Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ethical Journalism- Too Many Restrictions or Not Enough?

Vanessa Copetas

When the word "ethical" comes to mind many of us think of morals. To most, ethical decisions are the principles that you believe are "good", they describes your character and who you are/what you value as a person. However, "Moral Reasoning for Journalists" by Steven Knowlton and Bill Reader, give a different perspective on the word. "Ethical" is not necessarily a choice that is "good" but a choice "based on assumption, emotion or reflex" (6).

What I found interesting was that the chapter really touched on very prominent figures that we now look up to as delinquents. When we think about breaking the law, we immediately believe this is bad...but take important individuals who made a difference, such as Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Though he broke laws that seemed unjust, a seemingly "unethical" action, we admire his movements towards equality.

Recently, journalists (and public relation professionals as well) have been on the end on receiving many complaints for their actions. The chapter discussed that with money on the line, a need for a larger audience and viewers, pressure to make your client look good and taking a political bias, many journalists harm their integrity and their company by not complying with a journalist's moral code.

So what exactly is this code? According to the Society of Professional Journalists they, "strive[s] to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough". They pride themselves on seeking the truth and reporting it, minimizing harm, acting independently, and be held  accountable and transparent. While the so called "good" journalists look to comply with these values, the "bad" ones seek out readers over truth, or harmful information over the emotions of the reader.

On the other side, those in public relations also need to be sure they're providing the truth to their audience. Being credible is highly valuable in public relations, but what happens when you slightly stretch the truth or choose words that do not convey what you absolutely mean? In an article labeled, "Is PR ethical? Only when its practitioners are" author, Shannon Bowen argues that power can "corrupt" those in the public relation field and they can fall victim and be lead them down a path of immoral decisions. "To be ethical communicators and leaders, the power of public relations should be used to empower others – to facilitate wise decisions through providing information, by making a range of options possible and actionable, and by serving the interests of society – as well as those of clients" (Bowen). In a way she is right, having power can "corrupt" us. The point of public relations IS to be persuasive, so you highlight the strong suits of your company. However, as a student studying public relations, I would argue that showing your audience the assets of your product or client is not immoral, though lying and fabricating is.  Therefore, if the power goes to our head and we make our subject sound so much better than he/she/it is, then we could be lying and break the values of true public relation practices.

Of course there is a blurry line. What happens when the unthinkable happens and a never before seen event occurs? Is it morally correct/ethical to post videos and pictures of people who are dying or the aftermath of an event? Morally, maybe not, but if we take Knowlton and Reader's view on ethics, they might say that they are informing the public of what they should know and provoking an emotional response to an event that must be reported on. Though we might not find it acceptable and even find it disrespectful for victims of tragedies, it seems that if there's a reason to show it, it is ethical.

As Allison Cook brought up in an earlier post, there was a lot of controversy over a picture of a man who jumped out of the building during the  events of 9/11. Similarly, in the same event a phone call was recorded and the call goes as far to hearing the victim scream "Oh God!" right before the line cuts off and the building falls. Is it fair to release a phone call that provokes an emotional response to the audience? You can argue yes or no but overall it depends on the victim (in this case, the victim's family) being okay with the release and the journalist's own personal beliefs. As long as there is nothing too graphic (such as a video of a victim being killed) and the facts were all found ethically, journalists shouldn't be too restrained by the media.

Freedom of the press is something the United States prides itself on, but when the line crosses over from what the public deserves to see and what is too much, it's time to take a step back and reevaluate.


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