Journalistic Ethics is the standardized principles of belief, conscience, conduct and of good practice that is the assistance in decision-making in relation to perplexed challenges and moral question faced by a journalist. Journalism’s fundamental objective is in serving people with fair and impartial news, comments, views and information regarding all matter concerning public interest unbiased and accurately, using decent… Read More »

Journalistic Ethics is the standardized principles of belief, conscience, conduct and of good practice that is the assistance in decision-making in relation to perplexed challenges and moral question faced by a journalist. Journalism’s fundamental objective is in serving people with fair and impartial news, comments, views and information regarding all matter concerning public interest unbiased and accurately, using decent language and proper manner.

Journalism has ascended as a more concrete form of expression, growing in power with the passage of time. In today’s scenario, the media does not remain satisfied positioned as the Fourth Estate, but it has assumed the foremost influencing role in society and governance. The influence of media is expansive enough to make or unmake of a person, institution or any thought. With so much strength and privilege, the media cannot lose sight of its powers, duties, and obligations.

But to enjoy these powers, to this end the media is mandated to follow certain ethics in the collection and dissemination of information – namely, ensuring the authenticity of the news, use of subdued and socially acceptable language for ensuring objectivity and fairness in reporting and taking into account the cascading effect on society and individuals and the institutions concerned.

Principles of Ethical Journalism

The principles[1] of ethical journalism build a concrete foundation for the dissemination of information by all corners of media and journalist fraternity.

Trust, fairness, and accuracy are the cardinal principles of ethical journalism, which ensures the positive role that media has to play, establishing creditability against rumor and fiction. Impartiality is to be ensured, with most stories having two contrasting sides, stories to be told from a balanced, unprejudiced and contextualized. Hence, reporting cannot be manifestly libelous or defamatory or libelous against organization or individual without sufficient verification and evidence. And impartiality can only be ensured when media works as an Independent Institution, without government strict control and censorship.

Truth should always be a target, but Journalist should be purporting information in the way, least hurtful to the feeling and emotion of the masses considerate of the impact of broadcasting in people lives. Accountability is another quality of journalism. Thus, the media cannot be cynical about its mistake and be more humble in accepting and correcting its mistake.

Conflicting interest and contradictory factors

Though there can be established principles ensuring media ethics, there cannot be straight jacket formulae. With the fulcrum of power the media enjoys in the formation of public opinion, the dissemination of information has been regulated by augmented factors, which are often than not contradictory to each other. Thus, in ensuring fairness, the media has to choose the judicious path of not only right and wrong but wrong and extreme fallacious.

Right to privacy v Right to information

It’s a commonly understood principle that media cannot be intruder or invader of the privacy of any individual, until and unless that is totally outweighed by legitimate public interest, and not morbid and prurient curiosity. But with the Right to privacy[2] being held as the Fundamental right by the recent Supreme Court, the right to privacy vs right to information is been thrown into complicated waters.

Thus, the consequence being any laws interfering with the privacy not have to be fair, just, and reasonable in nature, but also has to meet all Constitution principles and standards as interpreted by the Supreme Court over the years. This expands the scope of judicial questioning of media actions as well as raises the burden on media to ensure the constitutionality of laws in interfering with the right to privacy.

Even if the right to privacy could be overridden by genuine public interest, the quantum of overridden is not clear. And this override being subjective in nature would vary from person to person and interest groups.

The applicability of Harm limitation principle

Harm limitation principle is the most esteemed ethics in media reporting[3] Children or victims of sexual offenses are treated with care, their identities are hidden

The IPC clearly lays down that printing or publishing the name or the identity of any person against whom an offense under section 376, 376A, 376B, 376C, 376D is punishable to 2 years of imprisonment.

Deliberation upon the Nirbhaya Case study[4], when her parents wanted her identity to be revealed and Indian government ensures strict mandate against her identity to be revealed forcing the Media labeled her a Nirbhaya.

To begin with, the term ‘Nirbhaya’ is actually escapist in nature. The manner in which she was raped, tortured and lost her life was in no way heroic for her or the nation, but it was highly horrific and gory tragedy. But, in spite of her mother’s request, because she firmly believed that rape victim should not be shrouded in shame.

