It is understandable that the idea of media being a fourth power has given journalists the distorted thought of being judges and prosecutors; but it`s time to go back to our real function
For the past weeks world media has been focusing on the biggest leak in history, the Panama Papers. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalism, a non-profit group in the US, coordinated the reporting with 376 journalists from 109 news organizations and 76 countries poring over the files.
In terms of the size of the leak and the scale of the journalistic collaboration, the story has garnered wall-to-wall coverage and dominated the front pages of newspapers across the world. It includes 11.5 million documents from Mossack Fonseca, one of the largest offshore firms in the world, spanning a period between the 1970s and 2016.
Files reveal offshore holdings of 140 politicians and public officials from around the world. The problem is not the offshore companies themselves but the lack of legal follow up that would ensure their clients were not involved in any illegal activity, tax evasion or corruption.
However, despite the success of the collaboration, the select group of media organizations that had access to the data have been criticized for how they tackled the story, especially because they went after wealthy business figures and some political leaders leaving behind the corporate side of the story that has enabled a great amount of money to be hidden offshore.
Our editorial team thinks that the coverage that media has given to this topic is highly unethical: when approaching the Panama Papers, media was quick to assume the worst out of every name that popped up, despite there being absolutely no proof of criminal activity. It should go without saying, having savings and enterprises abroad is no crime. There’s inherent value in tax lenient countries, the so called tax havens, they facilitate transactions, protect savings, and reward healthy business practices. Instead of criminalizing wealth, the media should have focused on investigating every specific case before ruining reputations and lives.
The Society of Professional Journalists lists several pillars of journalism ethics: “seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable and transparent.” However, in today’s world, where there’s a lot of muddiness because of conflicts of interest, most journalists have left aside these pillars and have begun to give information the coverage that better fits their interests, trying to get more views or likes by overhyping pieces in stories to present biased impressions on events, which may cause a manipulation to the truth of a story.
It is understandable that the idea of media being a fourth power has given journalists the distorted thought of being judges and prosecutors; but it`s time to go back to our real function: giving people good quality information and a holistic view or an analysis for them to reach their own conclusions.
LatinAmerican Post | Written by: Luisa Fernanda Báez, Maria Andrea Márquez, Pedro Bernal Villada