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Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

July 28, 2011

Working journalists are often a bit sniffy about journalism as an academic discipline.

The average hack (a word with increasingly unsavoury connotations in light of the News of the World revelations) probably sees their trade as just that - a trade in which people learn the skills on the job and live or die by their results.

But could academia's role in underpinning responsible journalism gain fresh impetus from the News International scandal?

Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Australia's Macquarie University, considers the role of universities in the media in his latest blog posting.

He underlines the importance to democracy of a free press and defends the right of journalists to write about whatever they please, but Professor Schwartz notes that "all rights carry responsibilities. In return for its special freedom, the press is expected to act ethically."

But what is meant by "acting ethically", and is a code of ethics for journalists really possible? Here, he quotes Peter van Onselen, foundation professor in journalism at the University of Western Australia, who argues that university courses "should also include ethics and historical teaching about the (journalism) profession".

Noting that most, if not all, universities do cover media ethics, Professor Schwartz adds that "teaching ethics will not automatically make journalists ethical".

Whatever universities' post-scandal role, it is a safe bet that the UK's press regulatory regime will also be tightened.

Posting on this topic, George Brock, professor and head of journalism at City University London, notes that the prime minister has already "read the funeral rites...over the self-regulation system for newspapers".

While most journalists will "shudder at the idea" of more restrictive regulation, Professor Brock suggests some possibilities and adds: "The one thing we know for sure is that the current system won't survive."

With the news headlines continuing to be dominated by the phone hacking scandal, it can be easy to forget about events that gripped the world only a few months ago.

In a posting from Japan, Susan Burton, associate professor in the Faculty of Foreign Languages at Bunkyo Gakuin University, describes life in the country after the earthquake that damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

"I DO NOT believe it," she writes. "Yesterday at my local Co-op they had Fukushima peaches on sale. Who on earth would be stupid enough to buy peaches from Fukushima?"

Professor Burton goes on to describe the challenges of even mundane activities in a country fearful of radiation poisoning: "Shopping for food has become very difficult these days. I carry a Japanese prefecture map in my purse and check the origin of everything I buy. If it doesn't say where it's from, it stays on the shelf."

She adds: "I have to say that a great deal of my enjoyment of Japan has been spoiled (at least for the next 10-15 years, being the half-life of caesium) because one of the greatest things it had going for it was its delicious, fresh foods."

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