Conflicting interests is one of the most pervasive ethical dilemma faced by media practitioners. Schultz explained that this is often experienced when outside interests interfere with media coverage and news reportage (214). In most cases, media ownership is one factor that readily affects journalists and broadcasters alike in maintaining balance and objectivity (Schultz 214). There are instances wherein media owners are also involved in other businesses. Thus, in the event in which certain issues may arise, these owners can readily utilize their media channels to defend their sides.
For example, a newspaper or magazine publisher may be also involved in the business of paper-making. Therefore, there is a strong tendency for the publication to censor topics that focus on illegal logging. Under this circumstance, it is imperative that media ethics should be observed both by media owners and practitioners. Journalists and broadcasters should not be pressured and threatened in fulfilling their duties and responsibilities. Media owners, more than anything else, should prioritize the public’s needs rather than merely focus on their capitalistic endeavors.
Likewise, practitioners should be strong enough to take a stand and pursue objective reporting. It should be always remembered that they are accountable to the public, not to media owners. Relatively, journalists and broadcasters must readily avoid moonlighting. Moonlighting happens when media practitioners engage into other different professions (Jones 39). For example, journalists may engage into public relations (Smith 24) and broadcasters may turn into commercial endorsers. Such situations should not be tolerated.
Like media owners, working into two different professions may place media practitioners into compromising situations. Relatively, if these individuals are members of advocacy groups, they should not use the media for propaganda purposes. Issues regarding privacy also posit ethical concerns in the media industry. Media people should always respect the confidentiality of information. This is applicable to all subjects, regardless of whether he or she is a public or private figure. Broadcasters and journalist should always honor “off the record” request.
Consequently, media practitioners should not abuse the benefits of technology just to gather information (“Code of Ethics”). It should be always remembered that journalists and broadcasters are not spies or undercover agents. Those are duties of the police and military, not media practitioners. Even though the subject concerned is a public figure, for example, a public official, media practitioners should also take into consideration the intensity and degree that they could inflict into one’s reputation. News coverage should focus on the core issues alone.
Highly personal and irrelevant information should not be incorporated just to catch attention. For example, if a public figure is involved in problems regarding fraud and corruption, the coverage must emphasize on those areas alone. Incorporating themes that tackle the public figure’s sexual preference, marriage life etc. and linking it to the whole story is a concrete example of unethical media coverage. As mentioned, media is influential. Thus, practitioners should always give high importance to accuracy. It is important to note that media also function as information providers.
Therefore, news reports and even opinion columns, for that matter should be purely factual. Opinion columns, despite of being subjective must be supported with evidences. Otherwise, if such practice is tolerated, opinion columns would turn into no less than a space for personal rants, complaints and hypothetical claims. It is factual reporting that makes media institutions credible. Relatively, mass media has no room for distorting information (“Code of Ethics”). Media organizations exist to increase awareness and educate the public, not to deceive.
Journalists and editors must extra effort to check the veracity of their reports to gain the public’s trust and avoid scenarios such as the ones committed by Janet Cooke, a former journalist who lost her Pulitzer Price award for fabricating information (L’Etang & Pieczka 209). Accuracy can be also ensured if there is balance. This means that media practitioners must always present two sides of the story. As much as possible, different angles of the story must be shown. In the event wherein “reenactments” are utilized, this should be disclosed to the viewers.
The same rule applies when one of the involved parties refuse to give their sides of the story. In as far as credibility is concerned; media practitioners should always uphold the truth and should not use the media for their self-vested interests. Media should not be employed to gain favors. Receiving gifts and other perks, although given without malice should not be tolerated for this may produce negative connotations. Likewise, personal comments and opinions must be avoided in news reporting to avoid biases. Credibility is also attained when media practitioners are open to admitting their mistakes and doing something to correct it.
It is a common experience for many media people to commit spelling errors and typographical errors. However, such mistakes must be taken seriously to ensure accountability. Consequently, it is highly improper for one to copy the stories of other media workers (“Code of Ethics”). Similarly, it is unethical to steal video excerpts and claim it is as original work. In this case, attribution (c 31) plays a very important role. Acknowledging the work of other individuals is instrumental in improving one’s credibility and integrity. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that media also function as watchdogs.
Martin and Copeland explained that as watchdogs, media organizations are expected to make the public fully aware about the government’s activities in order to prevent the abuse of power and authority (114). However, in recent years, the watchdog function has been also employed to prevent all kinds of exploitation regardless of whether it is caused by the government or other institutions and individuals (Martin & Copeland 114). However, the problem in this scenario is that some information when divulge into the public may cause an intense panic.
In this context, journalists and broadcasters are torn between educating the public and preventing unnecessary panics. Given this aspect at hand, media practitioners should never resort to sensationalism (“Code of Ethics”). Take for example as for the case of medical and research breakthroughs, these reports must be disclosed to the viewers, but it exaggerated reportage should not be employed for these may create false hopes. Relatively, court trials, although they are of high social significance should be handled with utmost care. Preemptive reports should not be done so as not to affect the court’s decision and avoid trial by publicity.
Meanwhile, due to time constraints, journalists and broadcasters find it difficult to look for reliable sources, not unless ambush interviews are performed. But even in ambush interviews, some reporters seem to go to the wrong experts. In this aspect, media practitioners should always exert extra effort in researching their sources’ credibility. As much as possible, media people should always develop the habit of keeping a directory of experts that they can always reach. Media practitioners should also develop a critical mind in examining the information and materials that they receive.
If the data or information presented is too good to be true, one should always ask questions and seek clarifications. One should always have the benefit of the doubt when it comes to using certain information sources. Lastly, protecting sources may also present ethical dilemmas for many media outfits. First of all, the constant use of anonymous sources may have an indirect effect to the journalist or broadcaster’s credibility. It can raise issues that are related to information fabrication or distortion. Yet, it is important to note that anonymity should be only used if it will put the source’s life in great danger.
Although confidentiality requests may come from time to time, media practitioners should carefully examine the situation before resorting to anonymity. If it does not posit any dangers, journalists and broadcasters should explain to their sources the importance of identifying them. At any rate, as long as the information and it would not compromise the source’s life, the latter does not have to be afraid of disclosing his or her true identity. But if the informant is still hesitant, media professionals should respect such decision and at the same time be critical enough to doubt the informant’s credibility.
This is why it is highly necessary for journalists and broadcasters to gather all possible sources of information. The core principle that governs majority of media institutions is no other than freedom of expression. However, freedom of expression entails bigger responsibilities, which, if taken for granted, can be utilized as a potent tool for abuse. Given this situation, there is a strong need for media ethics to be strictly practiced and observed. Media ethics ensure that responsible reporting is readily achieved.
Likewise, these guidelines serve as a reminder that media, first and foremost, is accountable to the public and not a mere spectacle of exaggerated issues and escapist themes. Awareness and strong convictions are highly needed to protect freedom of expression and build responsible media systems.
Works Cited “Code of Ethics” Society of Professional Journalist 16 March 2009 <http://www. spj. org/ethicscode. asp> Jones, Clarence. Winning With the News Media Florida: Winning News Media Inc. , 2005 Kieran, Matthew. Media Ethics. London: Routledge, 1998 L’Etang, Jacquie and Magda Pieczka. Public Relations. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum