Should Journalists be 'Professionalized'?

The era of post-truth has ushered in alternative facts and fake news which tend to destabilize the polity and erode trust in institutions.

Bill Moyers said that media’s role is “to keep our leaders honest and to arm the powerless with information they need to protect themselves against the tyranny of the powerful.” Towards this end, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian is mulling to professionalize journalists by requiring them to pass a licensure exam. Earlier, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada proposed the creation of the Philippine Council of Journalists to regulate the trade. These moves acknowledge the poor state of journalism, reducing its ability to serve the public purpose.

Print and broadcast journalism has turned increasingly partisan. Many netizens feel that traditional media has become more biased, giving rise to social media journalism where netizens can report on and interpret news that broadsheets and broadcasts fail to do.

Moreover, the era of post-truth has ushered in alternative facts and fake news which tend to destabilize the polity and erode trust in institutions. While information has become more accessible, reporting accuracy seems to be more wanting. Professionalizing media (through licensing exams and code of conduct for practitioners) can address these issues.

In his book “Journalism Ethics and Regulation” (Routledge, 2016), Chris Frost notes that licensure of journalists is uncommon. The United Kingdom is an exception; it established in 1951 the National Council for the Training of Journalists that accredits them in two exams. Similarly, Italy permits a journalist to carry a press card only if s/he gets registered after passing the exams.

Using a different approach, the American Society of Newspaper Editors formulated the first journalists’ code of ethics in 1923. The Philippine Press Institute’s code of ethics enshrines accuracy, fairness, moral and intellectual honesty, justice, courtesy, and dignity. However, the extent that journalists adhere to these ideals is not known.

Professionalization can reduce media bias and improve reporting, thus engendering better prosecution of well-reported cases, aid in legislation, and wiser executive decision-making.  However, professionalization through certification can curtail expression, and some argue that journalism is not really a profession but the citizens’ exercise of free speech.

About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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