SC State professor says erosion of ethics diminishes U.S. journalism

ORANGEBURG, S.C. – Are third world-like practices eroding ethics in American journalism?

Unfortunately, the proliferation of sources on the internet and the drive for profit in media are doing just that, according to Dr. Shafiqur Rahman, professor of communications at South Carolina State University. 

“There are some major issues in media,” Rahman said. “In history, media have worked very well, but in the last 10, 15 years after new technology came in, it became a major challenge for media. They didn’t know how to deal with the issues and problems, how to deal with news and opinion — news and false news.

“Even professional people cannot separate facts and fiction.”

Dr. Shafiqur Rahman

By way of his work at American institutions and his participation in the U.S. Fulbright foreign scholarly exchange program, Rahman’s global experience in journalism offers uncommon insight into the ethical issues plaguing modern media. The reasons may be different, but truth is harder than ever to discern both around the world and here at home.

“The third world concept is coming in here in many ways … and we are not resisting it,” he said.

Rahman’s international perspective has made him a media darling of sorts. He has worked for decades with Voice of America, National Public Radio, the British Broadcasting Corporation and other global outlets, providing political and social coverage and analysis. His contributions have included U.S. election coverage for Bangali language speakers, as well as frequent commentary on the state of media ethics.

Before coming to the United States, Rahman was a television producer in his native country, Bangladesh. He arrived in Hawaii in 1977 to participate in the East–West Center, an education and research organization the U.S. Congress established to strengthen relations and understanding among the people and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the United States.

He later migrated to North America, where he earned his doctorate in communications and media management from Simon Fraser University Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 1987.

He taught a year at Louisiana State University before landing at Alcorn State University, a historically black institution in Lorman, Mississippi. Alcorn had a limited communications program, so Rahman built it up with radio and television stations on campus.

After 17 years at Alcorn, Rahman and his wife looked for positions in South Carolina to be closer to his wife’s sister in Columbia. Thus, he arrived in 2005 at SC State, another historically black institution with a limited communications program – just a few courses and a radio station.

In 2010 under Rahman’s leadership, SC State launched its communications program, and soon, it became one of the university’s most popular areas of study and remains so today.

Along the way, Rahman developed a friendship with a colleague who introduced him to the Fulbright program, and in 2012, he received a Fulbright Specialist Fellowship. The program awards grants to U.S. faculty and professionals to engage in short-term collaborations in more than 140 countries worldwide. The fellowship allowed him to return to his alma mater, the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh.

With stays at Dhaka in 2013, 2014 and 2015, he helped develop his third university communications program. He advised the university in the creation of television, photography and film studies with specific attention to ethical journalism. He intended to advance the western notion of a responsible free press’ importance to liberty in Bangladesh’s fragile democracy.

“In third world countries, there are a lot of media activities but not many ethical activities” Rahman said. “Millions of people are there in the media business, but there is a problem with (freedom of the press). It’s like China. It’s like Russia. It’s controlled by the government.”

The United States increasingly is not, however, a model for other countries. Why? The immediacy of technology and the interests of business are setting the agenda.

“Technology is good. We need to control technology, not let technology control our content,” Rahman said. “We need to follow the discipline of journalism. You gather truth. You publish, print and share truth and then be accountable. All journalists need to be accountable. Journalism has become a non-accountable entity.

“Media has become more of a business than a public service institution. This technology has contributed to and advanced tremendously the profit-making in the media industry. Advertising is controlling us,” he said.

While principled journalism continues to be practiced at the local level in many places, even legacy media have become more beholding to advertisers than they are to ethical reporting, as they have been forced to counter the influx of business-driven media with specific political points of view.

“That I am not really comfortable with,” Rahman said. “When we are talking about news, we need to be neutral. Third world notions are coming in, and that’s the challenge we have been fighting for the last 15-20 years, and especially the last four years.”

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Sam Watson
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