But still, media publications can not be still criticised for using Nirbhaya and not her actual name Jyoti Singh.In their defence, it is prudent to read the statement expressed by the The Hindu’s editor as “it is prudent to err on the side of caution rather than relying on interpretation of law alone”.

The nation shocked by the inhumane tragedy happened to a innocent girl, but revealing her true identity would have been the right step or not, is another complicated question that were left unanswered by the Nirbhaya case study.

Parliamentary privileges v Freedom of Speech

The Constitution of India does recognize privileges of Parliament as well as the state legislatures, under the Articles 105 and Article 194, respectively, but does not have a law categorically codifying its privileges. Thus making the exact number and quantum of privileges uncertain, and even unlimited. In the history of Independent India, a huge number of journalists have been prosecuted by the Power of Parliamentary Privileges.

Media always have seen it as an encroachment on freedom of the press[5], under Article 19 (1) (a). The questions relating to the relationship between legislative privilege and Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression have repeatedly found their way to Constitutional courts

Judiciary has still on the basis of 1956 Bihar Assembly searchlight case, holds that the power of judicial review, though applicable to ordinary law, but could not be invoked against Article 194. With Judiciary always trying to stay away from interfering with Parliament functioning, scales remain tilted highly, in favor of privileges and against the right to speech and media personnel being made the scapegoat by the government to cover up their administrative frailties.

Thus the parliamentary privileges needed to be reviewed and amended to ensure independent media functioning.

The fallacious Media trials

Media should not point or prove the person in any given case as the criminal, before actually being proven by the court. It can make the innocent guilty and prove the guilty innocent. These illustrate the strict need of impartial unbiased and unpurposive media, for presenting a clear image of happening for the public to understand and adjudge.Thus, all media report should follow the Principle of innocence.

Some famous criminal cases that would have gone unpunished but for the intervention of media are Priyadarshini Mattoo case, Jessica Lal case, Nitish Katara murder case and Bijal Joshi rape case.

But Media has now become a Janta Adalia, i.e. public court, intervening in the justice delivery by its spicy narrative, with illustrating hero and painting an individual villain without he being proved guilty by the court, in every other reporting of a criminal case.

Andhra Pradesh High Court Justice Gopal Rao Ekkbote, in the case of Y.V. Hanumantha Rao v. K.R. Pattabhiram and Anr[6]., observed

“ …… When litigation is pending before a Court, no one shall comment on it in such a way there is a real and substantial danger of prejudice to the trial of the action, as for instance by influence on the Judge, the witnesses or by prejudicing mankind in general against a party to the cause. Even if the person making the comment honestly believes it to be true, still it is a contempt of Court if he prejudices the truth before it is ascertained in the proceedings.’’

Another example of media branding of wrong public opinion was telecast of video footage of Pakistan Zindabad, slogan of JNU University and speeches of Kanihiya Kumar, which were later found as doctored and sedition case could not be established against him.[7]

Diverse angle of the same story

Every story is different, every storyteller is different, and every same story told by different storyteller would sound different, not only because prejudices and opinions, but because every storyteller would focus on different angle of the same story.

In 2015, Paris shooting attack, Lassana Bathily, a Muslim man, hailing from Mali, West Africa saved 6 lives hiding them in a walk-in chiller when an Muslim gunman named Amedy Coulibaly, stormed Jewish supermarket killing 4 of the 19 hostages before he was killed by the police[8].

This event highlights two fact, a Muslim man killing 4 lives in name of religion, and another Muslim man saving 6 lives, without caring for their religious affiliations. The fact that media will focus more on will build the image of Muslim as a community, against the growing Islamic-Phobia in the world/

The effect of Obscene and Raw imagery v The right to know the unaltered reality

The Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsenvisage “ Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” These right not only safeguard the freedom of press to deliver news to all corners of masses, but also withhold the right of public to be delivered the real image of the actual occurrence above opinionated and colored broadcast

In 2002, Press council[9] of India asked media not to show mangled bodies or to describe gory imagery..The actual realistic gory description[10], video or imagery of unhappenings can cause a severe psychological effect on the viewers. But, the viewers all have the right to know the actual truth, to have the empathy for such accidents. Thus this remains question unsolved .

