Press ombudsman stresses duty of journalists to their readers

 

THE CREDIBILITY of the media is best defended by journalists who recognise that their loyalty to their readers is at least as important as their loyalty to their employers, the Press Ombudsman, John Horgan, has said.

The licence to print is now ultimately granted by the public and can be withdrawn if credibility, reliability, fairness or honesty was put at risk, he warned. “Credibility is like an iceberg: once it melts, it is impossible to reconstitute it.

Prof Horgan, who was speaking at the launch of a memoir by former Irish Timesjournalist Dennis Kennedy, said journalists were paid to exercise best judgment, though this could be elusive.

Editors could find on occasion that such judgment could put them at odds with advertisers or owners, and journalists could find themselves at odds with editors.

The core fact was that the press valued and respected its readers, he said. “They are more than just members of various social groups that are attractive to advertisers; they have an umbilical relationship with their favourite publications that is vital for newspapers and magazines.” However, readers were not just customers or consumers: they were also citizens who needed effective organs of public information and opinion to help them make informed choices.

While it was vital that the press gave its public what it wanted, it also existed to give readers something journalists felt those readers ought to have, even though it this was occasionally unwelcome or unpopular.

Of Mr Kennedy’s book, Square Peg: the adventures of a Northern newspaperman South of the Border, the ombudsman said: “Dennis’s book is a timely reminder of some important truths about journalism that journalists will ignore at their peril, and defend with pride.”