So, I’ve recently been reading all about ethics in media and one thing that stands out is that it is difficult to decide what ethical theories to follow as a Journalist. There are a variety of ethical theories which can be followed but how do you know exactly which is the right one for a Journalist?
Below are a few of the ethical theories I have been learning about that can be utilized by Journalists.
- Aristotle’s Golden Mean theory states that a good life is attained by living with neither excess nor frugality but by living between the two in moderation. However, where truth comes into play is this the best theory to be utilized by journalists. Where is the median with truthfulness? One is either truthful or not.
- Christianity is a theory based on a belief in God and uses an ethical system based on the ten commandments of the Old Testament as well as Christ’s preaching’s which generally warn against hatred, adultery, avarice and slander. This “could indicate either what journalists should seek to avoid giving attention to or what they might consider ‘newsworthy’ infractions against a moral code.”
- Utilitarianism is the belief that an action which can cause a lot more benefit than harm has to be the right action to take. This really depends on who makes the choice and what they determine as harmful.
- Kant’s Categorical Imperative developed by Emmanuel Kant says ‘Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” In other words what is right for one should be right for all.
With such a variety of ethical theories it is easy for Journalist to choose one that will allow them to display what details of a story they want. Here in Trinidad and Tobago the host for a popular television show, that surrounds investigating crimes for the general public, with the assistance of both the police and his lawyer, was recently widely criticised for displaying video evidence that involved an underage girl being assaulted by a man. He seemed to apply the Utilitarianism theory as he believed more good than bad could come from displaying the video evidence.
He was widely criticised for this act because the general public felt it was insensitive to the victim to display video footage of the incident. However, others believe broadcasting the evidence helped open the public’s eyes to criminal activities and subsequently lead to the arrest of the criminal. The television show host was also eventually arrested for airing the evidence of the girl being assaulted on a local television station and was later released on bail. A situation such as this one creates a serious ethical dilemma, while the public needs to be aware of vicious acts that are taking place within the country, is this necessarily the most sensitive way for the victim and her family? Or perhaps, is broadcasting video footage of criminal activities just what the public needs to realise what is going on in a country? Also, is it still considered simply sensationalism if the footage aired on the show lead to the identification of the suspect and his subsequent arrest?