In the journalistic world, there are ethical considerations that journalists must reflect on in their routine journalism duties. A disregard of these may consequently lead to implications that have a major impact on a journalist’s career. However it is understandable why many journalists choose to disregard the ethical considerations they may be faced with. Both institutional and commercial pressures can play a role in a journalist’s disregard for ethical considerations in their job.
Although journalists are provided with guidelines to follow when faced with ethical issues the desire to lease and perform can outweigh the desire to do what is morally right. This essay will explore the ethical considerations and implications Of routine journalism. This includes issues such as institutional and commercial pressures and unethical ‘cover-ups’ journalists commit. I will discuss the cases of the Victorian bushfire, the ‘Cash for Comment’ scandal, and the Pakistani cricket spot fixing scandal to illustrate how the ethical considerations have been handled.
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I will also attempt to illustrate the links between routine journalism and these specific cases to the ethical guidelines and theories journalists can draw from. Routine journalism can be defined as “the good, plain, solid, honest, professional news reporting that is produced through the daily methods and standard practices of journalists” (Potter, W. J. Peg 352). Therefore it refers to what is considered to be the ‘normal’ tasks of a journalist. Some tasks include “Misleading their sources, using hidden cameras… Inducting ambush interviews, recreating events and even breaking the law’ (Fitzpatrick, K ; P. Peg 88). Therefore ethical considerations and implications will follow on from these news gathering techniques. For example, invading people’s privacy through an act such as a ‘death knock’ s considered to be routine journalism. As expected, ethical considerations and implications arise around this issue. A death knock is the term given when journalists approach those who are grieving a death unannounced with the intention of getting an interview.
A majority of the time there will be a complete lack of consideration for the families and their privacy. Rather the focus is on getting the story. This is standard practice for many journalists as the media thrives on drama. Lawrence APS believes that a “death knock reveals the delicate balance between the right to personal privacy and the eight to freedom of speech” (APS, L. Peg 10-13). An example unethical usage of a death knock is illustrated in the media’s treatment of the 2009 Victorian bushfire.
Channel Nine’s Karl Ostentation infamous quote to a woman he wanted to interview, “No, you don’t want to be on camera. I understand that completely, but it’s a great story. I’m not going to show you but it’s a great story’ (Ostentation, 2009 as cited in Holmes, 2009) perfectly shows a lack of sympathy and respect for this grieving person. Instead of listening and acknowledging the woman did not want to be on camera, Ostentation try to force an interview out of her. This is a clear exploitation of the grief this woman is experiencing.
Thankfully there were some examples of ethical behavior in the bushfire coverage. Channel Nine’s Tracy Scrimshaw made it clear to audiences that they were in an abandoned house with the permission of the owners; “we would not be wandering through this house if we had not asked for their permission” (Scrimshaw, 2009 as cited in Holmes, 2009). The case of the Victorian bushfire makes it painfully obvious that journalists are completely aware of how they utilize a person’s grief and vulnerability in a disastrous event such as the Victorian Bushfire. The MEA.
A Code of Ethics suggests that journalists “never exploit a person’s vulnerability” (Clause Eight) and that they should “respect private grief and personal privacy. Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude” (Clause Eleven). These clauses provide a basic guideline that journalists should consider before carrying out a death knock. These MEA clauses are an extremely Kantian approach to the issue of privacy. Kantian Ethics believes in people acting accordingly to ‘universal principle’. This is understood to be a way of acting that is acceptable for everyone to follow.
Kant felt that humans let a sense of duty to act in accordance with universal principles. “Kant believe[deed] only actions performed for the sake of duty have moral worth” (Kantian Ethics, 2009). Therefore when faced with a death knock journalists must consider where does their duty lies? An extremely ethical position to take would be for a journalist to devote their duty to the families involved. This would result in acting with sympathy and showing sensitivity towards the story at hand. This, in accordance with Kantian Ethics, would be an act of “moral worth”.
It can then be argued that without considering these issues, ethical implications are unavoidable. In worst case scenarios, patrons may choose to take legal action against involved journalists. Unethical behavior, such as the use of the death knock can be seen as a direct consequence of the journalistic pressures that exist. There are many institutional and commercial pressures that journalists will be faced with throughout their career. Many of these pressures will conflict with the ethical considerations that journalists should contemplate on a daily basis.
