Geordie White 26/11/11
Critically Assess the Extent to which Ethics are Necessary for Good Journalism Ethics plays an extremely important role in journalism, and ensures that there is a correct balance between what you should and shouldn’t do when reporting in the media. Ethics are “the rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession”, and they represent the values and customs of a person or a group. Having ethical values in your profession ensures that concepts such as what is right and what is wrong are implied, and that a professional should be responsible for their actions and decisions. When it comes to journalism, ethics are very necessary. Journalism can be a very sensitive area with so many opinions on individual matters, and ethics gives journalists a guide to follow when they are faced with difficult situations. It is important for journalists to display that they imply ethical practices to their own work because if they don’t, they can not only put themselves in a negative light but on journalism as a profession. People often perceive journalists in a negative way in the modern day, and this is because journalists in the past have not always followed what is seen as the correct ethical values. Journalists report to the masses, and if even a small minority of journalists do not follow correct ethical practices then the whole of the journalistic industry can get tarred with the same brush. Also, following the ethical values of journalism will generate trust in the public. If the public trusts the motive of a journalist or organisation, then they will be more likely to subscribe to that journalist or organisations’ publications. There is also the possibility of an individual or organisation taking legal action against a media company due to them reporting something in a certain way that is deemed as not being ethical or correct. This can result in damaging the reputation of that media company in the eyes of the public and the law, and will more than likely result in a hefty pay-out should they lose the case. Like everybody in the country a journalist has freedom of speech, and this plays a very important role in journalism. Should this change for journalists, the whole media industry would alter massively as journalists and reporters would then be extremely restricted on what they can publish and broadcast. The importance of freedom of speech among journalists is internationally recognised by the United Nations, and they hold the World Press Freedom Day on May the 3rd each year to “raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression”. An individual journalist has many aspirations, but ultimately they are expected to deliver the truth. A journalist is expected to do this in a way that is seen to be ethically correct, and to prove that what they are publishing is actually true. Journalists foremost report in the interest of the public, are expected to report honestly and to never report something that they do not believe to be true.
Another aspiration of a journalist is to be objective in what they report. However, journalists must respect privacy in certain cases, but in others a journalist should have a duty to the public to report a story. In journalism, there are certain people that are seen to have given up the right to privacy: Those who volunteer for the public (e.g. rock stars, sports stars, celebrities, television personalities), those in a position of responsibility (e.g. doctors, teachers, civil servants), those introduced to public life by accident (e.g. victims, relations) and those that are involved in notoriety (e.g. criminals) are viewed to have sacrificed this. This is justifiable to a certain extent within the ethics of a journalist for a few reasons, but mainly because a journalist should always report stories that are in the interest of the general public, and the public have a right to know about issues that could affect them. Another reason is that some of those involved are guilty of self-immolation. This is particularly the case in those who volunteer for the public, and those involved in notoriety. In these instances of self-immolation, the people in question promote themselves in the public eye in some way or form and they cannot expect to do this without sacrificing some sort of privacy. This also relates when it comes to hypocrisy, as people in the public eye are expected to be role models. Many sports stars and celebrities have highly paid endorsements and sponsorships with organisations that involve them promoting their products. The public has a right to know if this person promoting a product that they may possibly buy is not acting in the manner that they should. An example of this is Wayne Rooney, whose £600,000 a year sponsorship deal with CocaCola came to an end after four years in 2011 when he allegedly cheated on his then pregnant wife with a prostitute. Coca-Cola said that it was not “appropriate” to use him on promotions after the story broke. Wayne Rooney is a role model for many people, and if his face was on a can of Coca-Cola then it would make more people want to buy it. The public have a right to know if Wayne Rooney is not acting appropriately, and that’s what happened. Another justification for the invasion of privacy is when questioning somebody’s integrity. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions. So if a person in a position of responsibility is not behaving in the way that they should, then the public have a right to know and a journalist will question the integrity of this person. However, Journalists are still expected to act with a manner of respect in these cases and to not go to extreme measures. An example of when this becomes ethically unacceptable and potentially illegal is the phone hacking scandal involving media company News International, owned by businessman Rupert Murdoch, and in particular former national newspaper The News of The World. In 2009 The Guardian newspaper reported that media company News international, who publish The Times, The Sun, The Sunday Times and formerly News of the World, had made pay-outs order to prevent their journalists being revealed to have used illegal methods in a pursuit of stories.
