Self-regulation as a way to the more reliable media
In this world, you will hardly find a country smaller than ours and with “higher” politics (and politicians). Joking aside, in Montenegro, as many people think, politics is perhaps the most attractive and most profitable occupation. Everyone wants to deal with politics, from the illiterate, through the semi-literate, to the overly literate, that no one understands, nor will anyone understand, because their ideas for ordinary people are “untouchable”. The average Montenegrin citizen is unmistakable when it comes to choosing the wrong model, so in a dysfunctional democratic system, he looks up to those we pay to collect political points with insults, instead of meaningful arguments. The model of behaviour which with little effort and without much thoughts can destroy one’s life, expands at the speed of light. And here’s the problem.
Everything uttered takes the form of a final, inviolable truth addressed to like-minded people, whose power to judge as thinking beings ready to conclude something on their own is mostly described by the term consumer or user. Unfortunately, most public opinion is transformed into an ordinary consumer, who receives information the way it is served – like favorite food served by (malicious) masters from various kitchens.
The unattainable ideal is to satisfy the hunger for objectivity in one place, or in one media, because the employer must respect the will of his employer who, again, has his employer …
So how we, as responsible persons, doing journalistic job, can save ourselves and others, inside and outside of the newsroom? By respecting the Code of Journalists, a set of long-established rules that everybody knows?
There is a little to do with the principles of conduct in any field, since the rules generally are meant to be broken, especially in public jobs such as journalism, where the goal justifies the means, more than in other professions.
In eternal race for exclusivity, journalists easily fall into traps and by disobeying certain principles of the profession, publish unverified informations that often offend someone’s honor and reputation. Although these are legally and materially recoverable categories, for the common man it is something even more expensive than life. This we should to have in mind when we create any information, because the work we do requires quick decisions and a huge amount of improvisation. It’s normal that we can’t always remember every letter of the some law, but in the simpliest way, we can make filters for every information before it ended up in someone’s ears:
Do not publish the unverified information;
Do not make predictions, and do not make personal judgements;
Do not create the information with bad intention;
If public do not care for the information, don’t publish it.
Dynamic daily shift requires that you have everything of informations and “something more” so carefully check is simply not possible. When fighting for viewers, listeners and users, everyone that I know had at least once made a mistake and published the untruth. It happened me, too, but I did not end up in court due to beginner’s luck. Possible guilt means being marked, with unnecessarily dirty biography which certainly does not guarantee a better employer.
If we want to improve the society in which we live, it is fair to start with our profession.
Television journalism has definitely bottomed, as employee’s performance, rather than quality stories, is measured by popularity on social networks. Critically-minded journalists have been replaced by those who do not ask questions but systematically work to prevent the people from finding out the truth. In smaller communities, the situation is even more complicated.
Since I have been worked as journalist at the local level, too, I guarantee that it is the cruelest and most challenging thing to deal within this profession. With every investigative ,,high-quality” story, you are one step closer to the Bureau for the unemployed, rather than promotion, and whether you wanted or not, in such environment, you more break than respect the law. The two sides of the story are almost non-existent and if ,,accidentally” you get them, the “truth” with the help of the “invisible” hand of the editor is always dictated by someone in power.
Although we are constantly torn between our ideas, wishes of the editors and expectations of the public, years of experience tell me that no one can make you do anything that could end up with sending you to court. On the path to truth, the people will target you and tend to speculate, whether because of the house you work for, the person you love or the God you pray to, someone has privileged treatment in the media content you create. Be the ruler of every letter you write and every word you say, and remember that you are a corrector and not an evil generator.
Welcome to the profession where you will apply almost nothing you learned on faculty!
Goran Delic, journalist
The text was created within the project “Monitoring to free media” implemented by the Trade Union of Media of Montenegro within the framework of a major project “Judicial Reform: Upgrading CSO’s capacities to contribute to the integrity of judiciary”, financed by the European Union and implemented by the Center for Monitoring and Research (CEMI) in partnership with the NGO Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM) and the Network for the Affirmation of European Integration Processes (MAEIP)