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‘Global Justice, Factual Reporting and Advocacy Journalism’: my chapter in global ethics handbook

By MARK PEARSON

The long awaited Handbook of Global Media Ethics, edited by the internationally lauded Professor Stephen Ward, has now been published and includes my chapter on global justice, factual reporting and advocacy journalism.

It sits among 71 chapters by media ethics experts including Australia’s own Susan Forde, Kristy Hess and Ian Richards, Cait McMahon and Matthew RicketsonJohan Lidberg, Beate Josephi and Jahnnabi Das, Kerry McCallum and Lisa Waller, Andrew Fowler and Catriona Bonfiglioli.

WardEthicsbook coverMy chapter argues global justice can be a legitimate ethical objective of journalism, requiring factuality as a platform, achievable in some situations through advocacy journalism.

It explores definitional boundaries and ethical dimensions of the three terms ‘global justice’, ‘factual reporting’ and ‘advocacy journalism’.

It compares and contrasts legal and jurisprudential notions of global justice from its meanings to international journalism, offering examples of some works of investigation and reportage that might pursue global justice goals but which have been contested in the courts over their factuality or partisanship.

It explains that while judicial cases are only one approach to the analysis of underlying ethical issues, their systematic approach based on laws and precedents offers some useful insights.

The chapter explains that some works of advocacy journalism might fall outside the law, or broadly accepted journalism ethical guidelines, but perhaps still encourage ‘ethical flourishing’.

Indeed, as Ward argues, some stories require journalists to “adopt the perspective of global justice and to consider what is best for the global community”.

The chapter explores the notion of ‘factual reporting’, distinguishing it from false news and from a legal standard of factuality, and introduces a taxonomy of factuality in ethical reporting, which includes a spectrum of fact sourcing, selection, verification, inclusion, exclusion, ordering, ramifications and revisiting. It examines the dimensions of ‘advocacy journalism’ and exemplifies how the notions of factuality and advocacy are not mutually exclusive.

It links this with the mindful exploration of intent and livelihood suggested in the foundational principles of ‘mindful journalism’.

I explain there:

Purposive reflection on one’s intent – and one’s livelihood – is examined in the relatively new area of ‘mindful journalism’, where Buddhist ethics and phenomenology are applied to journalism. Such structured meditation on these considerations – sitting to reflect upon the intent of a work of journalism, taking into account the implications for a range of stakeholders, along with a mental review of where the particular assignment and techniques sit with one’s livelihood – together form three of the eight steps involved in the mindful journalism approach.

The chapter offers an approach for reporters and editors to examine carefully the motivational roots (‘intent’) of a work of journalism to identify the source of any advocacy and its purpose, and to reflect upon how this sits with their professional identity and values.

It suggests all journalism is by some definitions ‘advocacy journalism’, but that not all advocacy journalism meets aspirational standards of global justice or factuality.

If the mindful journalism approach is adopted, then the journalist’s perception of their livelihood and its professional ethical framework is crucial to the examination of intent and to the decision over the ethics of a particular course of action. The protagonist must decide whether they are first and foremost a journalist or an advocate. Central questions include: Are you a journalist using a factual base to advocate for a human right? Or, alternatively, are you an advocate using some journalistic techniques to advocate for a human right? This self-identification with a particular occupation or profession invokes a particular ethical framework to the investigation and publishing enterprise. If the self-perception of livelihood is that of a journalist, then the protagonist should abide by a journalistic ethical code such as the MEAA or SPJ code. If, however, the methods are journalistic but the protagonist identifies as an advocate, then other ethical frameworks might be invoked, such as professional ethics of activist organisations (such as Greenpeace), governing bodies (like the UNHRC) or a public relations association like the PRIA.

The mindful examination of intent must begin with the acceptance that all journalism has elements of advocacy journalism, but that it can be alleviated by disclosing agendas and allegiances and being transparent about funding and influences. Such an approach can assist the ethical journalist in carefully navigating the fault lines of global justice, factual reporting and advocacy journalism.

The chapter includes examples of international works of journalism involving advocacy for global justice, premised upon factual reporting, which navigate the ethical fault lines inherent in the hybrid term ‘advocacy journalism’.

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2022 – the moral right of the author has been asserted.

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