Opinion: A hallmark for journalismPOSTED: 07/19/12 12:15 PM
The University of Amsterdam claims that fifty percent of the people in the Netherlands want an independent hallmark for the quality of journalism. Almost two-thirds are of the opinion that journalists who do not abide by the rules for journalism ought to be banned from practicing the profession. A majority wants to hold media financially responsible for damages caused by bad reporting.
The university found that many readers, listeners and viewers want to tighten up the current self-regulation in journalism. That begs one obvious question: what is good journalism?
Joep Schaper and Nel Ruigrok of the Dutch Newsmonitor – the scientific institute for journalism – tackled this question in an article in Trouw with a reference to NRC Handelsblad’s reporting about Prince Johan Friso. NRC has the reputation of a quality newspaper but with its reporting about Friso it blundered with incorrect and therefore insufficiently checked information that had been obtained in a dubious way. The paper was heavily criticized for all this.
“Would NRC lose its quality hallmark after such an incident,” Schaper and Ruigrok wondered.
The researchers at the University of Amsterdam claim that the combination of professional independence, self-regulation and financial accountability would lead to a higher level of professionalism in journalism. And a majority of the public is in favor of that model, they say.
But Schaper and Ruigrok disagree, saying that every journalist knows the standard rules and that these rules are the basis for the way editorial departments operate. But what exactly is balanced reporting and when are journalists violating someone’s privacy? There will always be a discussion about these issues and the judgment of an independent institution won’t change that, they say.
The Newsmonitor researchers point out that there is already a disciplinary committee, the Council for Journalism. The weakness of this council is however that it is not able to impose sanctions and that not every publisher recognizes its authority.
This does in our opinion not mean that injured parties have nowhere to go. They are free to file a lawsuit against a publisher if they feel that a publication has damaged their reputation or their business.
So what do we think about the idea of a quality hallmark for journalism? We think it’s pretty useless. Why?
Well, first of all there is this thing of freedom of expression and press freedom. Second of all there are readers who couldn’t care less about the quality of what they read. They are the most fervent visitors of gossip websites and the most fervant readers of the so-called yellow press. We would not want to rob these readers of their right to consume fairytales, or of their right to indulge in stories that are of an extremely bad taste.
We also wonder how many people the University of Amsterdam interviewed for its survey and up to what point this survey is representative for a whole nation. We are tempted to think that it is more opportune to introduce a hallmark for these surveys that are giving us impressions that may or may not be correct. Who knows?