Ethics and the media are constantly in question, as they should be. In the modern era with news so widely available and the ubiquitous ability for contribution from questionable and unverified sources, how do people navigate the media and how do journalists retain good ethics? This post discusses ethics in the media and why and how they should always be at the forefront of journalism.
How We Are Defining ‘Media’
For the purposes of this post, media is the method of communications used globally. These are news outlets, online sources, social media, podcasts, radio, and television. This is not an exclusive list and there will be more that crop up, but these are the main contenders.
How We Are Defining ‘Good Ethics’
Ethics is an open-ended discussion with many different branches to digress. However, good ethics in this case refer to what is morally acceptable and not crossing the line into morally unacceptable. This pertains to how the words affect people’s lives and influence people’s reactions, whether there is truth and validity in the assertions and whether the work belongs to the publisher.
The Media Ethic Principles
With all that in mind, there are certain unspoken and spoken rules that govern the world of journalism. This is not to strive for nor to inflict conformity, but more to guide the voices of the people exploring and deciphering newsworthy stories. So much news is plagued with vagueness and misinformation, speculations, and misguidance; therefore, to ensure credibility, there are five principles to be followed across the board.
- To Tell the Truth and Be Accurate
This feels fairly self-explanatory. Truth telling should be at the core of all journalistic endeavors, but truth is subjective. Your truth might not align with another person’s truth, so how is that navigated? It is navigated by striving to deal in facts. Facts are the basis of solid journalism and facts are the path to the truth, whatever form that takes on for the individual. Accuracy is the other side of this coin in that, a fact is not a fact if it cannot be verified. Therefore, when a claim cannot be ratified in its entirety or even in part, this needs to be transparently noted with no room for misinterpretation. Only then are you following good ethics in your media outputs.
- Be An Independent Voice
Acting independently is an integral part of journalism. This is about using your voice to tell the story at hand, uninfluenced or swayed by monetary factors or political agendas. Now, of course, there are times when projects are undertaken for political purposes or to portray specific agendas and this needs to be named, otherwise it is considered biased and unethical. If you have a side, stick to it and be upfront about it at every turn. Unless you are writing as a neutral party with no affiliation or draw either way, as this is the only truly ethical path.
- Be Fair and Remain Neutral
Following on from this, neutrality is the key to good ethics. If you are able to remain impartial, then you will be more factual. That is not to discern that there should be a lack of emotion; in fact, emotion is what makes for individuality and passion in pieces. However, it’s vital to either dictate or acknowledge that there are two sides to every story that is being told. When addressing particularly sensitive subjects regarding vulnerable participants, this becomes a difficult task. That is where journalism must defer to being factual and represent matters in the most accurate light wherever possible.
- Be Aware of the Impact of the Media
You cannot embark on a journalism career if you do not understand the impact of your work. How your story weaves into the minds of the people that read it, how it is perceived, and the impact it has should be at the forefront of considerations. The produced content can often be sensitive, and it is true that you can’t please everyone. However, the words should not have an overly or unnecessary negative impact on society wherever possible. Stories are there to be challenged and questioned but whatever is written is associated forever with the writer and therefore, the writer should want to avoid causing harm if that is an option.
- Take Responsibility
Being responsible for what you write and being able to take accountability are valued attributes in the world of media. If you would not want to take ownership over something, then you should not write it in the first place. Some people prefer to operate anonymously, but is that morally questionable? Should not the words that are written be held up to the mirror of truth and scrutiny and the person behind them with it? Aside from this, the writer needs to be able to answer the questions that come from the readers with regard to their content. True accountability comes from standing up for the story you crafted and answering any queries that come from having read it.
A Closer Look at Journalism
Originally, journalists were defined as the people behind the newspaper print stories. This is an outdated concept that retains a relevance in modern society but has been bolstered by the presence of online journalism. Of course, people still read the print papers, but with all the advances in technology, more and more people turn to their phones or other electronic devices to get their news updates and media fixes. The multi-approach topic of journalism ethics is explored here by St Bonaventure University, with a wider scope. Things have transformed from the days of the first print where there were no real rules or constraints. Nowadays there is a pressing need to remain vigilant in all things journalistic and to only produce veritable accounts and inferences. Slander, libel, and fake news are all avoidable, and established journalists have grown into a truth-telling, justice-finding, lay-it-all-bare kind of movement.
The ‘Fake News’ Phenomenon
Fake news plagues our screens and our print. It will never go away, but it can be spotted if you keep your wits about you. The danger lies in when it is so believable that even the least gullible person is swept away by it too. Fake news can start pandemics, it can incentivize riots and it can lead people down a dangerous path if the fire is never put out. Perhaps the biggest danger of all is misinformation, so how do we avoid it? When even the most credible of sources sometimes fall to the hierarchy, is it just a question of trust and hope or are we able to discern the perilous prose from the real and the true? It’s vital to cross-reference suspected fake news, find the source, and make your own judgement call.
A Lack of Funding
The main thing that may influence poor ethics amongst journalists is a lack of funding. This is not a fancy or fruitful career for the majority of people who undertake it. In fact, it is the passion for storytelling that puts people on the media trajectory but owing to the recent shift and lack of funding for newsrooms, how they make their money comes into question time and time again. There are so many ways now of recounting the news, breaking the stories that mean something and following the important headlines and we mentioned above – newspapers are becoming more and more on the back of the line. When there is not enough money, how do you maintain proper ethics? Sometimes this is where the lines are blurred, and people fall short.
Private Lives of the Collective
People are naturally private beings. They do not want their lives pasted all over the front page. This again is a blur in the lines of what is moral and what is not. It is a constant struggle for journalists, and it takes a certain type of person to be able to look past respecting people’s personal stories in order to get the necessary truths out into the public sphere. Without this kind of person, dirty politicians, inhumane conditions, crime and more would remain untouched. It is not a glamorous job, and it can take a person to many different, dangerous, and morally questionable places. How to navigate that is up to the individual, of course. This is why the five principles of journalism should and can be applied across the media board.
A natural consequence of a widespread media base is that there is always room for misinterpretation, questioning and misinformation. There are unavoidable factors that recur time and time again and indeed have spanned out since the creation of what we know as ‘media’. However, that does not mean that journalism itself, and the creators of the stories that fuel the spark should be held accountable. Good ethics are the thing that will drive media into its next state of existence. If a story is worth telling, then it is worth telling right and it is worth reciting the facts and the sources.