Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Check Yourself

By Bethany Cook

There is a permanent place for ethics in any discipline; this is non-debatable. However, it seems to me that instating a code of minimum standards is not really a code of ethics at all, but rather just another set of rules to be followed with less-severe consequences than those issued by the law. On the other hand, I find codes of ideal expectations to be more acceptable and rational as they give journalists reason to increase our own personal standards instead of simply laying down a cutoff line for completely amoral practices.

The true location for a complete and detailed code of ethics lies within every individual journalist and is continually being edited and rearranged with each situation and outcome. A personal code encompasses not only knowledge or insight you have gained as a professional, but also every experience you have had as a human being. Life experience allots a place in the code for elements such as compassion that might easily be left out of a uniform code of ethics set by a panel of experts for a profession as a whole. It is up to the individual to hold his or herself to a higher level of practice.

Every person has seen countless examples of poor media ethics practiced in our day-to-day life. Advertising, my area of concentration, is very guilty of this. For example, take this LA Times front page piece. When making this advertisement, the creator was very aware of its similarity in appearance to the real news stories surrounding it on the page. In fact, I would bet that it was his intent to trick some into believing it was indeed an objective piece. This is blatant disregard for ethics that exemplifies a lack of personal ethics or the ethics of a company. Such disregard is not and cannot be remedied by a list of rules and regulations set forth by a third party.

Likewise, advertisers will also stoop to running eye-catching ads that objectify women or that target kids and teens with commercials featuring unhealthy products like fast-food or harmful substances like tobacco.

In the industry, there has always and will always be ethical controversies or mistakes. We cannot end or prevent them, but we can make ourselves more aware by discussing the issues and studying how they affect our own personal practices. We cannot, however, remedy them with a simple list of rules and limitations.

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