Media’s Responsibility On Prophesies and Other False Alarms

IN the world of digitalisation and mobility, the fluidity of information requires responsible handling. That responsibility is a double-edged sword with which journalists, editors, media owners, publishers and other media practitioners can cause serious uncertainity, send panic and confusion, and destroy institutions or individuals. Handled differently they can cause celebrations in a gloomy society, encourage willingness for hard work in a laidback community and bring about development to a neglected region.

The yoke of professional journalism comes with the responsibility of ensuring that the information being relayed to the public is accurate, fair, unbiased and truthful without a grain of doubt about the context within which it is being relayed. Enshrined in Chapter 3 of the Namibian Constitition, in Article 21, is the freedom of speech and expression that entails the freedom of the press and media. There is also the freedom of religion and consciousness, and to manifest such practices.

Complementing this are the founding principles of the Namibian Media Code of Conduct that exhorts journalists to engage in investigative journalism “for the public good”, “use all reasonable means [… ] to ascertain prior to publication or broadcast the reliability of the content of any article” as well as to give “due regard to the possible negative effect … of the article.”

All these provisions beseech journalists to be mindful of the message they are spreading, to question and ponder on the “public good” of an article before publishing.

The sentiments this week by retired church leader, Reverend Ngeno Nakamhela, cannot be faulted for blaming the media over its hype and hysteria that almost bordered on panic and confusion about the supposed earthquake of April 15 that did not take place as prophesied by a Windhoek prophettess. The Reverend is correctly asking the media to “take the lead on what to print and what not to print”, to take ownership of the content being printed.

The media too has to be careful not to become an acomplice or the medium of the messeges that cause unnecessary panic and confusion in society. Media should not become conduit for those, even unwittingly or unintentionally, whose messages entice the weak and vulnerable members of society searching for serious divine intervention for one or other reason. Clinical psychologist, Shaun Whittaker, is correct in cautioning against being too “gullible to believe in such things” but the media should not fuel the fire by hyping the confusion.

The business of sharing information comes with the need for responsible handling of information, particularly by the fourth estate, the media. It is the very holy grail of journalism, the foundation of the profession and the stool on which scribes perch to execute their calling.

Source : New Era