Not many Americans have heard of the Society of Professional Journalists, though probably more than 95 percent of the men and women who make up America’s news media are members. However, I’d say less than 5 percent of America’s news consumers have ever heard of it. And we hear the term “news media” continuously, but without much thought, not realizing together it means the mediums of the newspaper, the magazine, radio and television.
In the preamble to its Code of Ethics, the Society of Professional Journalism asks only of its members to remember that “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.”
To that end, the tenets for its Code of Ethics are basically simple: (1) Seek truth and report it, (2) Minimize harm, (3) Act independently, (4) Be accountable and transparent. The Code in its entirety may be found on the Society’s home page. At the code’s conclusion, the Society states that “The SPJ Code of Ethics is a statement of abiding principles supported by explanations and positions that address changing journalistic practices. It is not a set of rules, rather a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide, regardless of what medium. The code must be read as a whole; individual principles should not be taken out of context. It is not, nor can it be under the First Amendment legally enforceable.”
Most future newsmen knew well the Code of Ethics in college, well before joining the SPJ. From Journalism 101 on, our teachers had subtly ingrained into us the needs for truth, completeness, responsibility, accuracy – the ethics of journalism – into what would become the day’s news. When joining, we knew we would follow them into our careers.
Most of America’s news media are built with members of the Society, all of whom are linked together by that simple code. None has taken an oath of allegiance, nor carries a card proclaiming such. In fighting off slurs of “fake news,” the SPJ and the American news media must continually make sure that those who read, listen and watch the nation’s news know that it came from responsible, credible sources, and those who wrote it did so with the highest principles.
To that extent, it more than angers me when President Trump slanders the American news media. “Fake news” he calls the truthful, ethically written stories from various media that don’t fancy his ego or criticize his behavior or actions. It is the alleged news media such as the Fox News Network, which feed him both his daily dose of well-needed, ego-building kudos, and the biased, one-sided portions of his day’s news feeds, that receive his continued attention and admiration. There are no members of the Society of Professional Journalists working for FOX. Before joining, there might have been, a few perhaps. But when they renounced truth, completeness, responsibility, accuracy, integrity … they renounced the right to be called a true journalist.
With Trump breathing hard to scrap the American press as we know it today, it’s time to fight back. Continued daily, the president tweets his lies, and while he’s doing so, he attacks the American press. And the American press dutifully reports it. He doesn’t care if he sounds hateful in his attacks; he knows the unbiased American news media will report it, regardless what he says, and his followers will lap up every word. Even when Fox News goes too far with Trump’s biases, lies, half-truths and alternate facts and gets itself boxed into a corner, Fox suddenly becomes no longer a news network, but an entertainment network. But that’s all right, because Trump’s followers believed every word in the first place.
It can’t set roots here, people might say, but fascism always had its beginnings in a country with a weak government, an ignorant populace (who’ll believe anything they want to hear), and a docile press. America doesn’t have a docile press; it has a strong, credible press, strongest in the world. But even more strength is needed. It’s time for the SPJ-nurtured American press – its news media – to go on the offensive. But to keep its gullible followers from straying off and to again start thinking on their own, the fascist-minded Trump administration isn’t about to end its program of lies, half-truths and alternate facts. A strong, credible press must squelch this program, and ultimately kill it, along with its creators.
Alann B. Steen lives in Spokane.
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