Introducing a new ‘ethic of care’ to journalism

This week we spoke to Professor Judy McGregor, Visiting Professor at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, ahead of her lecture at the NZUK Link Foundation event to discuss Human rights and the news media.

Professor McGregor takes as her start point the news coverage of human rights stories.  She thinks the news media needs to move from believing professional detachment is the holy grail to the idea that an ethic of care is a better catalyst for reporting.

She says: “Journalism is suffering from a crisis of faith. For the news media to survive and to be relevant in exposing human rights abuses and holding state parties accountable, I believe it has to do things very differently. Journalism needs to abandon at least partially the idea of detachment as a fundamental professional tenet, and to replace it selectively with a journalistic ethic of care."

McGregor discusses the idea that the news media is a disrupted industry but suggests that turbo-charged technological change is only part of the problem. “There is an accelerated loss of identity of trained journalists as members of the fourth estate. In the global estate anyone can do journalism and in fact everyone is. One of the most extreme recent examples this year was the story of the nine-year-old American girl covering murder stories.

“Coverage on social media, accurate or outrageous or merely banal, is almost spontaneously converted into “news”, published or broadcast first and fact-checked later. Only later and then selectively do the facts become apparent, as if they are secondary to the preceding narrative and whether that was fact or fiction.

“I am proposing the selective application of an ethic of care in journalism to replace professional detachment. I suggest that journalists can regain their mission by following a human rights-based approach to their craft, particularly in coverage of domestic human rights concerns about social and economic rights, discrimination and vulnerability.

“The need for an unwavering allegiance to journalistic detachment in the coverage of every social issue, or slavish reporting of populist political half truths from so called elite sources should be challenged.

“To adequately report human rights issues such as mental health seclusion and youth detention, which are salient issues globally, there needs to be a re-awakening of moral imagination about what it is that journalism can do for us. The search for sustainable business models for serious, quality journalism is undeniably urgent. But so, too, is the requirement that journalism begins to heal itself.”

And what role does regulation have in this new model?  Professor McGregor says; “There is a sense that journalists have lost touch with the values and interests of the people they write for.  A new independent regulator, like IMPRESS, has an important role to play if it can promote understanding about standards and effectively handle grievances.”

Professor McGregor is head of Auckland University of Technology’s School of Social Sciences and Public Policy and associate dean with responsibility for postgraduate studies.  She is a trained lawyer, former newspaper academic with a PhD in political communication and former Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner with the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.

For more information on the NZUK Link Foundation event: