).
I saw people throwing coins at the altar, thinking by doing so they can please the God, who as the scriptures say leads the most Spartan life.
I overheard young girls discussing their plans of celebrating Valentine Day in the evening. They were blushing and giggling and taking selfie at the temple garden.
Temple in deed is a strange place.


Any good piece of art makes your eyes moist. I often wonder about the true nature of tears, which flows both in pain and pleasure.


If you marry the right person, everyday is Valentine’s Day.


Marry the wrong person, everyday is Martyrs Day.


Marry a lazy person, everyday is Labour Day.


Marry a rich person everyday is New Year’s Day


Marry an immature person, everyday would seem like Children’s Day.


Marry a cheater or liar, everyday will become April Fool’s Day.


And if you don’t get married, everyday is Independance Day!

(Courtesy: Social Media)


The author is a journalist turned media academician. He lives in Central Odisha town Dhenkanal. He also writes fiction.  English translation of his Odia novel Yamraj Number 5003 is being published shortly. [email protected]