The debate about rolling back reforms aimed at ensuring financial advisers put clients first raises questions of how the notion of fiduciary responsibility applies to other professionals, like journalists for instance.
Do journalists have a duty of care to their readers and viewers? Or is their first responsibility to their employers? Of course, these responsibilities are not mutually exclusive. But anyone who pays attention to some of the more ‘colourful’ output of the tabloid press, radio and commercial television in Australia might conclude where loyalties primarily lie.
Of course, many journalists take their duty to readers very seriously. Others, though, while piously proclaiming “freedom”, are really more focused on serving the commercial and ideological ends of their employer. And to that end, they will distort, omit and even manufacture “facts”.
While defenders of aggressively partisan journalism argue they are merely giving audiences want they want (the Fox News model), this can have severe consequences in a country where nearly 70% of the metropolitan media is controlled by the chief purveyor of this stuff.
With the contest for eyeballs intensifying and straight news a commodity, a big chunk of the radical right-wing media has decided it is in the trolling business. So it digitally enhances the “news” to pander to the prejudices of its core audience, manufacture outrage among its enemies and conjure the political outcomes that suit its proprietor’s interests.
It works up to a point. But only if you think the real issue here is the commercial survival of traditional media. Much as it pains many of us to see good journalists out of work, it’s worth asking whether journalism is worth saving if so much of it is just churning noise and making stuff up.
Asking the big existential questions won’t come from journalists. Many of them are part of the circus and are too busy dancing to the organ grinder’s tune to think about what their real role should be. But it is interesting to listen to an astute outsider like the British film producer and peer David Putnam, who in a recent Ted Talk, spoke about journalists’ duty of care in a democracy.
Honesty, accuracy and impartiality are not just quaint notions, he says. They are central to maintaining the trust of the public in journalists and the health of the democracy…