Vol: 12 No: 02
15 August 1965
The principal virtue of the journalist is an incorruptible love of truth.
Every tendency in the intellectual life of a nation, every struggle for material and spiritual good, everything that has an interest for public opinion, tries to win and influence the masses through the Press.
Thus has the Press has become the mightiest means of propaganda for good and for evil.
It penetrates into places where the speaker’s voice cannot reach; it exercises its influence where a person will find no entrance; it maintains its message before the reader when the orator’s words have died away and his ideas have been forgotten. And it is precisely for this reason that we claim that there is such a thing as Journalistic Ethics even though certain journalists may be the last to admit it.
The journalist is subject to the laws of morality. It is related that Leonardo da Vinci, who was, besides being a famous painter, a very famous engineer, refused to publish the designs of the submarine he had invented because he thought it essentially unfair to attack without warning an enemy who cannot see you!
We can say the same about journalism. A journalist may come across a juicy bit of news, or obtain a particular item of information. Whether he should publish it or not, or, if he does, what slant he should give to it, will depend on the code of ethics and morality he accepts. This will depend in a large measure on the journalists themselves, their honesty and fidelity to the truth, their courage to proclaim it in the face of overwhelming odds, their willingness to be guided but by principles of right and wrong.
The principal virtue of the journalist is an incorruptible love of truth. Yet there are many temptations to make him depart from it: Temptations bound up with the interests of a party and perhaps of the press itself on behalf of which he works. It can be extremely difficult to resist these temptations and to respect the limits beyond which the love of truth forbids anyone to go, without losing sight of the fact that the ‘conspiracy of silence’ can also offend gravely against truth and justice.
There are also temptations arising from public opinion, which the journalist cannot follow without reserve, being the one who ought to bring them into line with the truth and with what is right, and so refine them and give them proper direction.
But there is such a thing as a sham public opinion, devoid of meaning, something like a vague rumour, a forced and superficial impression. It is the journalist’s high calling to form a genuine, responsible public opinion, and he does this not by dominating or governing it, but by serving it usefully. For that task, because nemo dat quod non habet, he has to pledge fidelity to a code of morality, which he can then strive to reflect in his written judgment of men and matters.
It is important to insist on the truth, and for the journalist, this truth will have two facets. There is the truth in vision, whereby he sees events as they really happen, and the truth in presentation, whereby he reports faithfully events as he has seen them and interprets them by no other standards than those of justice and charity.
15 August 1965
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