“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”—First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Freedom of the press. It is not the first thing we all think of when thinking about the first amendment. Usually freedom of religion or freedom of speech are the more prevalent rights that come to mind. But I assure you freedom of the press is just as important, if not more important in some ways. Now before anyone tries to assume I think freedom of the press is more important than freedom of religion, let me explain my reasoning.
I am a member of the press. My training is that of a journalist. I went through the same classes, exercises and processes as every anchor on Fox News, and some on CNN. So if my training is the same as every other reporter and journalist, why is it I so often see them breaking the laws and codes of ethics of our profession, the only one blatantly protected by the U.S. Constitution?
During my time as a student, the most difficult class I had was called Media Law & Ethics. In the class, we covered every ethical issue a journalist has faced and we discussed how we could learn for the future. Some of the activities including critiquing the way journalists handled problems like plagiarizing or getting too close to sources or sensationalizing the news. One assignment we had was the responsibility come up with our own statement of ethics, a contract to ourselves, essentially, stating all of the standards we will hold ourselves to in pursuit of telling the truth.
My personal ethics statement I wrote and hold myself to will be posted at the end of this.
The reason I wanted to write this post is because I see so many inconsistencies in the media, and I want you—the reader, the viewer, the consumer—to understand that it is not in a journalist’s ethical training to allow bias to seep into their reporting, or clearly state the agenda of a political party and follow after it. No, the job of the media is to set the agenda.
Sometimes I question whether journalists truly understand that they have not only the ability, but also the responsibility to do what is right. One thing I was taught is the media sets the agenda for the public, and since the government is employed by the public, it is the job of the media to represent what the people want.
I truly believe that if every reporter and journalist took the time to truly examine the example they are setting forth, the country and the world would be better, even just one tiny bit better. Why? Because they would be telling the world what is most important. They would have the courage and the guts to say that Bruce Jenner becoming a woman is far less important than all of the Christians that are dying on a daily basis in every part of the world. They would have the knowledge that children being left for dead in South Africa are more valuable than California experiencing a gigantic rain storm.
It is all about priorities. If the media does not prioritize the people they represent over the people they tell stories about, something is severely wrong.
So here is my message: if you are a member of the free press in this country, start critically thinking about what it means to set the agenda of the people. If you are a consumer of the news, hold the journalists in your community to a higher standard. It is not just the media’s fault they have fallen; it is the consumer that has assisted in the fall because they have not held journalists accountable. Take responsibility in what you say and the information you share, and learn to prioritize the real news with the stuff everyone else thinks is important.
Freedom of the press is important. It is just as important as religious freedom, and can be more important when it is used to advance the kingdom of God and not the agenda of man.
As promised, my personal ethics statement:
As a journalist and storyteller, I vow to uphold every piece of work I produce to the ethical and moral standards by which I live my life. I will practically live out my ethical standards as Aristotle taught in an effort to be more aware. I believe in the call to be a voice for the voiceless, paying special and close attention to the smallest details that are lost to others. I am dedicated to making my conduct reflective of deep faith and a desire to understand those whose stories I choose to tell. With this ethical and moral standard in mind, I will approach every story and every opportunity with confidence in carrying out my journalistic responsibilities and provoking others to action.
Seek Truth and Report It: I should…
~Never take any piece of information at face value and diligently seek more information even when it takes an enormous amount of time.
~Use a source’s own words and never claim them as my own; never take the words of a source out of context, leading the reader to believe something that is false.
~Represent the different sides of a story even when the topic or issue being discussed is controversial.
~Understand that the public always has a right to know what is going on, and provide as much information as possible without bringing negative consequences to a source and his livelihood, a publication’s credibility, my own reputation and the body of Christ.
“To the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” –Ephesians 3:10-12
Minimize Harm: I should…
~Do everything in my power to make sure the lives of those I am in contact with are not in danger, and take time to understand the depth of the situations a source or subject must endure on a daily basis.
~Do nothing to purposefully jeopardize the position of a source, coworker, subordinate or superior.
~Be sensitive and treat others the way they deserve to be treated, even when they are on the perceived wrong side of the issue or aisle.
~Be cautious of controversial issues and know when the story is not meant to be told or a photo meant to be taken.
~Act with confidence that Jesus has my back and is protecting me and those around me.
~Care for all sources and subjects on a deeper, human level.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” –Hebrews 10:23
Act Independently: I should…
~Do my job well without having to be prompted.
~Take care of myself so I can come home to my family.
~Stay on top of my duties to promote the better inner workings of the entire team.
~Be observant of all of the small details going on around me and test my discernment to know when to act and when not to act.
“Thus says the LORD to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” –2 Chronicles 20:15
Be Accountable: I should…
~Never shy away from or resist a conversation when the topic is difficult.
~Always welcome comment on any piece of work—story, photo, video, etc.—published with my byline.
~Understand that the constructive criticism given to me from other professionals and from those who have more experience are meant to help me improve.
~Never do anything my readers would not want me to do when obtaining information—taking advantage of a situation or source when they are vulnerable, using someone for selfish reasons, etc.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” –Proverbs 1:7