Conference hears call for a ‘questioning culture’

Tony HarcupJournalists need to be brave enough to stand up for honest and ethical reporting in the face of commercial and other pressures, Sheffield journalism lecturer Tony Harcup told an international conference on ethics. But, he added, an industry that relies for its sense of ethics on the bravery of a few individuals is one that is almost bound to fail to live up to the high standards that journalists routinely demand of others.

Presenting a research paper to a Reuters Institute conference on journalism ethics (at the University of Oxford), Harcup stressed the importance of a climate of mutual respect and open discussion within newsrooms, in which journalists are regarded as citizens with the right to speak out and raise concerns.

Addressing journalism scholars from 15 countries, Harcup pointed to evidence of bullying heard by the Leveson inquiry as an example of what can go wrong in a dysfunctional newsroom that denies a voice to its own staff.

Ethical training

The senior lecturer in journalism studies at the University of Sheffield also took part in a conference round-table discussion on UK journalism, alongside Richard Sambrook (former director of BBC Global News), Angela Phillips (Goldsmiths), and Professor Robert Picard (Reuters Institute).

Harcup said:  “Journalists today are coming out of university and going into newsrooms having looked at ethical issues in far more detail than ever before, but they are not in charge once they get there. I don’t think an absence of ethical training is the problem, I think it’s an absence in some places, and at some times, of an ethical and questioning culture.”

Tony Harcup teaches ethics to undergraduate and postgraduate students at Sheffield and is the author of The Ethical Journalist (Sage).