Survey highlights ethical challenges experienced by mainstream journalists

According to an independent work environment research survey commissioned by the National Press Club and conducted among mainstream journalists and news reporters across the country, the frequent use of existing codes of ethics in newsrooms is questionable.

Although 69 percent of the respondents indicated that their respective editorial teams have codes of ethics in place, only 21 percent indicated that the code is referred to in the newsroom on a regular basis. The survey further highlighted that only 55 percent of the respondents felt confident that editors have the authority to guarantee work environments that are conducive to ethical journalism and 47 percent agreed that �a culture in our editorial team to discuss ethical issues in stories� seems to exist. Further investigation into the role of the sub-editor in checking facts of news stories was highlighted as work experience and levels of authority were raised as concerns.

The independent survey which was sponsored and conducted in November 2010 by Consulta Research, an associate of Business Enterprises (University of Pretoria), also highlighted the seemingly competitive nature that exists between newspapers, which impacts on ethical standards of news stories.

This perspective, coupled with pressurised journalists and the publication of news stories without proper cross checking of facts, suggests that the emphasis has shifted from news quality to news quantity. Stringent deadline and editorial requirements are additional factors at play.

Yusuf Abramjee, Chairperson of the National Press Club says an immediate and critical action to be taken is to entrench the application of existing codes of ethics across the board as the indicated 69 percent is not good enough.

�This requires a complete buy-in by editorial teams alike, across the country. Enhancing the continuous application of these codes on a day-to-day basis, the National Press Club, in partnership with key representative stakeholder groups, will help promote this important action.�

The work environment survey aimed to provide a snapshot of the current working conditions as experienced by mainstream journalists and reporters nationally.

Prof Adr� Schreuder, Managing Director of Consulta Research says the survey, a first in its kind in South Africa, targeted members and non-members of the National Press Club across print, broadcast and online fields.

�It highlighted work environment areas that are perceived to be both conducive and non-conducive to ethical journalism by mainstream journalists and reporters. �The survey placed strong emphasis on ethical areas as the aim of the research was to establish where and how ethical standards, practices and behaviours – seen from a journalist’s perspective – should be strengthened and supported, especially in the newsroom where both editor and journalist face immense pressure to turn out critical news stories of the day,� says Schreuder.

Other suggestions in regard to critical areas which may lead to the improvement of journalists� workflow in meeting the ethical standards and quality they aspire to in their writing include the need for more resources (hands-on capacity and tools of trade), engagement with senior editorial teams and skills development and training. The appointment of more staff and allocation of resources will relieve some of the pressure caused by deadlines, allowing them to focus more on quality and give journalists more time to check facts regularly.

Respondents also indicated that more control over the use of copy should be given to them. The anticipated establishment of the media tribunal was met with concern as 81 percent of journalists currently perceive the tribunal as limiting the freedom of journalist and reporters.

Although the survey highlighted ethical areas of concern in the newsroom, the majority (56 � 64 percent) felt comfortable with the overall levels of ethics practised in their media organisations, coupled with checks and balances to ensure factual correctness of news stories, overall awareness of ethical issues on a day-to-day basis and the way their companies manage and correct ethical issues in news stories. The availability of senior colleagues for advice and guidance to journalists working on news stories came out strongly, while journalists also experience encouragement to publish/broadcast a correction (knowing who to contact at each platform where something has to be corrected or changed) and raise objections knowing that it will be taken seriously.

Download an electronic copy of the Work Environment Survey results

Note to news editor

  • All interviews were conducted electronically (self-completion questionnaires).
  • Participants received invitation e-mails, which were routed to the Consulta website for online completion.
  • A total of 68 surveys were completed.
  • All interviews were conducted during October and November 2010.

Research sample

  • Geographics: 72% (Gauteng), 19% (Western Cape), 4% (Eastern Cape), 2% (Free State), 2% (Mpumulanga), 2% (North West) — adding up to 101% (need to verify this with Dries)
  • Gender: Female respondents 61%; male respondents 39%
  • Age profile: 20 � 29 years (20% of respondents), 30 � 39% (41% respondents), 40 � 49 (19% of respondents), 50 � 59 (17% of respondents), 60 � 69 (2% of respondents), 70 and older (2% of respondents)
  • Education: 65% of respondents hold post-graduate qualifications
  • Experience: 50% holds more than 10 years� experience in journalism
  • Fields: Print (76%), broadcast (17%) and online (7%)

Issued by Consulta Research in association with the National Press Club

Riana Sinden, Corporate Communication on behalf of Consulta Research,
Prof Adr� Schreuder, Managing Director, Consulta Research,
Andries Noeth, Client director (Work Environment Survey),