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Study On Perceptions of Newspaper Journalists

An International Study on the Perceptions of Newspaper Journalists on Value-based Journalism

Manama, Bahrain, February 19, 2008: An online international survey of Newspaper journalists, on the topic of Value-based journalism (VBJ) reveals that they pride themselves for adhering to “truth and accuracy” and “verification of facts”. These are among the top core values of reporting news and views. More than 90% of respondents stated this, a survey conducted by Dr Prem Lal Joshi, a Professor at the University of Bahrain. In the values hierarchy, 89.6% of them also stated that they adhere to the value of “ public interest” . “Objectivity” and “independence” were rated fourth equally. Objectivity is considered a debatable point in journalism. Respondents from all the five continents similarly rated transparency, completeness, accountability, compassion and perseverance, the survey reported.

‘‘Avoiding violation of others privacy”, “loyalty,” and “aggressiveness” received lower ranking in the value hierarchy for most of the continents. Respondents from North America ranked ‘aggressiveness’ much higher than the respondents from other continents . Respondents from Australia-NZ seem to be more ‘objective’ and the least “aggressive” in their news and views reporting than respondents from rest of the world. . The core value of ‘fairness’ was rated very high by more than 90% of respondents from North America, Australia-NZ and Africa.

Female journalists have a higher tendency to adhere to ‘fairness’ while reporting their news and views compared to male journalists. This probably corresponds with the practical experience of most working journalists. Does it mean that in gender task assignments, female reporters produce a more biased free reporting than male reporters and also more positive news reporting, or does it depend on the nature of a particular task, despite the fact that the main stream media is male dominated in most of the continents? It may also be related to the gender characteristics itself. According to Hofestede’s cultural dimensions of Masculinity versus Femininity, femininity stands for modesty, preference for relationships, caring for the weak and quality of life. Masculinity favors achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material success. Males are generally inclined to be more aggressive. Another possible reason could be that females themselves sometimes may face discrimination, so they may have a greater understanding of the importance of fairness, the survey argues.

A sub-editor from the Asian region states, “although I strongly agree that journalists should adhere to the above values, it is always difficult to follow them. I mean it differs from newspaper to newspaper. For instance, what about government owned newspapers? Newspapers owned by big companies, can they put their values on paper?” Another female respondent from India states , “the overall value system is degenerating in the third world. We have seen in India that degeneration in the media is on rise, in the wake of boom of TV channels. What I have agreed or disagreed in replying to your questionnaire is in respect of my own work”.

On an overall basis, about 70.8% of the respondents perceived that there has been sensationalizing of stories in the newspapers, and that this seems to have become a regular feature in the age of globalization. About 54.0% either strongly agreed or agreed. Based on the mean differences, journalists from underdeveloped countries have a higher tendency to sensationalize news stories compared to journalists from the developed world. Furthermore, results also reflect that journalists in Asia may have a higher tendency to sensationalize news stories than the rest of the world. Does it reflect the rapid change of their society and media?

Is it due to less education in developing countries or is it just that less importance might be placed on a particular aspect than that observed by a journalist from a developed country and that more emphasis might be placed on some other aspect which the other developed country journalist might just mention in the passing? Or is it to due to increased ‘celebrity journalism’ as an example in these countries? In the above context, an editor argues, “we in the U.S. have a highly educated and enlightened readership and consequently feel no obligation to use sensational methods, which many readers consider an insult to their intelligence.”

The respondents stated that they practice skilled-based, evidence-based and investigative journalism. Evidence-based journalism is gaining momentum, as insights people may drive it in large part. Evidence-based journalism is generally more practiced in the medical field. Male journalists practice more investigative journalism than female journalists. Significant differences were found in their perceptions. Interestingly, 34.7% strongly agreed, and 42.7% generally agreed that they follow value-based journalism.

About 57.1% of the respondents stated that there are numerous hindrances in following VBJ. Respondents who stated that there are no hindrances were mostly from the developed countries. In opened-end comments, more than 25% of respondents perceived that their main hindrances lie within their organization, e.g. editorial selection, prejudices, indifferences, lack of flexibility and creativity, organizational bureaucracy, mono-centralism, and gender sensitivity. Two respondents stated, “Editors don’t like stories that have a value-based idea; Perhaps such news stories are difficult to be marketed. Two respondents from Africa stated, “The Publisher does not feel comfortable with the critical stories.” Another from South Africa argued, “Placement of good value-based items are harder.”

About 30% of the respondents strongly perceived that other issues such as commercialization, marketing strategies, financial pressures, the powerful guy (money), business and political interests of media houses, lack of training of owners, journalists job security etc. are other hindrances in adhering to a VBJ approach.

Some external hindrances include: access to free information (e.g.. access to business data), fear of the law, anti-terrorism laws (Australia), legal barrier/libel laws, political pressures, political control (Africa), government rarely answers questions and it is considered bad manners to question high officials fiercely (Africa), non-democratic countries, lack of freedom to press, changing norms in the society etc.

People like to read real stories rather than spicy ones but many newspapers have gone tabloid , as commented by many respondents. However, also one may not ignore the very fact that there is much higher readership of ‘tabloid ‘ media, but somewhere a balanced approach to reporting of news and views is warranted. They must avoid culturally loaded language. In this regard, once the former Editor of Dainik Tribune, India, Vijay Saigal, strongly urged the need of VBJ, with honesty, truth and non-partisan reporting as corner stones. He further added that accountability to one’s profession should be the upper most criterion in the mind of a journalist, who, despite having the power of the pen, should also try to exercise self-restraint while reporting on issues of public interest.”

The survey concludes that newspaper journalists seem to be conscious of and adhere to the universal set of core values, but such practices differ from continent to continent under various cultural and the legal systems. A possible implication from this survey may suggest that responsible, ethical and value-based journalism can play a crucial role in enhancing freedom of the press in those countries of Africa , Asia and Eastern European where press is regulated, the survey states.

A total of 1,164 emails were sent journalists during Nov 2007 –Jan 2008. Though 163 responses were received yet only 126 were usable questionnaires. Responses were received from 36 countries and five continents. The most responses were received from Asia (43.5%), followed by Africa (23 3%), North America, (15.1%) , Europe (13.5%), and the lowest number from Australia-NZ (9.5%). A 23.8% response was received from India and 7.9% from China-HK and 4.9% from the Middle East region. Out of total responses, 62.7% were males and 37.3% were females. Furthermore, 42.9% were reporters /journalists, 29.3% chief editors/editors/sub-editors, and 20.6% freelancers.

The survey intention was to create more awareness among the masses on VBJ, which is an evolving concept. The survey asked the journalists to what extent do they follow or adhere to a set of universal core values..

Values are what professionals judge to be right. These values are more than words; they are the moral, ethical, and professional attributes of character. There are certain core values that are central to the profession of journalism, and should guide journalists. Journalism , like any other human endeavor, must distinguish between right and wrong, In order to increase the sheer value of unbiased news and views stories, working journalists should hold aloft the model of Value-based journalism (VBJ), which deeply focuses on people-oriented service.

“ The VBJ is an evolving concept based on a set of universal core values. These values guide us in making distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad, what we should do and what we shouldn’t. They enable us to decide more or less important issues. In respect of journalism, which is viewed as a public service, such values may be considered as standards of behavior or guiding principles to be followed by journalists in providing news, views and analysis that is true and accurate between the, balanced and unbiased, transparent, and without fear or favor, to the civic society”.


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