Communal harmony V Unaltered truth

Journalists are obliged to promote common peace and harmony in society, or at least not disrupt the peace or cause agitation. Therefore, they are obliged to report in such a way that does not encourage or exacerbate the tension between the two communities.

A Newspaper report titled ‘Love Jihadi’ who raped 40 Hindu girls thinks it’s sin to molest Muslim women[11]reads

“ A Muslim youth, who sexually assaulted 40 Hindu women after fleecing them of money, was finally arrested.. 30-year-old Muhammad Shafi, posed himself as an NRI, Dr. Satish Raghavan would invite Hindu girls to a five-star hotel in Bengaluru, where he takes their nude photos and sexually assaults them. After this, he would physically assault and burn them with cigarette butts. While assaulting the victims, he would shout at them saying, “you are no more a virgin. I have deflowered you.”

Investigators said he never felt any remorse, as the victims were Hindus.

The media report was fair and unbiased, truth to it’s fullest, but has the every chance of rising a communal spark. As was led by Facebook post[12] by a Hindu boy, who put up a cartoon of Prophet Mohammad on social media, which triggered the first large-scale communal riot, with numroues deaths, burnt village, and massive injuries.

If the media has to report the news covering up the name and the religion of the accused the news would lose integrity, and printing would in open the media risk sparking communally tensed situation that India is facing.

Ethnic controversy

Similar risk media report has of causing violence when the report violence against ethnicity. In 2012, North East people were leaving Bangalore in light of violence against them[13], even till these days violence and ethnic discrimination hasn’t stopped[14]. But. then when we find a separatist tendency in Arunachal Pradesh, we question their love for India, inconsiderate the amount of discrimination they faced in daily lifes.

Same situation in 2008, when Raj Thackeray made a racial remark, themed around regionalism and linguistic identity, against North Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, condemning them of damaging Maharashtrian culture. And Samajbadi Party of UP made counter altercation.

Conflicting media claim and State propaganda being established by countries media

Amidst[15] the Miltary tension developing between India and China, China is reporting India entering Chinese territory and establishing military camp.Wher Indian Media has repeatedly refuted the Chinese claims , and as hailed the Chinese to have crossed the borderline.

With both the countries media report affected by the State propaganda, it has become impossible for common man to know the actual truth.The conflicting media claims and blame game rescinds the prime trust and reliability people have in the credibility of media.

The damaging effect of conflicting media claims is also very apparent in India politic. With most news being politically affiliated to one block of power or the other, every news report is colored to support by channels in light of their respective affiliations. This result in common people swiping between channels in their impossible quest to find their actual truth

Differentiating acts of terrorism from the acts of liberation

There could not be an UN agreed definition of terrorism because of the difficulty in differentiating acts of terrorism with acts of liberation and self-determination, which coul only be diffrenciated by the invincible line, that is based on presumption, preoccupation and propaganda.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, wanted liberation of India from Britsh rule, went to Germany and Japan, got Foreign arm and man power to fight against foreign rule and got parts of India like Andaman Nicobar, Parts of northern east states liberated. Burhan Wani, wanted Azad Kashmir liberated from Indian rule, got arms from Pakisthan, was fighting against Indian army to get Kashmir it’s Independence. Even Bhagat Singh bombed the Parliament, so did Afzal Guru, and both were prosecuted. This Netaji-Burhan Wani and Bhagat singh-Afzal Guru eulogy is vigaroulsy disturbing for common India to read and understand.

Another version truth is only a portion of Kashmir population want to be seprated from India and join Pakisthan. And people like Burhan Wani mercilessly kills Indian army men, who die protecting India. Separation of Kashmir would fatal for existence of India of diverse culture as Union. Moreso, Pakistan is brainwashing the Kashmiri youth to lead them against India, supplying them arms, to harm India’s existence.

