Media ethics is the subdivision of applied ethics dealing with the specific ethical principles and standards of media, including broadcast media, film, theatre, the arts, print media and the internet. The field covers many varied and highly controversial topics, ranging from war journalism to Benetton advertising.
- 1 Areas of media ethic
- 2 Contexts of media ethics
- 3 Meta-issues in media ethics
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Areas of media ethic
Ethics of journalism
The ethics of journalism is one of the most well-defined branches of media ethics, primarily because it is frequently taught in schools of journalism. Journalistic ethics tends to dominate media ethics, sometimes almost to the exclusion of other areas. Topics covered by journalism ethics include:
- News manipulation. News can manipulate and be manipulated. Governments and corporations may attempt to manipulate news media; governments, for example, by censorship, and corporations by share ownership. The methods of manipulation are subtle and many. Manipulation may be voluntary or involuntary. Those being manipulated may not be aware of this. See: news propaganda.
- Truth. Truth may conflict with many other values.
- Public interest. Revelation of military secrets and other sensitive government information may be contrary to the public interest, even if it is true. However, public interest is not a term which is easy to define.
- Privacy. Salacious details of the lives of public figures is a central content element in many media. Publication is not necessarily justified simply because the information is true. Privacy is also a right, and one which conflicts with free speech. See: paparazzi.
- Fantasy. Fantasy is an element of entertainment, which is a legitimate goal of media content. Journalism may mix fantasy and truth, with resulting ethical dilemmas. See: National Enquirer, Jayson Blair scandal, Adnan Hajj photographs controversy.
- Taste. Photo journalists who cover war and disasters confront situations which may shock the sensitivities of their audiences. For example, human remains are rarely screened. The ethical issue is how far should one risk shocking an audience's sensitivities in order to correctly and fully report the truth. See photojournalism.
- Conflict with the law. Journalistic ethics may conflict with the law over issues such as the protection of confidential news sources. There is also the question of the extent to which it is ethically acceptable to break the law in order to obtain news. For example, undercover reporters may be engaging in deception, trespass and similar torts and crimes. See undercover journalism, investigative journalism.
Ethics of entertainment media
Issues in the ethics of entertainment media include:
- The depiction of violence and sex, and the presence of strong language. Ethical guidelines and legislation in this area are common and many media (e.g. film, computer games) are subject to ratings systems and supervision by agencies. An extensive guide to international systems of enforcement can be found under motion picture rating system.
- Product placement. An increasingly common marketing tactic is the placement of products in entertainment media. The producers of such media may be paid high sums to display branded products. The practice is controversial and largely unregulated. Detailed article: product placement.
- Stereotypes. Both advertising and entertainment media make heavy use of stereotypes. Stereotypes may negatively affect people's perceptions of themselves or promote socially undesirable behavior. The stereotypical portrayals of men, affluence and ethnic groups are examples of major areas of debate.
- Taste and taboos. Entertainment media often questions of our values for artistic and entertainment purposes. Normative ethics is often about moral values, and what kinds should be enforced and protected. In media ethics, these two sides come into conflict. In the name of art, media may deliberately attempt to break with existing norms and shock the audience. That poses ethical problems when the norms abandoned are closely associated with certain relevant moral values or obligations. The extent to which this is acceptable is always a hotbed of ethical controversy. See: Turner Prize, obscenity, freedom of speech, aesthetics.
Media and democracy
In democratic countries, a special relationship exists between media and government. Although the freedom of the media may be constitutionally enshrined and have precise legal definition and enforcement, the exercise of that freedom by individual journalists is a matter of personal choice and ethics. Modern democratic government subsists in representation of millions by hundreds. For the representatives to be accountable, and for the process of government to be transparent, effective communication paths must exist to their constituents. Today these paths consist primarily of the mass media, to the extent that if press freedom disappeared, so would most political accountability. In this area, media ethics merges with issues of civil rights and politics. Issues include:
- Subversion of media independence by financial interests.
- Government monitoring of media for intelligence gathering against its own people. See, for example, NSA call database.
Contexts of media ethics
Media ethics and the law
Media ethics and media economics
Media economics where things such as -- deregulation of media, concentration of media ownership, FCC regulations in the U.S, media trade unions and labor issues, and other such worldwide regulating bodies, citizen media (low power FM, community radio) -- have ethical implications......
Media ethics and public officials
The media has manipulated the way public officials conduct themselves through the advancement of technology. Constant television coverage displays the legislative proceedings; exposing faster than ever before, unjust rulings throughout the government process. Truth telling is crucial in media ethics as any opposition of truth telling is considered deception. Anything shown by the media whether print or video is considered to be original. When a statement is written in an article or a video is shown of a public official, it is the original “truthful” words of the individual official themselves.
Intercultural dimensions of media ethics
If values differ interculturally, the issue arises of the extent to which behaviour should be modified in the light of the values of specific cultures. Two examples of controversy from the field of media ethics:
- Google's self-censorship in China.
- The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy in Denmark, and subsequently worldwide.
Meta-issues in media ethics
One theoretical question for media ethics is the extent to which media ethics is just another topical subdivision of applied ethics, differing only in terms of case applications and raising no theoretical issues peculiar to itself. The oldest subdivisions of applied ethics are medical ethics and business ethics. Does media ethics have anything new to add other than interesting cases?
Similarities between media ethics and other fields of applied ethics
Privacy and honesty are issues extensively covered in medical ethical literature, as is the principle of harm-avoidance. The trade-offs between economic goals and social values has been covered extensively in business ethics (as well as medical and environmental ethics).
Differences between media ethics and other fields of applied ethics
The issues of freedom of speech and aesthetic values (taste) are primarily at home in media ethics. However a number of further issues distinguish media ethics as a field in its own right.
A theoretical issue peculiar to media ethics is the identity of observer and observed. The press is one of the primary guardians in a democratic society of many of the freedoms, rights and duties discussed by other fields of applied ethics. In media ethics the ethical obligations of the guardians themselves comes more strongly into the foreground. Who guards the guardians? This question also arises in the field of legal ethics.
A further self-referentiality or circular characteristic in media ethics is the questioning of its own values. Meta-issues can become identical with the subject matter of media ethics. This is most strongly seen when artistic elements are considered. Benetton advertisements and Turner prize candidates are both examples of ethically questionable media uses which question their own questioner.
Another characteristic of media ethics is the disparate nature of its goals. Ethical dilemmas emerge when goals conflict. The goals of media usage diverge sharply. Expressed in a consequentialist manner, media usage may be subject to pressures to maximize: economic profits, entertainment value, information provision, the upholding of democratic freedoms, the development of art and culture, fame and vanity.
- Applied ethics
- Journalism ethics and standards
- Journalism scandals
- Marketing ethics
- Center for International Media Ethics
- Patterson, Philip; Lee C Wilkins; et al. (2004). Media Ethics: Issues and Cases, 5th edition. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-302192-X.
- Louisiana State University, School of Mass Communication
- Indiana University, School of Journalism
- The Poynter Institute
- Poynter Institute bibliography of Media ethics
- U.S. Government reference "Global Issues, Media and Ethics"
- Media Ethics Resources on World Wide Web
- Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law
- A Yahoo Directory, Media Ethics and Accountability
- Ethics on the Web from the School of Communications at California State University, Fullerton
- Key quotes on media ethics & media reform Media impact on democracy
- Media Ethics: Some Specific Problems - from the Education Resources Information Center Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills, Bloomington, Indiana.
- Minnesota News Council Web site -- promoting fair, vigorous and trusted journalism
- Center for International Media Ethics CIME
- EthicsforMedia - Education in Journalism Ethics