Are there professional journalistic values that cut across international and cultural boundaries? Are there core values or clusters of values so unique to culture that they mitigate against global professional ethics in journalism? These become key questions as both economic and technological forces change the landscape of international journalism.
According to my research and history, in Japan, journalists voluntarily and regularly curtail their truth-telling through the practice of self-censorship not from coercion by the government, but by their own press organizations that cover government. In the People’s Republic of China, journalists like all essential workers are in the employ of government and pay homage to the truth, but place a lower value on pursuing with any aggressiveness or perseverance. In Korea, journalists most often recognize truth as the word of government, and identify themselves with the elite ruling forces and identify their role as helping to insure harmony between the rulers and the ruled. Their closeness to government is often measured by the amount of cash in the ‘white envelopes’ they receive from their sources.
The ethical code for journalists in the People’s Republic of China dares them to ‘stand up for the truth.’ But it also compels them to be loyal to the Communist Party and government, institutional forces that limit truthful disclosure and forgo independence according to Keguang in 1989. But from that time to now, there have been lots of changes in the face of ethical practice, and technology too has brought in some leeway. How do Chinese journalists balance these and other apparently conflicting values? How do truth-telling, independence and unwavering loyalty fit into a hierarchy of values of the professional journalist?
Some questions could be raised, however, about the extent to which Chinese reporters will exert themselves to seek out and report the truth as their Loyalty is linked with a lesser valuing of inquisitiveness, aggressiveness and perseverance. This finding tracks Yu’s analysis of critical reporting in China in 1995. Indeed, several journalists agreed with the comment of a Chinese writer: “We value Independence because we want more of it and don’t value Humility because too much of it is expected of us.”
A better set of value terms could most likely be drawn that are more precise in separating journalistic practices. “Modesty,” for example, might be a better term than “Humility” in describing Chinese journalistic practice. Like all ethics codes, the Chinese code is evolving. Newer revisions (Beijing Review 1991) maintain the call for journalists to be ‘loyal to the cause of socialist journalism’ and to ‘safeguard national interests and state policies.’ But the code- making ‘All China Journalists Association’ also directs journalists to strengthen their ties and cooperation with journalists and journalist organizations in other countries, particularly Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and third world countries.
More recent dictates from the Beijing government have instituted a broad-based public ethics campaign that, according to Western reporting, ‘Imposes stronger controls over the media and culture’. According to these reports: ‘The campaign will likely translate into appeals in the state-run media for officials and ordinary Chinese to be more honest, more patriotic, polite, and even to spit less. . . . to ensure its message gets through, the Central Committee told the media to report ‘in a positive way.”
At present Chinese media is improving and no one really knows how many television stations there are in China. Best estimates put the number at 5,000. Yet, just over ten years ago there were no more than 40. The number of newspapers has increased from around 200 to more than 2,500, radio stations have blossomed from a 100 to 1,200 and TV and radio penetration is now over 85 percent. In just, 10 years, the media has exploded. But it is still heavily regulated and owned and controlled by the state run Communist Party. Most local media is pro-China in its content and style and is used as a tool for control and influence over the country’s huge population.
There are also limits on foreign journalists – where they can travel and to whom they can speak to according to the West, but when I was there I proved that theory wrong as many journalists were given the opportunity in visiting every part of China, even myself. Overseas media regularly have their offices screened and their activities are closely monitored. Taiwan, Tibet and human rights issues are strictly off the editorial agenda. Despite this, consumerism has well and truly arrived in China. There’s now an increased sophistication in the market – and marketing communications, brand management and reputation building have become big business. There is no such thing as privately owned media in China – and foreign companies are restricted. Consumerism is driving up advertising revenue. The dominant Chinese television network, CCTV is said to earn a total of 1 billion Yuan or $200 million a year.
China is very conscious of reforming its media and has some relatively progressive thinking internally about where to take it, said Gary Davey CEO of Star TV in Hong Kong. But it’s going to take a very long time because they are equally sensitive about the importance of control. An older generation of bureaucrats still sees the media and television in particular, as a propaganda device and any attempt to reform it into a commercially driven business raises great suspicion amongst the Chinese leadership.
If global media ethics starts out from considering how media practice might, or might not contribute to a sustainable life together given the lack of a value consensus, then the analysis of what media do in the world, on which a global media ethics draws, must itself avoid writing into its accounts particular normative assumptions about how exactly media should be embedded into political, religious, social or economic structures, let alone the assumption that the US, China, Japan or UK’s way of doing this is inevitably the best. In this it differs, as the argument, from earlier versions of media ethics based on specific normative frameworks such as Christian humanism in Couldry’s work in 2006. It goes without saying that in China or India or Iran, to name just three important cases, media are embedded in wider society in very different ways from either the US or the UK, yielding potentially quite distinctive perspectives on global media ethics, which we cannot afford to ignore. The fully internationalized comparative study of media cultures is, therefore, a precondition for a coherent and effective global media ethics.
In two ways, I believe a truly international media studies could be advanced. But such work lies largely in the future. With the exception of Roger Silverstone’s remarkable last book on Media and Morality, what we have in these areas are largely promissory notes. But this is enough already, I hope, more media experts will incite a new wave of international dialogue between media researchers, as intense as it is necessary.
To close I have picked out some unethical journalism reports that might explained what is media ethics and the unethical behaviors of some of our colleagues. ChinaView reported, ” Zhou Zhenglong, a farmer who shocked China with his fake photo of the endangered South China tiger,was tried by the People’s Court of Xunyang County in the northwestern Shaanxi Province and was found guilty and sentenced to five years imprisonment. “The 54-year-old from Zhenping county claimed to have photographed the tiger with a digital camera on the afternoon of Oct. 3 last year, and was rewarded by the Provincial Forestry Department with 20,000 yuan (2,915 U.S. Dollars).
By Austin Thomas