Poll: professional journalists need a code more than bloggers do



November 26th, 2012

Most Singapore undergrads favour promoting responsibility among netizens, but they feel even more strongly that professional journalism needs to be accountable to the public. Whichever the medium, though, there is little appetite for official intervention – bloggers, journalists and the public should work towards responsible media without government help.

These sentiments were expressed in a survey of 121 Nanyang Technological University students this month. My survey took off from a recent poll by the National University of Singapore Students’ Political Association, which found most respondents supportive of the idea of an internet code of conduct. While the NUS survey left it at that, I wanted to ask several additional questions to probe students’ attitudes to various aspects of media accountability.

Asked if they felt that there was a need for an internet code of conduct, six in 10 of the NTU students said yes, echoing what their NUS counterparts said.

But although the ethics of blogs and social media has been a hot topic, the NTU survey showed that the students were even more concerned about the responsibility of professional news media. More than nine in 10 felt professional journalists needed a code of practice.


Among those who agreed with the idea of an internet code, a plurality of almost four in 10 felt that such a code should be developed by internet content producers in consultation with members of the public – but that government officials should not be involved.

Around one-quarter had no objections to government officials being part of the process, while fewer than one in 10 said that internet content producers should be left alone to do it without consulting the wider public.


The survey results do not reveal why the students felt that professional journalists need a code of ethics even more than netizens do. One possible reason is that the respondents trust mainstream media less than blogs. But although such sentiments are regularly expressed online, previous surveys suggest that it is not a dominant view. A major national post-election survey in 2011 found that, even among young Singaporeans who used blogs and Facebook, traditional media were considered more trustworthy as a source of election news than alternative online media.

A more likely reason for the NTU students’ response is that they consider traditional news media to have a bigger reach and influence, making them more capable of causing harm and therefore more in need of professional ethics than relatively harmless bloggers and Facebook posters.

But only one in 10 believed that Singapore should continue to rely on strong government and laws to ensure that the media do not act irresponsibly.

There was much greater support for voluntary mechanisms that would allow the Singapore public to hold mainstream media to account. Around seven in 10 felt that Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp should adopt journalism codes of ethics and make these codes available for all to see. (Examples of news organisations that do this are the BBC and Reuters.)


The students were from a mix of years and majors, such as business, sociology, linguistics and engineering. They were enrolled in “Introduction to News Media”, a broadening course offered by the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information specially for non-communication majors.

The course exposed them to various aspects of journalism and its role in society, including the concepts of press freedom and responsibility. The respondents in this survey are therefore probably not typical of Singapore undergrads, since they would have had more opportunity than most to read about and think through media issues. The survey responses were anonymous and ungraded.

In an earlier survey with the same group, I posed them the same questions that the BBC used in a multi-country poll in 2007. Compared with how a wider group of Singaporeans responded in the BBC poll, my NTU undergrads were far more likely to say that the Singapore press was unfree.


However, just like the wider public, my students’ opinions were divided between those who wanted more press freedom and those who valued stability more.


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