When your code of ethics drives you away from journalism

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I love my personal code of ethics. But peculiarly enough it may drive me from my profession. It tells me I have to be independent. Not in idealistic way but strong enough not to report on a house fire in a suburban condominium when there is a violent clampdown of a protest in the country’s hotspot region. Can I work on a national broadcast media expecting I will be able to do that? No. To adhere to my personal code of ethics I either have to be out-proportionately brave as some of my fellow colleagues are – facing immense difficulties the hardest of which is being jailed – or just stay away from the news industry. It is a hard one. I haven’t chosen yet.

My very first job in the news was to read the headlines and major stories published by the leading government and ruling party newspaper. I then quickly changed to reporting which gave me more freedom in the choice of subject and sources. As time went by – still a student – I chose to become a freelancer which was even more liberating. And yet I was always part of the state funded information policy – a modern word for propaganda. I witnessed stories being dropped off last minute from the running order because of the key phone calls from the government watchdogs, journalists fired or walking away for obvious reasons and red buttons that cut off programmes on air used few times. It seemed normal or at least I could explain myself why it was set up in such a way. But it was not inspiring at all.

After graduation I walked away from the industry. Inspired by the UN and its development agencies it seemed more meaningful to be involved in hands on social development work. It was rewarding in every aspect of it. I can easily imagine myself still working for the UN-run projects on the ground if not for the BBC World Service that came into my life, brought me to London and showed me the real value of journalism in this world. Day in and day out for nearly 5 years I saw the values of accuracy, impartiality and fairness at work making their way into the programme outputs. Moreover I was practicing doing it myself for some time. It changed me and I will never comprise it.

Going back to my home reality wasn’t and still not easy. I have yet again escaped for a while hiding under the bushes of media development running projects that teach good journalism but don’t do journalism itself. The lesson learned: if you want to be independent be brave enough too. I guess I am gathering all my guts. The decision will have to be made this time once and for all.

About dzhansag

Dina Zhansagimova is a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow 2016 at Arizona State University, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Dina is currently based in Phoenix, USA but her usual permanent location is Astana, Kazakhstan. She is a media development specialist and a freelance journalist. Educated in Economics with an MBA from Kazakh Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Planning Dina has extensive experience in development sector and journalism.

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One Comment on “When your code of ethics drives you away from journalism”

  1. I sometimes feel this frustration too. I can put together persuasive arguments for a lot of my viewpoints, engage in dialogue, express myself, but what will that do to my credibility? It’s a hard line to walk, to be sure, and given the politics of the US right now, it’s increasingly difficult.

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