Rather “journalists should gather and report news without fear or favor, and usuriously resist undue influence from any outside forces, including advertisers, sources, story subjects, powerful individuals and special-interest groups” (Radio Television Digital News Association, 2000) . However a strong moral position may be no use when confronted with career pressures. Instead many journalists may choose a utilitarian approach. Utilitarianism, created by Jeremy Beneath and John Stuart Mill, believes in the greatest good for the greatest number.
Applying this ethical theory to career pressures may see journalists act in a way that will produce the best outcome for the news organization they are linked with. Therefore this will not always result in the most ethical behavior or choice of acts. Readers’ appetite for extremely up to date news has created many institutional pressures that journalists now face on a daily basis. In an article by former The Age editor, Michael Agenda, the obvious is stated, “journalists want to get the “best” stories. Editors and executive producers want to beat their competitors” (2009).
The need to keep up with competitors sees journalists pushed to report as many stories as possible. Like anyone, journalists all want to do their job well. Therefore it Comes as no surprises hat more and more unethical practices are being used by journalists in order to obtain stories and meet editor expectations. Chris Taylor on talking about the Chases new show The Hamster Wheel feels that lately the media has lost sight of its core values. Taylor believes this is a direct result of institutional pressures; “journalists have to churn out more and more stories more often because of 24 hour news networks.
And online news has been the real killer … You constantly have to update them … And constantly come up with stories that aren’t actually news but just get clicks” (Taylor, C. Triple J interview). A major commercial pressure that journalists may succumb to is money incentives. If journalists are to gives into these commercial pressures, society will see an “erosion… In the journalistic standards of objectivity” (Williams, W. Peg 3). This would occur as journalists’ duties would no longer be to telling the public the truth but instead to the companies that had bought their opinions.
The RATTAN believes that “news reporting and decision-making should be free of inappropriate commercial influences” (2000). This idea is great in theory; however it would not always be possible as most news organizations rely on venue from advertisers. The ‘Cash for Comment’ scandal is a perfect example of the media forgetting their core journalistic values and instead giving into money incentives. It was found that talkback radio hosts, Alan Jones and John Laws were receiving payments from companies to talk highly about them in their program.
The hosts were making comments like “l love ‘me and I think they are the best airline in the world” (Laws, J. John Laws Morning Show). This case shows the wall between advertising and journalism coming tumbling down (Williams, W. These companies have, in a way, bought the opinions of these radio hosts, which are then relayed onto listeners. This was a case of truth bending and biased opinions. The MEA Code of Ethics has three different clauses that relate to this particular ethical issue. Clause Six states “Do not allow advertising or other commercial considerations to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence of your journalism.
Do not improperly use a journalistic position for personal gain. ” (MEA Code of Ethics, Clause Six). Although some may argue people may believe their morals and ethical conscience would be too strong to give into money incentives, as the saying goes everyone has their price. The media, when dealing like cases such as the ‘Cash for Comment’ scandal, attempt to cover up its unethical behavior. It Can be argued that to a high extent some ethical issues are covered up by the force of journalistic conventions. For example, journalists attempt to ‘play down’ the seriousness the privacy invasion that occurs through undercover journalism.
The negative public perception of undercover journalism sees the media try its best not to have such news gathering methods exposed. Undercover journalism is defined as a method of obtaining interviews and stories without letting the objects know that they are speaking to a journalist. Methods can include posing as a character or phone hacking in order to get the story. Of course, this method can be used for good when crimes and injustices are revealed. For example, undercover journalism was used to expose the Pakistani cricket spot fixing scandal in 2010.
