Experts call for rethinking journalism ethics in the social media era

Media professionals have appealed for discussions around journalism ethics in respect to increasing social media use and mushrooming online news sites.

Ms. Rachael Akidi, the BBC Focus on Africa radio editor, said media freedom comes with a huge responsibility to be fair and accurate, but added that this is largely not happening on social media.

She made the remarks while making a key note address at the annual social media conference organised by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) on 22 June 2017 under the theme, “Facts, Freedoms and Rights in a Connected World”.

Ms. Akidi noted that while social media and technology has democratised the media industry, including the emergence of citizen journalists, the “desire to trend and go viral has provided fuel for sensationalism”.

“Who are citizen journalists accountable to? I have seen defamatory pieces on blogs. We have seen graphic pictures of the dead or wounded people without regard for their families. Sometimes you ask yourself, what happened to privacy, decency and humanity?” Ms Akidi, who has worked at the BBC for 15 years, said.

She wondered whether there is need for a parallel set of digital media ethics, adding that the “media might be clinging onto practices that are becoming fast obsolete”.

Ms. Akidi noted that there will be a section in the media that will continue to uphold ethical values, “but it will be fallacious to think all of them will adhere”.

“At the BBC, we are placing emphasis on “slow news”. We won’t abandon investigation, analysis in favour of fast news,” she clarified, adding that “despite all the news on social media, many people still refer to traditional media to confirm or debunk what they read online and that is encouraging”.

Mr. Ian Ortega, the founder and CEO,, said values of traditional media are in a clash with that of social media, thus the need for a discussion.

“Journalism is in a state of flux. We shouldn’t discuss ethics as if they are etched on stone. We shouldn’t base on the traditional ethics. Let’s discuss the ethics of the future,” he said, while speaking on the topic, “Social Media, Blogging and Citizen Journalism: Re-configuring Ethical Standards?”

Mr. Ortega said we are in the age of attention and speed which makes verification a challenge.

However, Mr. Ofwono Opondo, the government spokesperson and Executive Director of the Uganda Media Centre, said while there is pressure from traditional and social media platforms to win over audiences be the first to share content online, that should not be at the expense of credibility.

He made a swipe at online media platforms, saying some of them are not credible and therefore publish poor quality content.

“Online media are now a platform for extortion. Most things they post are paid for under the table,” he said.

While most panelists highlighted the challenges that come with social media use, they also pointed out the opportunities that exist.

Ms. Akidi said today anyone with a basic smart phone and internet access can become a content creator, adding that Social media has lowered the barrier of entry into journalism.

She said accurate and quality journalism should continue to “separate the news from the noise in this very crowded media landscape”.

Mr Opondo said with the advent of social media, citizens are able to vent their frustrations but added that they must hold government to the highest standards and express themselves within the confines of the law.

“Government is open to examining and resolving the causes of the frustration as expressed on social media. The responsibility of a responsive government should be to proactively engage those angry voices so that we understand what causes the anger and frustration,” he said.

Panelists and participants addressed various topics including, navigating online spaces in Uganda, youth engagement through social media, the digital humanitarianism, the art of online manipulation, online trends, algorithms and the new rise of populism and feminist voices online.

On digital humanitarianism, Mr Philip Ogola, a new media specialist and citizen journalist, said social media can change habits and save lives.  He shared a tearful personal story of how he helped rescue those trapped during the Westgate Mall terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya, by responding to their call for help via social media.

Mr Ogola added that social media gives us power to change narratives in regard to societal issues such as HIV/Aids, economy, security etc.

Mr Mathias Kamp, the KAS country representative, said this year’s conference offered a platform to discuss the political, societal and the journalistic implications of social media and how it changes the way information is produced, consumed and perceived.

The conference was attended by more than 250 members of the academia, civil society, bloggers, journalists, politicians and policy makers.


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