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.
Saturday, August 27, 2016
Good and Legal is Not Always Ethical
Christina Brosovich firstname.lastname@example.org
Journalists are gatekeepers. It is their job to keep the public educated about what is happening at home and abroad. This is not an easy task, especially when ethics are added into the mix. A good journalist tries to be as transparent as possible, so they produce stories rich with images, interviews, and information. Journalists tend to have good intentions when gathering information and reporting, however, it is possible to look past ethics in the pursuit of a good story.
The reading Moral Reasoning for Journalists discusses ethical goals from the ancient Greeks. They stated, “we urge you to stop thinking of the terms ethical and unethical as synonyms from good and bad.” Following this school of thought indicates that a report can be good, but unethical and vise versa.
In 1965 Morley Safer reported on the Vietnam War from Cam Ne, Vietnam. Safer’s broadcast was “controversial” due to the negative portrayal of US Marines. He received death threats and President Lyndon Johnson reprimanded CBS for allowing this story to be aired. This story was meant to give Americans an “uncensored” look into the Vietnam War. It was a sound or “good” report, with accurate facts and images. However, this broadcast was found unethical, because it was offensive to the men fighting in Vietnam and Americans.
In Ferguson, Missouri after police shot Michael Brown journalists’ ethics were called into question. According to Malcolm Harris’ article Unethical journalism can make Ferguson more dangerous, “We also saw journalists display a shocking disregard for the well-being of their subjects, repeatedly putting them at further risk of harm.” The lack of respect for sources' safety and mental state created a negative relationship between protestors, the public and the media. The pressure to be first or have the most emotional interview was damaging to the media’s reputation in Ferguson and has affected the public’s view of the media on all "Black Lives Matter" issues, Blatantly ignoring ethics harms everyone.
Harris also claims, “Just because journalists can legally get away with something doesn’t mean they should.” He believes journalists abused their power and legal protection to exploit sources. A story may be good, but if it is based on unethically acquired information it can have negative consequences.
The First Amendment promises not to make laws that infringe on the freedom of the press. This freedom leaves it up to journalists and news organizations to monitor themselves. While it is not illegal to interview a source that is highly emotional, aggressive or distraught, it is not the ethical thing to do. It may provide an in-depth and cutting edge story, but acting in an ethical fashion should be a priority of journalist. If journalists put the story before sources or ethics, it will further damage the public’s relationship with the media, which is not ideal.