The journalist involved posed as representative from a Far East gambling syndicate in order to obtain details from the cricketers involved. However there will be journalists who instead use undercover journalism as an exploitation tool in exposing details about innocent people. It can be argued that this use is a result of institutional pressures to obtain interesting or ‘juicy’ stories. When caught out using such a condemned news gathering technique such as undercover journalism, a common “counterargument is that [undercover journalism] produce[s] accurate stories that the public has a right and need to know about. (Fitzpatrick, K & P. Peg 88). Nonetheless, any use undercover journalism techniques will raise the question, “is it ethically acceptable? ” (Fitzpatrick, K & P. Peg 89). Another example of the journalism world down playing their unethical behavior can be seen in the “Cash for Comment” scandal. This scandal was a clear breach of journalistic integrity, yet Alan Jones simply tried to brush aside the importance of the situation. Jones defense was “they were not employed as journalists, but as “entertainers” and thus had no duty of disclosure or of journalistic integrity” (National Film & Sound Archive. 006). To both Jones and Laws, their unethical behavior was seemingly uncontroversial. However, when analyzing this case the seriousness of these radio hosts actions becomes clear. If audiences are unable to make a clear extinction between adverts and opinions, how are they able to trust the media? In a newspaper article, Colic Crawford from the LA Times was quoted saying, “if our readers can’t count on honesty from us, don’t know what we have left” (Ruby, K. 2011). The same can be said about the way Laws and Jones acted in this situation.
When faced with these ethical issues of the journalistic world, the media is always able to turn to the MEA and the AJAX Code of Ethics. These codes exist in order to guide the media to ‘do the right’ thing when faced with ethical dilemmas. It can be argue that to a high extent the MEA and the AJAX Code Of Ethics only provides a practical guide for journalists when it comes to the ethical implications that will face. However the lack of power these bodies have sees their guidelines be ignored in the journalistic world. The MEA Code of Ethics covers a range of topics from reporting on grief to racial reporting.
Their clauses are simply worded and easy to understand. Therefore raises the question why do so many journalists not act within accordance to these ethical codes. One argument is that complains must be lodged for journalists to be held accountable for any breaches to their code of ethics. This therefore means that even if a journalist acts unethical, it can easily go unpunished if a complaint is not lodged. The major argument to why the code is ignored is that the ME-AAA has no legal power. Therefore penalties for acting against the code are not able to be strict enough to match the seriousness of offences.
For example the harshest penalty the MEA can impose is a monetary fine and membership suspensions, and even this penalty rarely happens. Therefore it would be believed that journalists do not feel the need to follow these guidelines at all as punishment for offence is seldom. Laws and Jones only received small nines over the ‘Cash for Comment’ scandal. Instead one may argue that media watchdogs such as the show Media Watch have more influence over journalists when it comes to ethical issues. This show places the spotlight on people who make the news and then holds journalists accountable for their actions.
Therefore making the public aware of what the media is doing. Personally believe that shows, such as Media Watch are able to push for change in the journalism world. By placing the spotlight on those who do wrong, this show has the ability to deter others from doing the same; therefore perhaps journalists could become more ethical conscience. This then suggests that the MEA needs to be given more power when it comes to dealing with journalists breaching the code of ethics. Perhaps in doing so, journalists will then be held accountable for unethical behavior.
This increase in power may even deter more journalists from committing any future unethical acts in their careers. Yet one may argue that the best way to ensure ethical behaviors in journalism is to rely on the personal ethics of a journalist. It is commonsense that a journalist cannot always act accordingly to the ethical considerations of an issue. In a perfect world, unethical behavior would not even be linked with journalism. If Kantian Ethics was strictly applied to journalists, the media would be asked to act morally right at all times.
However, this would be an unrealistic ask of journalists. A more practical ethical guideline that should influence journalists is Aristotle Golden Mean Theory. In Aristotle theory, he believed that in life that we need a balance between excess and deficiency. This suggests we should search for the middle ground or the ‘golden mean’. To Aristotle, “virtue is a point between two vices” (Muralist, K. 2008). In urinals, the Golden Mean Theory could be the difference between running and not running a story.
In the world of journalism, ‘the tactics [journalists] employ in news gathering – may raise ethical concerns” (Fitzpatrick K & P. Peg 87). In the face of routine journalism practice and both institutional and commercial pressures, journalists must consideration the ethics involved to avoid implications from their actions. Although many ethical guidelines that a journalist may chose to follow exist, unethical behavior may always be prevalent. It is the way this behavior is dealt with that matters most to the public.