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Only truth is keeping good journalism alive

Pursuit of facts: newsman Morley Safer the veteran 60 Minutes correspondent exposed a military atrocity in Vietnam that played an early role in changing Americans’ view of the war. (Photograph by Alex Brauer/CBS via AP)

Seeking the truth in a world awash with a multitude of streaming information about situations, ranging from the impact of climate change, to constant threats of international terrorism that has everyone on edge, is extremely challenging in this age of events where almost everything is flashed into living rooms seconds after they occur.

The likelihood for error is extremely high, even for the best of journalists when media competition is such that no one wants to be last in getting to a dramatic story. The recent tragic EgyptAir crash en route to Cairo from France was an example of how some information can get ahead of facts — when the pressure is high for officials to keep people informed of what happened.

When Egyptian officials first announced that wreckage of the airliner had been located, this information was flashed around the world via top news agencies without hesitation. However, hours later, officials apologised, saying debris spotted was not part of the aircraft. This caused a scramble in readjusting coverage, as there was confusion over how information could be released without absolute confirmation that it was fact.

That happens quite frequently in major events and that is why most professional journalists will always use the term “We are unable to confirm at this time, but we understand there are reports that ...” This puts the journalist in the position of providing information, without declaring it as fact. After all, the anchor for good journalism is truth at all times.

As expected by world aviation experts following the story, debris from the ill-fated 804 EgyptAir flight was later found, with Egyptian officials providing conclusive evidence that the latest report was accurate. With the plane wreckage also located, the search is now under way to locate the crucial black boxes that usually contain critical information about the final moments of a flight. Flight 804 plunged into the ocean with the loss of 66 lives. Although terrorism is suspected, there is no evidence yet to substantiate this assertion.

Even with international assistance, these investigations can be quite lengthy: the inquiries will involve a number of countries, along with reviews of airport security measures at various airports where the Airbus A320 made stops.

Journalists these days are always challenged by the rapid flow of information, right or wrong, which is constantly crowding cyberspace, where the battle for the spotlight never ends.

This is clearly seen in the present battle in the United States between the Republicans and the Democrats in one of the most bitter political campaigns ever in that country. Journalists are caught in a verbal civil war between political opponents over various issues and a slip of the tongue can have a significant impact when voters struggle to determine who may be best to serve as president during a an extremely challenging time for the world.

Professional journalists are not in the business of making news, but they are charged with reporting truth as they uncover it with the highest standards of accuracy to inform the public.

An example was when the late Morley Safer, of 60 Minutes fame, whose career was celebrated only a week ago, covered an incident in the Vietnam conflict. He boldly reported that some US troops were torching the homes of civilians, which he knew was wrong. Safer was criticised by some government officials for that report, but it never stopped him from placing truth at the top of his list, whenever he set out to do a story. This journalist, who passed away some days after his retirement last week, should be remembered for helping to keep good journalism alive.

All governments in free societies should be fully aware that the task of journalists is to reveal truths, no matter who benefits or who could be hurt by a disclosure. That is why good journalism remains a watchdog for all who respect truth and freedom.