If you feel a news story does not measure up to expected journalistic standards, bring it to the Journalism Dry Cleaner. Through our collective wisdom, we will strip it of all offensive dirt.




Tuesday, 27 October 2009


A very central pillar for any credible journalist, is the ability to truthfully and accurately portray news or events. To achieve this may appear deceptively easy perhaps, because many are the times it has been assumed that factual reporting, is an absolute necessity in journalism practice.

A hugely untold story however, is the fact that once in possession of the truth, many news editors have to agonize over what to do with it. Strange as it may sound, it is not far fetched for news gatekeepers to even consider that the audience might not be in a position to handle the truth. Or even the possibility that knowing the whole truth might actually not be in their best interest. And so what eventually is published or broadcast can be at best only approximated to a qualified accuracy.

If for example the details of a piece of news are depressing and likely going to spread despair in the general public, is it not better for an editor to tone down such extreme aspects, while still retaining the gist of such a story? Say for instance, there has been a rising spate of crime and a reporter justifiably includes  a very detailed background, the overall impression created in the script could be that insecurity has reached dangerous levels.

When this script comes up for subbing, an editor can view such a perspective as not properly contextualized, and having the capacity to unwittingly spread fear and alarm. Investors or key players in economic sectors that could negatively be impacted by such news, like in the tourism industry, have been known to especially advocate for responsible reporting of such matters. And them being key advertisers, their views are not often ignored..

So when accuracy comes into conflict with ideals such as patriotism, which one of them should be given preference? Chances are, although the pursuit of a truthful account in a news story might be the ideal approach, the accuracy bit is often qualified, in order to take into account other extraneous but inter-related factors.

Does this amount to censorship, whether self or imposed? Or is it a question of allowing interference in the news process and independence of the media? There is no denying that. But advocates will be quick to add that it is for the greater good. After all,they are likely to argue, the practice of journalism cannot exist in a vacuum and if overzealous reporters end up triggering destructive forces that destroy their  own country, where would they go?

The flip-side of this argument is that it negates the very essence of a free media. Indeed, it follows the same line of argument that many governments have used to justify the existence of punitive legislation that restrict access to information. How can the press on the one hand clamor for the right to information laws or the repeal of the Official Secrecy Act and on the other hand, deny or filter the information reaching their audience?

Some can argue that the same way the media would want the government to believe that the press can be responsible enough with any information in their hands, should be the same way the media should trust that their audience will be able to handle correctly, any information the press passes to them.

Whichever way you look at it, it is not a simple affair. Throw in public security, peace or safety, and the level of complexity goes a notch higher. And the very uncomfortable truth could be that, the media and the government, act in similarity at times, when it comes to gauging what information is appropriate for public consumption.

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