Ethics in Journalism


“You cannot legislate a journalist” –Quote from Presentation

This statements required me some thought to understand.  The way I took it, is that the country cannot give laws to journalists restricting them from writing certain things because it is their ethical duty to expose the truth.  If journalists are required to possibly be unethical in order to get an important story, it could be worth it.  On the other hand, journalists must play with the circumstances.  For example, it was not extremely necessary for reporters to scope out when and where Whitney Houston’s body would be brought.  Many citizens became upset about this and for good reason.  It is an invasion of privacy and a personal time for her family and close friends.  Reporters must judge rightly when is appropriate to go undercover and when it is simply unethical.

The Society of Professional journalists have a code of ethics.  Is it unethical of journalists if they do not follow the code?  When journalists are working for a certain news company or SPJ for example, they must abide by the code of ethics given to them in order to stay on good terms with the company and keep their job.  The SPJ’s code of ethics is just vague enough and broad enough for journalists to completely obey.  This code is very well created because it gives the journalist freedom, while making sure they are maintaining their benevolence. I believe if journalists are given restrictions and an important story is found while a journalist breaks that restriction, the news company will always find a reason to let this case slide.  Truth for the public to know cannot be given restrictions.

Media is powerful.  We can see examples of this in every sort of media: television, radio, movies, etc.  Media can cause people to react or think in certain ways they normally would not.  There are six specific effects and theories describing how media can influence people, which are listed below.

Magic Bullet/hypodermic needle theory: which suggested that when the mass media send out a message and people react to it immediately.

Limited Effects Theory: Media has conditional effect on people

2-Step Flow Theory: Suggests that ideas flow from mass media to important opinion leaders, and from them it is spread to the wider population.

Spiral of Silence Theory: Claims people will not state their opinions if they feel they are in the minority.

Agenda Setting Theory: Media does not tell us what to think, but they tell us what to think about.

Third-person Effect Theory: The likelihood that people who view certain media, assume that the media has more of an effect on other people rather than themselves.

If media can cause people to do all the strange things these theories suggest, then it is a bigger deal than once thought.  Also, think of how long theses studies would have taken to conduct and conclude scientifically with these theories as their answer; nobody would waste their time on that if media was not such an influential factor.

Ethics in journalism are then important because media is so powerful.  Journalists must always be careful to not say something wrong or simply rude because they feel like it–that is unethical.  To a certain degree, journalists must have this code of ethics to go by even though journalists cannot be restricted from the truth by jurisdiction.  Journalists must always be ethical people, while (by some peoples’ views) going undercover or doing possible “unethical” things in order to expose the news.  In fact,

“News is what people want to keep hidden; the rest is publicity.” –Bill Moyers

Journalists must be journalists, but they must not step on everybody’s feet in order to do so.  Ethics. If the world were more concerned with themselves doing what is right in terms of morals or ethics, it would be a much better place.  Then again, if only everybody would first have the same view on what ethics are.


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