Monday, April 4, 2011

Unethical Journalists Need a Timeout

Brittany Bell

Unethical Journalists Need a Timeout

Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye if I decide to lie.

Would anyone who ever said this really stick a needle in their eye after a lie? If the saying were actually a strict rule, almost everyone would be considered disabled with blindness. Some would walk around with hundreds of needles in their eyes, others would have dark glasses and a Seeing Eye dog, and the rest would have black eye patches… argggh matey.

But since the saying isn’t a worldwide law, other forms of consequence are used. For instance, when children lie, they are sent to timeout or reprimanded verbally. Association between lying and reprimand at such a young age can actually develop a person’s ability to lie, especially with the ever-so-coy type of lie called a “white lie.” And although people around the world get away with white lies every day, journalists undertake one of the strictest professions to make accuracy and truth absolutely mandatory.

The necessity of truth and accuracy is accounted for in numerous journalistic organizations’ Codes of Ethics. Yet, some of these ethical codes entail harsher rules and regulations to follow than others.

Nay to SPJ
The Code of Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is much more demanding and extensive than the Code of Ethics for the Online News Association (ONA) or the American Advertising Federation (AAF). SPJ’s Code of Ethics, for me, seems so detailed at times that it is almost offending as a journalist. In their “Minimize Harm” section, some principles demonstrate such basic common sense about morality that they appear unnecessary. For example, there are principles such as “Use special sensitivity when dealing with children…” or “Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.” So what they’re trying to tell journalists is to not be complete jerks when there is tragedy and children? Duhhhh.

More Bore
The Code of Ethics for SPJ may be a little juvenile, but the Code of Ethics for ONA and AAF can be considered worse. These two organizations not only exclude a Code of Ethics Preamble, but limit their Code’s principles to only a few sentences each, if not only one sentence. Both organizations fail to include specific guidelines and appear to have rushed the creations of their Code of Ethics. Fail.

Picture Perfect
The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), although very different from the other organizations, includes some very unique guidelines in their Code of Ethics. For instance, NPPA urges photographers to “Think proactively…” and “Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.” NPPA also includes detailed guidelines that stray away from babying the photographers, like SPJ did, yet still encompasses vital ethical standards. Also, one of their main points in the Code of Ethics is to “Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy.” The editors at the Daily Press in Newport, VA obviously didn’t follow this code after printing a picture of a 16-year-old boy shot to death.

Looks like someone needs to dust off their Code of Ethics book and start during their homework.

One man however, named Dennis Dunlavey was a good student and did his ethical homework. Dunlavey, who was featured in Black Star’s “Free Book on Ethics,” follows the primary goal of NPPA, which is “the faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject at hand.” Dunlavey states the following in an interview with the book:

“Photography has always been about manipulation....Even the smile is a form of manipulation, because it may mask the true feelings of the subject.”

What wise words of wisdom, Mr. Dunlavey. Almost as wise as Karate Kid’s “Wash on, wash off.”

Criticizing the Competitor

One of the final areas of journalism is advertising. As mentioned before, AAF does not include very detailed ethical codes. However, one code they include is very important when looking at advertising. It reads, “Advertising shall refrain from making false, misleading, or unsubstantiated statements or claims about a competitor or his/her products or services.” But then, why does the public regularly see commercials with claims against their competitors? In the following YouTube video, a Domino’s commercial attacks Papa John’s and Papa John’s claim to have better ingredients and better tasting pizzas than its unnamed competitors:

Although including Papa John’s in their commercial, Domino’s is not exactly committing a crime. However, it could possibly, but not probably, be argued that Domino’s broke Code of Ethics principle.

Ethical Schmethical?

Journalists must be extremely wary of information gathering and storytelling every day. Oh goody, magazine journalism will be loads of fun. The necessity for accuracy and truth is apparent in all the journalistic organizations’ Codes of Ethics. Thank god I don’t have to read those again. However, some journalists ruin the fun for the rest of us when they cross the line. And for them, perhaps a long ponder in timeout is necessary, like this little guy’s doing…

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