Every day there are ethical decisions that impact the hundreds or thousands of people who watch, read, listen, and/or click on a media source. The foundation for making the right decision starts with ethics classes in college. Students in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism will use this blog to reflect on ethical questions in the media today.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Defining and Identifying a Conflict of Interest: Can it be two different things?
When a question of a conflict of interest comes into play, everyone seems to have a slightly different opinion given the exact situation. Webster defines “conflict of interest” as “a conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust.” If only every situation was as simply as Webster’s definition.
In the article “A Journalist Breaks the Golden Rule,” the lawyer in me can easily argue both sides of the issue of Ms. Song speaking at the memorial. But if I had to make a clear judgment, I would have to say that if Ms. Song planned on continuing her report or being involved with that particular news story than she should have not spoken at the memorial.
Referring to Webster, her private or personal sentiments that were shared publicly, undoubtedly had some influence over her fulfilling her official responsibilities without bias or personal antidotes on the matter.
Doctors have a particular code of ethics in which they are not to operate on family members or close friends because of the influence of such bias may have on their performance. (See AMA Opinion 8.19.)
In Ms. Song’s case the conflict of interest is not one of life or death but it has the same risk of influence on the final/professional performance.
The conflict of interest line that Ms. Song crossed in this particular case may have been more blurred than the ethical line of doctors. But, by crossing it, it may bring her and other professionals to more likely make similar small jumps across the line for the next story.
In most cases, people have different opinions on what is to be considered conflicts of interests or most importantly what is considered ethical or unethical. I guess personally, the best any of us can do is try to make the best decision we think is right and be ready to defend that decision when others disagree or be willing to accept the consequences of our beliefs.