Common Ethical Issues
There are many ethical issues that range across all different professions, but in journalism, the most common include withholding information, corporate social responsibility, and conflicts of interest.
Conflicts of interest can become very complicated to recognize, and many people make mistakes when judging how serious their involvements could be for themselves, clients, and the company. Although there are regulations and descriptions for what conflicts of interest are, most people can sometimes be led astray and forget these rules in a time of high-pressured moments.
Conflicts of Interest by Definition
According to the Public Relations Media Ethics Resource Library, conflicts of interest can be personal or professional conflicts that interfere with a different obligation.
It is important that people remember that their conflicts may fall into a grey area of right or wrong ethical decisions. If there are doubts that a personal or professional interest has troubled someone's reasoning to make a clear decision, it is important to remember not to be influenced in order to report or publish fairly.
Reasons to Avoid the Conflicts
Conflicts of interest are extremely difficult to avoid in full because they can involve anything from professional sources needed for a hit story, or it could be working for a campaign that may mix with one's personal beliefs.
Regardless of the situation, in any form of media it is important to stick to your gut feeling and push past the conflicts in order to make the best ethical decision for a company.
Since conflicts of interest can shed poor light on a reporter or a company, whether it be a broadcast station, newspaper, public relations firm, or any other media base, it's best to avoid conflicts of interest entirely.
Many stations have been accused of having many conflicts of interest. An article from Accuracy in Media that describes ties of conflict with news networks and the Obama Administration shed light for me on how quickly accuracy can disappear.
What's an Alternative?
Everyone understands that simply stating not to become involved with conflicts of interest does not stop everyone. Luckily, there are a few ways to help diminish the ethical issues that occur.
Ethical codes, recusal and disclosure are common ways to help keep conflicts of interest to a minimum.
Ethical codes are given out by companies and are the best way to ensure that all personnel were ensured that conflicts of interest should be generally avoided. There are usually consequences listed as well to ensure that professionals understand what is and is not permitted.
Recusal, which is sometimes mentioned in the codes, acts as a self-regulating tool. Recusal is used so that people can self-monitor themselves and remove themselves from ethically wrong situations.
Finally, there is disclosure. Disclosure works as a way for other people to keep an eye on anyone who is or may become involved with conflicts of interest. This rule forces people to report any suspicions or knowledge of conflicts of interest.
Real Life Problems
Many people probably wonder to what extent do conflicts of interest really become a problem in journalism and mass media, and some may surprised.
Payoffs and improper information that can be thought of as gossip are some of the common examples that large organizations face. Even large and well-respected newspapers are known for making terrible mistakes with conflicts of interest.
For example, an article published by Ryan Chittum with Columbia Journalism Review discusses issues with high-ranked editors at The Sun and News of the World. It is mind-blowing that media scandals happen constantly, and sometimes with no one coming forward to say anything about it.
It is important that people pay more attention to the news that is published, and it is the journalists' job to ensure that valid information reaches the public. It is unfair to have personal or professional conflicts of interest when involved in any form of media.
Hopefully, conflicts of interest are limited from the influence of guidelines, ethical codes, and people stepping forward if they are aware of others making these ethically wrong decisions. It is important that the media limits these conflicts and that journalists make the effort to refrain from personal or professional conflicts intrude on their work.