In this paper particular attention is going to be paid to media ethics, its role in the professional life of a journalist or a reporter, and, lastly, some instances of practical application of media ethics in every day work. In fact, I can remember myself thinking, that media ethics is not something important, it is, rather, something formal, something invented just for the sake of further observation, so to speak. However, having read up more on the subject I understood that media ethics particularly in modern globalized world is a very important issue, an issue, which requires very thorough consideration. And it is not only important to strictly observe the media code of ethics. It is even more important to understand what is behind those norms, realize the reasons, which cause one or another ban.However, in many instances journalists, who do not have relative experience or who do not know about such experience of other people, may end up even intentionally violating the code of ethics the reason is quite simple. They see the code of ethics as a mere formality which stands in the way of realization of freedom of speech. Such a journalist wants to by all means show something that is hidden from the audience. If journalists are not allowed, such a journalist will make outstanding attempts in order to be the one, whom they won’t notice, appear to be the one, who ends up making a report, or a photo, or a video even despite all the effort to prevent him from this. However, by such actions he may in the final score significantly harm numerous people, while doing nothing for the freedom of speech or for the freedom of media. Simply because in this particular instance such were not even tried to be violated.
Adams of Washington Reporter brings up such an instance in a recent publication dedicated to the CNN reporter, who was making life broadcasting from a location, closely located to the club, in which the sadly known concert was taking place a few days ago in Paris. The reporter hid in the nearby bushes and Adams quotes him saying, while streaming the video of policemen preparing to a break through:
“”There were gunshots five minutes ago and ten minutes ago. I believe these were gunshots from the police trying to get in the building, trying to break doors and break to through walls to get inside the buildings. I don’t believe these were gunshots from terrorists,” he added. “Right now, what I can see is police, those police and firemen trying to get to evacuate about 20 or 28 hostages from the first floor of the building.”” (Adams, 2015).
Is this reporter a hero, who, despite the risk, is still performing his duty and is showing to the audience what the authorities do not want the audience to know? Or is he simply a thoughtless reporter, who disregarded all the norms of ethics and all the professional requirements in a run for a sensation? He is very well aware: journalists are not welcome here. The police made it more than clear. Adams particularly quotes the journalist saying: “”I’m about 40 yards away, yeah, 30, 40 yards away,” Buet responded.»I’m actually hidden in the bushes. Police have tried to clear off journalists from the scene, so that’s why I’m not talking too loud as you can probably hear. Police don’t want us journalists being here.””. (Adams, 2015).
So, one of the first thoughts of a professional reporter is “well, something is being kept secret from me. Isn’t there a reason behind it? Shouldn’t I get to know more about it and duly inform the audience? Another, less professional, but more ambitious journalist will, no doubt, think: “Oh dear, what an opportunity to sell something really hot! There you go! That’s a bonus from the boss right there!” Well, not a nice motivation but let us face the music.
But if a journalist was well aware of the norms of professional ethics, he would certainly hesitate prior to streaming the event online. He would, probably, still film the event, but he would hardly take the responsibility of streaming the events in real time. Not due to being afraid to take the responsibility, but due to being afraid to harm, due to being aware of possible consequences.
Among other important things Ward (2015) particularly emphasizes, that nowadays it is reasonable to speak of global media ethics. A journalist is not just a journalist of a local media nowadays. His influence goes far beyond this limit. And, oftentimes there are significant consequences which may take place because of a journalist’s unethical behavior. And this is why professional unions and organizations of journalists try to work out codes of ethics, which would help journalists avoid possible mistakes, avoid unfortunate outcome of their reports. Adams (2015) particularly emphasizes, that the CNN reporter in Paris should not have streamed the live broadcasting of the events. Such behavior is explicitly discouraged by the code of ethics of a journalist. And there is a reason behind it. There were instances, when during similar events real life broadcasting of the events helped the terrorists take counter measures or simply irritated them to a point, that the outcomes of the terrorist act ended up much more severe than what they had initially intended. Adams particularly points at a similar case in Germany quite a number of years ago. And the terrorists then benefited from the live broadcasting, which they were able to se on TV and adjust their actions accordingly.
Moyers (2003) also writes, that there may seem to be a contradiction between the democratic freedom of media, freedom of speech and the norms of media codes of ethics. Meanwhile, this is only an apparent contradiction. In reality such a contradiction does not exist. Instead a journalist, who is aware of the norms of the media code of ethics, will certainly confirm: observation of these norms is not only limiting the natural freedoms, it is, in fact, a part of democratic process. In Paris the CNN reporter should not have streamed the events in real time, simply because he ought to have understood: such actions may cause danger to the lives of people. But filming the events and showing them later would not be a violation of any rules. Thus the journalist would both observe the norms of the code and would perform his duty, without violating the democratic principles and, on the contrary, contributing into the development of democracy.
This is only one, very bright but limited illustration of the practical application of media ethics. Unfortunately, failure to take the requirements seriously may result in very unfortunate results, and such results need to always be at hand of a journalist, the memories of such results need to make the journalist or a reporter think twice before doing. Such thinking won’t take much of their time, but the benefit which derives from such speculations is hard to be overestimated.
It is important, however, not only to memorize the code of ethics and its provisions. It is also critically important to find illustrations for such requirements. It is important for a journalist to understand, why such and such provision has been adopted at first place. This will certainly assist the journalist to take the right decision.
- Adams, T. Becket. (Nov 15 2015). CNN’s counterterrorism coverage raises ethics questions. Washington Examiner. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/cnns-counterterrorism-coverage-raises-ethics-questions/article/2576369
- Moyers, Bill. (December 15, 2003). Media and Democracy, the Nation (Editorial)
- Ward, Stephen J. A. Global Media Ethics. Retrieved from: http://ethics.journalism.wisc.edu/resources/global-media-ethics/