Core qualities of a professional

To analyze journalists’ beliefs about professionalism, we examined journalists’ perceptions of (1) the three core qualities of a professional, (2) the key functions that journalism as an institution should fulfil and (3) the key roles that journalists who have their own agency should perform (see Table 14.1). The answers from journalists about functions and roles did not differ much but they are presented separately in the text below to highlight the few differences in how they see institutional functions versus journalists’ roles.

The BRICS journalists showed similarities in their understanding of the key qualities of a professional but differed in the hierarchy of these qualities. For journalists of Brazil and India, the moral qualities of honesty and sincerity were the most important in defining a professional journalist. For them, these qualities lead to an understanding of a journalist as a trustworthy person. Such prioritization

TABLE 14.1 Three core qualities of professional journalists

Country

Cities:

Metro (2)

Provincial (2)

Quality 1

Quality 2

Quality 3

Brazil

Brasilia/

Honest, sincere/

Competent,

Courageous,

Rio de Janeiro

Juiz de Fora/

Vitoria

independent, not prejudiced, not corrupt/ good writing and technical skills

Honest, sincere/ competent/ knowledge of subjects

knowledge of subject/ethical in general and in profession/ multi tasker

Good writing skills

stubborn

Ethical

Russia

Moscow/

Skills in gathering,

Ethical/

Communicative

St. Petersburg

Yekaterinburg/

Petrozavodsk

analyzing, writing, and using technology/ experience in profession/ generally erudite and scholarly

Skills in gathering, analyzing, writing, and using technology/ generally erudite and scholarly

objective and honest/ competent in

subject

Honest and sincere/ ethical

managerial skills

Competent in subject

TABLE 14.1 Cont.

Country

Cities:

Metro (2)

Provincial (2)

Quality 1

Quality 2

Quality 3

India

New Delhi/

Honest and sincere/

Independent/

Competent,

Hyderabad

unbiased, ethical

good writer/ educated

knowledge of subject

Kolkata/Pune

Truthful/honest/ balanced/ unbiased/ethical

Hardworking/ dedicated/ committed/ impartial/ empathetic/ sensitive

Newsorientation/ integrity

China

Beijing/

Good writer/

Ethical in

Competent,

Shanghai

objective/ curious

general and in profession

knowledgeable about subject/ independent

Guangzhou/

Competent,

Ethical in

Independent/

Wuhan

knowledge of subject/ability to judge news values/ social interaction ability/interview skills

general and in profession

good writer/ generally erudite and scholarly/ courageous/ gritty/rational

South

Johannesburg/

Independent

Unbiased

Not corrupt

Africa

Cape Town

Durban/

Port Elizabeth

Independent

Unbiased

Not corrupt

of the moral qualities of honesty and sincerity among journalists in Brazil and India is perhaps due to the cultural-historical tradition of development journalism that included reducing inequalities and making the lives of ordinary people better; enabling social change is among the professional expectations from these journalists.

In Brazil, professional journalism has been democratized through the strong tradition of alternative journalism in the form of community media, which are non-profit institutions with ‘the widespread participation of ordinary people in production, decision-making, and management ... designed to meet the interests of local communities - especially social, ethnic, sexual, or religious minorities’ (Bosch, Paiva and Malerba, 2018: 196). In India, working towards social change is part of the ethos of journalism, encoded in various journalistic codes of ethics.1 Indian journalists indicated that all qualities apart from honesty can be learned and developed in everyday practice, but the existential choice between honesty and dishonesty is one that everybody makes alone, and it is exactly this inner choice that shapes a person’s ethical values. Thus, Indian journalists considered technical skills, competence and knowledge of the subject and even independence as secondary.

For journalists of South Africa, the primary quality of the professional was independence, followed closely by being unbiased and uncorrupt in that order.This priority for independence in the value hierarchy of professionalism can be explained in the context of the relatively recent post-apartheid media freedoms, wherein the memory of the past is still acute in society and the profession, and where ‘local journalists safeguard their professional independence’ and believe ‘that there should never be a time when government can control access to either the Internet or political and entertainment content’ (Ndlovu, 2015: 124).

The journalists of China and Russia were similar in how they defined their priorities. At the top were the professional values of technical mastery, competence, erudition and knowledge of the subject. It appears then that these journalists’ understanding of the profession leaned towards the rational and administrative rather than the emotional. The moral qualities of honesty and sincerity, and being ethical in general and in the profession, were second for them to professional and technical skills. This hierarchy may be related to the structure of the field or the lingering effects of this structure, i.e., the status of journalism in society, one that is subordinated to political power and works on the whole as an appendage of the state machine at the four structural levels of media systems established since the Communist time: national, regional, city and local media. Freidson (1988) provided a similar assessment at least for Soviet professionals who, he indicated, did not have economic freedom or freedom from state ideology', but did have authority over technical expertise.

In all BRICS countries, except Russia, journalists included independence as a key quality of a professional. In today’s Russia, many journalists both agree with and acquiesce to the notion that the media serve either party/state interests or commercial interests and sometimes even serve state interests in private media, in the conditions of the post-Soviet quasi-media market and gradually tightening state control over the media, the Internet and civil society. For example, the Foreign Agent Law that came into force in 2012 resulted in the closure of many nongovernmental organizations and required them to refuse foreign funding under threat of closure. Since 2017, this law has also become applicable to the media. In the opinion of the Chairman of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, Alexei Simonov, ‘Today, Russian media are formed by two opposite vectors: on the one hand - a sense of their own dignity and on the other hand - money. [Media] where dignity wins [are decreasing]’. Simonov believed that only 10 to 15 per cent of the media have refused to resort to servility. For example, in Moscow this group included only Novaya Gazeta, radio EkhoMoskvy, Vedomosti and Kommersant (A. Simonov, personal communication, 19 October 2017).

 
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