Press Freedom Vice Versa Sense of Responsibility

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This blog is based on the chapter Would be Repressors Brandish “Ethics” as Justification by Jean-Paul Marthoz in a book “Attacks on the Press”, published by Committee to Protect Journalists in 2014. 

During the history of humanity, since the beginning of free press, all rulers tried to quiet the mouth of journalists and the 21st century is not an exception. For these purposes, authorities invented effective instrument called “self-regulation”.  Most authoritarian regimes under the pretext of ethical journalism call journalists to exercise ethics or so called sense of responsibility. For example, in Egypt in 2013 military rulers who had just came into the power, insisted on the adoption by a journalist community code of ethics. The same happened in Ecuador, Sri Lanka, Burundi, where journalists were labeled to be biased and unfair and were forced to accept such codes. What are these authoritative leaders are afraid of? Certainly, critics over their control.

Calling for “ethical journalism”, at the same time, governments themselves break all journalistic standards using state-controlled media for harassment of officially unpopular colleagues. In Azerbaijan pro-governmental media published rumors and lies about Khadisha Ismailova, who was known by her critical publications against government’s policy.

Not only government, but also media owners participate in the executing pressure on journalists. For example, in Turkey during the protests and demonstrations at Taksim Square, private-owned media did not cover the events. Even CNN Turk TV at the moment of national tension showed a documentary about penguins. After that penguins turned to be symbol of self-censorship.

Asking journalists to follow a code of ethics, the authoritarian governments themselves violate all the standards and principles of the codes.  El Espectador director Guillermo Cano in Columbia and Novaya Gazeta’s Anna Politkovskaya were killed because they refused to be corrupted and stop investigating into crimes, which involved government figures and politicians.

Another type of self-regulation is existed in the form of different press councils. The only goal they pursue is to execute censorship and silence journalists. In this connection I would like to quote, the London Times columnist Bernard Levin: “The press has no duty to be responsible at all, and it will be an ill day for freedom if it should ever acquire one. We are and must remain vagabonds and outlaws, for only by so remaining shall we be able to keep the faith by which we live…”

In my opinion, self-regulation may be executed only in circumstances where there is no an excess of legal rules and restrictions. All these codes of ethics are applicable in those countries where there are no laws regulating media, no Ministries looking after every step of mass media.

Under the conditions of repressive Kazakhstani legislation and repressive law enforcement to adopt journalistic code of ethics is the same as to call slaves on galleys. The logic is as follows: “It is not enough that government watch every your step – you should also look after each other and report on each other.”

Reviewed by Alexis Macklin