This illegal method in question was hacking into the voicemail to mobile phones of thousands of public figures, including celebrities and politicians. At the time, News International had denied any knowledge of this happening and stated that it was an individual journalist who was later jailed. However, as the story developed, The Guardian claimed that News of the Worldâ€™s editorial staff were involved with private investigators who engaged in illegal phone-hacking, and that both reporters and executives were commissioning purchases of confidential information; this is illegal unless it is shown to be in the public interest. It was reported that this was well-known by staff to have taken place within News of the World. The Guardian then reported in 2011 that one of the private investigators hired by News of the World had hacked into the voicemail of murdered teenager Milly Dowler whilst she was reported missing in 2002, at the time causing her parents and police investigators to wrongly believe that she was still alive. This report was then added to by The Daily Telegraph, alleging that families of dead British service personnel were also targets of phone hacking. Consequently, there was uproar amongst the British public and advertisers pulled out of News of the World. News of the World then announced that after 168 years of print that they would be publishing their final issue, and would shut down. This also led to a range of investigations and inquiries into phone hacking and media ethics, and not just at the News of the World. This is an on-going case and could potentially have a major impact of the future of the media. This is both an example of ethics in the media not being followed at all by News International, and ethics being implied correctly by journalists of The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. By reporting the story as The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph journalists did, they knew that it would bring investigations and question ethics in the media, even though they work for big media companies. Reporters of both newspapers showed high standards in reporting and news gathering, because they followed the ethical values in journalism and brought the truth to the public. The stories were true and the public had the right to know about it, and the information was gathered in the correct manner. The general consensus among the public now is that the whole of journalism does not follow ethical beliefs, even though it was journalists who broke the story in the first place knowing that it could damage the reputation of the industry that they work in. The ethical stance on reporting a certain story is largely down to an individual journalist or editor, who ultimately decides what is reported by that organisation. It is generally down to them on decisions they make ethically, and is based on their personal moral stance along with their knowledge of the expected ethics a journalist should imply to their work. Ethical values in the media are not black and white, and due to stories mostly being about individuals and the vast amount of opinions in the world, people are always going to questions the motives behind publishing certain stories. When journalists find themselves in difficult ethical dilemmas, it is down to the individual journalist on what decision they make. They, or the organisation they work for, are then responsible for that decision.
Ethics can be imposed to a certain extent, with statuary bodies such as Ofcom and the Press Complaints Commission being in place. Ofcom is communications regulator, and they decide what can and cannot be broadcast on both television and radio. Their aim is to protect viewers and listeners from material that they may find offensive or harmful, to protect people being treated unfairly in television and radio programmes and from having their privacy invaded. Anything broadcast on T.V and radio is regulated by Ofcom, and organisations can be prevented from broadcasting certain things. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is â€œan independent body which administers the system of self-regulation for the pressâ€?, and was put in place by the media. The PCC is selfgoverned, is funded by the industry and is in place to deal with complaints about the content of newspapers, magazines, their websites and the conduct of journalists. The PCC has no legal powers, but implies an Editors Code of Practice to which all editors and journalists are expected to follow. The PCC is the first point of complaint for anybody who feels that they have been mistreated in the media, and if the accused party is found to be in breach of the Editors Code of Practice then they could potentially have legal action taken against them by the accuser. However, there are some exceptions to certain clauses in the Editors Code of Practice if it can be proved that the publication was in the publicâ€™s interest. Everybody involved in the media is expected to adhere by the rulings of the PCC. A good journalist sticks to ethical principles, and can always rightly justify the decisions that they make. Although there are many grey areas in journalism, a journalist should always desire to deliver the truth to the public and to never report anything that they do not believe to be true. Having the right balance between objectively reporting things that are in the public interest, and ensuring that you are not in breach of privacy is also an important aspect of being a good journalist. In some cases there is a fine line, but a good journalist will always abide by the law. This, combined with journalistic skill and talent, are the core needed to become a successful journalist.