The Myth of Neutrality and the Ideology of Information
Another obstacle to more constructive and responsible journalism, closely related to the myth of objectivity, is the myth of neutrality. The journalists' claim that "we don't make the news, we only report it" functions implicitly--and frequently explicitly--as a denial of responsibility: Don't blame us, we're just the messengers, and as messengers, we are only doing our duty. It also functions as an injunction: Journalists must resist the temptation to step outside the role of neutral observer and messenger; even when their motives are altruistic, they risk undermining both their own objectivity (that is, their ability to see things impartially) and their credibility.
Robert Haiman, former executive director of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, expresses this injunction in theatrical terms: journalists must remember that their place is in the audience, never on the stage. The messenger metaphor carries with it strong ethical implications: Messengers are servants, and paramount among their duties are faithfulness and truthfulness. Their job is, in the most restricted sense, to carry messages, and they must not alter the message to suit their own interests, must not dally in delivering the message, and must not accept other employment that would interfere with their duties to their master. These duties translate to the ethical principles regarding objectivity, fairness, accuracy, sensationalism, conflict of interest, and so on.
Of course, the news media do not cause earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or lopsided defeats for the home team, and "don't blame us" is a perfectly
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Good News, Bad News:Journalism Ethics and the Public Interest. Contributors: Jeremy Iggers - Author. Publisher: Westview Press. Place of publication: Boulder, CO. Publication year: 1998. Page number: 109.