Ethics in Media.
Examine the following news story as if you were the owner of a newspaper or television news station. State which ethical standard, of the ones covered in this lesson, would you use to decide whether or not to carry this story in your news product. Explain your reasoning in how you applied it.
Areas of Ethical Concern
II. Ethical concerns for the media appear most in two areas of coverage and advertising.
A. The first problem area is how news events are covered. Too often events are covered in irresponsible ways that misinform the public.
1. Restraint is needed in covering events with potential for harm. Electronic and digital media push for speed in reporting, leading to mistakes that can harm individuals.
a. Harmful information has been broadcast on Television news, as well as live shootings. This coverage is known to lead to copycat suicides and murders. News providers have learned to NOT cover teen suicides in order to others copying this action. They are only slowly learning the value of NOT covering mass shootings as well in order to limit copying actions.
b. Fairness needs to be a strong consideration in news stories. News stories can have substantial negative impact on innocent people. Richard Jewell, an heroic security guard, had his reputation ruined by careless newscasts. The Ramsey family of Colorado was nearly sent to prison because of biased news coverage of their events. All news events need to be weighed against the minor value of reporting.
c. Honesty needs to be valued in reporting. When news moved into consideration as a “profit center” for television stations then news also began to over emphasize entertainment over accuracy. This has misled viewers by providing news stories with not enough detail to inform viewers, and by allowing actual lying by newscasters if they are popular. This has resulted in the average public being less informed from news, rather than more so.
d. Sensationalism has increased in news reporting as they seek audience share to sell advertising spots, rather than to inform the public. This has led to coverage of events with no relevance to the audience, and with too little detail to usefully inform them.
2. News content has been blurred by a focus on stories that are insignificant. There needs to be a separation between informing the audience of what is important, and simply entertaining them with Fluff stories.
B. The second is letting advertising control media content.
1. Advertiser influence directs stories towards those most useful to advertiser profitability.
a. There are few articles exposing car sales techniques, for example, as car dealers are one of the major advertisers in both newspapers and television.
b. There are numerous articles very positive on ideas/issues that large advertisers prefer.
2. Socially harmful views are presented positively if this is useful to advertisers.
a. Sex has no negative effects. News and tv programs both rarely address any negative effects of sex such as STDs, pregnacy and child abuse by unprepared parents.
b. Violence is commonly used in news, TV programs and films in order to attract audiences with simple emotional appeals. The possible negative effects of this are understated in order to continue to make simple fillers that deliver audiences to advertisers.
Making Ethical Standards
The Development of Ethical standards.
A. The practice of developing ethical standards usually goes through predictable stages.
1. The first stage is the Absolutist stage which looks for clear, easily-applied standards that are easily understood and applied. Most media organizations, sports teams, corporations and other groups have a simple set of such standards they they claim as being concerned with ethics. This is following the principle of the Deontological – following good rules makes us good
a. The Golden Mean was proposed by Aristotle “Virtue is the point between two extremes”. Simple avoid extremes in making any decision, and you are more ethical in this way. If you are covering a news story, then present two opposing sides and you are in ethical territory. This does have problems, however, if one side is clearly correct and the other side is clearly wrong.
b. The Categorical Imperative, by Kant. “Act according to that which you would want to be a universal rule”. This is the ideal guide as it is a clear rule that must be always followed without question. Many ethics guides like this are in place
i. Hijackings will not be covered in the news until after the hijacking has been resolved and the wrongdoers in jail.
ii. The names of alleged victims in rape cases will not be published without their permission.
iii. There will be no names published of juveniles accused of crimes.
c. Utility, by Mill. “The greatest good for the greatest people“. This is a less popular standard as it requires an estimate of how many people are harmed, or helped, by a media product.
It is difficult to measure accurately.
i. Having McDonalds, and other fast food, ads in newspapers and TV programs is good because it can provide nutrition, even if some people become fat.
ii. Using violence in TV programming is fine because most people know enough not to copy these behaviors in their lives, even if some weird people copy violence.
2. The second stage is the Thinking stage, which requires individuals to reason their way to ethical behavior. This is the Teleological stage – considering consequences makes us good
a. The Veil of Ignorance, by Rawls. “Justice emerges when treatment is without social differentiation“. This is an involved standard in that it requires you to imagine yourself in the position of other people, and then decide what would be the fairest course of action.
i. You have to decide if making fun of Kesha in her “fat” phase is fair once you also consider her perspective of how this feels to her.
ii. Coverage of the Kardashian/Odom event is fair, by this process, as Kardashian has made public statements and so is comfortable with this perspective.
b. Self-determination, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you“. This is a simpler form of the Veil of Ignorance as it requires you to simply think of how you would like media actions if they were used on you. Unfortunately this seems to be rarely used.
i. Interviewing people in the midst of a personal tragedy would be unlikely if journalists used this rule.
ii. The Jenny Jones show didn’t follow this rule when it seriously embarrassed a man on their program simply to entertain viewers.
iii. People would be treated more fairly, rather than using sensational approaches to simply grab viewers.
B. There is a serious need for training in ethical standards for journalists and media producers in order to craft better products with less social harm. This need increases every year.
1. Fast-paced media result in fast journalism without thought as to consequences. Slower news, such as seen in magazines, tends to be a better, and more ethical product, often displaying the Veil Of Ignorance process in action.
2. False information has consequences. The lack of concern over media quality has allowed for manipulation of the public by fast-food groups, private-interest groups such as the NRA and Pro-life movements, and the government in the case of its pro-Iraq war propaganda. Even a simple ethical standard, such as the Golden Mean, would stem much of these issues.
CONCLUSION: Ethics are the main barrier between ourselves and barbarianism. They are not laws, they are not required, but without strict regulations on the mass media, they are all that keep the media doing public good rather than harm. You need to know your own ethical standards and apply them to your own decisions and your use of the media. Your ‘vote’ through media selection can help maintain good standards.
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