There are two very contrasting sides of the same story, which Media has to purport without any presumption and propaganda. Where, it Media ethics not to glorify terrorist, but it also ethical to make the voice heard of every section of people. Thus, Ethical righteousness is hands tied by complexities of contrasting factors, in differentiating between a Nationalist and Terrorist.


The implementation of the principles of fairness truthfulness, objectivity, accuracy, impartiality, and acquisition of every newsworthy information, as well as the subsequent public dissemination, builds public confidence and reliability.

It is impossible for any law, guidelines or directives to categorically lay down or implements the principles of ethical journalism manner In the absence of strict guidelines, it makes it more difficult more media to adjudge the righteous path. In the world where every person has opinion and prejudice and every story has two sides, it is highly arduous for impartial reporting. But with the influential role media plays, it is ethically accepted to deliver the impartial truth. Thus the paper tries to constructs a righteous path differentiating between right and wrong, in laying down the commonly accepted principles.

Media is an independent organization, restriction and bounding will affect its power to give impartial reporting. Thus the less the government controlled and censored, it is more booming for the media truly assert the democracy. Hence, Press Council being statutory, quasi judicial authority, functioning as the watchdog of the press, for the press and by the press is the best for ensuring freedom of press.

Media must have a conscious sense of its responsibilities to the public, which they should uplift by building public trust about their credibility. The media must present both sides of the story to the audience fairly and accurately without bias, so that the audience can make their own opinion of the news and/or story independent of the media’s negative influence. The media coverage of a story should contain its source to assert its credibility beyond any speculation.

Hence, the Media has to continue to perform the impossible task of purporting information ethically against contrasting and contradictory factor acting together, ensuring the nationalism, integrity, unity of the country. Thus, the paper believes in the creation of a social framework, rather than a strict legal framework in regulating media ethics by the means of good practise and established values of their craft.

– Kriti Ranjan and Aratrik Das

Winners, 1st National Essay Writing Competition 2017 on ‘Nation and Nationalism’ presented by Legal Bites


[1] Alex Ross, The 5 Principles of Ethical Journalism, Ethical Journalism Network, 2012, at 17–19.

[2] Alok Prassana Kumar, Right to Privacy: Fundamental rights redefined, Indian Express, August 25, 2017,

[3] Mark ten doschete, Harm limitation principle, Open school of journalism, 2002, At 23.

[4] Poonam Agarwal, Nirbhaya’s Parents Want ‘Juvenile’ Rapist’s Identity Revealed, The Quint, Novembar 3, 2015.

[5] Sanjay Hedge, When freedom of the press is subject to Assembly privilege, Indian Express, June 27, 2017


[6] AIR 1975 AP 30

[7] Himani Singh, JNU row: Police report anti-India slogans, but no ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, Hindustan Times, Feb 23, 2016.

[8]Heather Saul, Paris shootings: Muslim man hailed a ‘hero’ for hiding hostages in Jewish supermarket’s walk-in refrigerator, The Independent, January 10, 2015,

[9] Nupur Gupta, Press council asks media not to show mangled bodies, Zee news, December 23, 2002.

[10] Edward Bernat, Effects of picture content and intensity on affective physiological response, US National Library of Medicine, 2008,

[11] Prateek Upadhay, This ‘Love Jihadi’ who raped 40 Hindu girls thinks it’s sin to molest Muslim women, Bharat Niti, August 30, 2017.

[12] Surya Teja, A Facebook post was all it took to undo decades of communal harmony in a small east Indian town, The quartz India, July 17, 2017.

[13] Varkala Trinaina Neta, VIDEO: North-east girls brutally beaten up by landlord in Bengaluru, The Indian Express, January 18, 2017.

[14] Aman Verma, In Bangalore, a Northeast Indian Community Struggles to Affirm Its Identity, The Wire, 30th Decembar, 2016.

[15] Rajat Pandit, China media claims major PLA build-up, India denies it, The Times of India, Jul 20, 2017.

Updated On 19 March 2020 8:00 AM GMT


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