In Defence Of Journalism As A Public Trust Salzburg, AustriaMarch 26, 2002

BY Ammu Joseph| IN Media Practice | 26/03/2002
Ammu Joseph attended the Salzburg Seminar Session 396 on Influence, Values and Professional Responsibility in the Ne

Ammu Joseph attended the Salzburg Seminar Session 396 on Influence, Values and Professional Responsibility in the News Media (March 2002). She has sent the statement below, which emerged from the meeting.

In Defence Of Journalism As A Public Trust

Salzburg,Austria

March 26, 2002

I. PREAMBLE

This statement expresses the concerns of international journalists and supporters of journalism attending the Salzburg Seminar Session 396, March 20-27, 2002, in Salzburg, Austria. The topic: The decline of the news media¿s role as a public trust and the effects of that phenomenon on its obligations to civil society. Our discussions revealed that journalists and their supporters from many countries share a strong conviction that market pressures are undermining the quality of journalism; specifically, as news organizations preserve high profit levels by reducing newsgathering resources and neglecting journalism in the public interest, the fundamental role of the press to inform and empower citizens is endangered.

These concerns are the motivation for this statement, which we hope will prompt further consideration, discussion and action around the world.

A free and independent press is essential to human liberty. No people can remain sovereign without a vigorous press that reports the news, examines critical issues and encourages a robust exchange of ideas. In recognition of the vital role of the press in society, many countries extend it special legal protections under constitutions or legislatively-enacted statutes. These protections are unique, for they safeguard print, broadcast and online media organizations against government interference and censorship.

Where this special status has been accorded the press, news organizations have been held to a high standard of public service and public trust. Over time, this ideal has become a bedrock of journalism, an enduring tradition by which a free press has been a powerful force for progress and informed citizen participation in society.

Historically, threats to press freedoms have been political in nature. At the start of the 21st Century, however, a new kind of threat emerges that, if continued, will endanger the freedoms guaranteed to the press and put at risk the sovereignty of the citizens.

The nature of the press as a commercial enterprise has changed significantly. The emergence of media conglomerates and intense market competition are creating new organizational priorities in which profit growth is replacing public service as the principal mission. Sustaining profit growth often requires reducing the resources for news gathering, thereby diminishing the role of the news media as a public trust.

Business priorities are encouraging the blending of news and entertainment as a strategy to build audiences and ratings. This trend, most noticeable worldwide in television, has led to a reduction in serious news coverage and may be responsible for a decline of public confidence in this medium as an essential source of information.

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