Sunday, June 19, 2011

Does the Media Influence Our Future Leaders in the Right Way?

The media industry is a business, and like all businesses has a need to make profit to survive, but do they also have a responsibility, direct or indirect, towards the influence they have on the development of our future leaders – where our future leaders are effective and ethical, focusing on sustainable growth and continuous improvement?

The global media is so prevalent in our lives and has the ability to influence our thinking and perception, so what standards exist and how are they applied.

Most codes of media ethics, standards and good practice are directly applicable to the specific challenges faced by the journalists and reporters. Historically and currently, this subset of media ethics is widely known as their professional "code of ethics" or the "canons of journalism". While various existing codes have some differences, most share common elements including the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability, as these apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.

One of the leading voices in the United States on the subject of journalistic standards and ethics is the Society of Professional Journalists. The preamble to its code of ethics states that, “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility”.

Yet, as with other ethical codes, there is a general concern that the standards of the media industry are being ignored. One of the most controversial issues in modern reporting is media bias, especially on political issues, but also with regard to cultural and other issues, including sensationalism which is often a common complaint. Also minor factual errors are also extremely common.

There are also some wider concerns, as the media industry continues to change, for example that the brevity of news reports and use of sound-bites has reduced the focus on the truth and may contribute to a lack of needed context for public understanding. From outside the profession, the rise of news management contributes to the real possibility that news media may be deliberately manipulated. Selective reporting and double standards are very common allegations against newspapers, which are forms of bias not easy to establish or guard against.

But in a world where one wants freedom of press; how should this freedom be used for the ‘good’ rather than the ‘sensational’ – where the sensational ‘sells’ and has that shock value. But where sensationalism diverges from true and ethical practices, and can give the wrong impression and create wrong perceptions about issues like effective leadership.

There appears to be a constant stream of headlines reporting on highly placed businessmen and women who have taken advantage of their leadership positions and associated powers to be unethical and poor models of effective leadership. Yet where are the pictures and stories of the effective leaders around the world, for today’s employees and students to see and aspire towards.

Looking at the media industry at it’s worst, Christopher Goodwin’s article in the Sunday Times reviews the incendiary new book by Benjamin Shapiro entitled “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV.” In his book Shapiro claims that “Hollywood, with its godlike power, has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams, shaping Americas styles, tastes, politics and even family structures” and what shapes the US often shapes other countries as well.

As Goodwin highlights, “it’s not exactly a surprise that most people in Hollywood are liberal or that conservatives are upset about it. What is shocking about the book is that a number of the most important players in US television openly admit to Shapiro that they have deliberately used programmes such as Friends, Glee, Will and Grace, Sex and the City, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, even The Simpsons and Sesame Street, to push their liberal agenda.”

If the media industry is prepared to push their own agendas, then the public have a right to voice a concern about this misuse of power and how this is the ultimate betrayal of trust and public manipulation. Don’t we need to take a good hard look at the media industry to ensure that power isn’t misused and that they focus on meeting the very standards and freedoms we have been so keen to defend all these years - so that they influence our future leaders in the right, rather than the wrong way?


Goodwin, C. (2011). The brainwashing machine in your sitting room. The Sunday Times, 19th June, news review, p.6.

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