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Critique of Media Ethics Class and Texts
To note the format of this preliminary textbook, I would like to comment that it is set up in a very reader-friendly way. I would also like to thank you for not having to pay for yet another textbook.
To note the format of this preliminary textbook, I would like to comment that it is set up in a very reader-friendly way. I would also like to thank you for not having to pay for yet another textbook. However, I think that I speak for everyone when I say that it was a little awkward getting one or two chapters at a time. We college students aren't as organized as we would like to be sometimes. Maybe in the future, you could make the text available in bigger chunks (say, ten chapters at a time?), or all at once.
Your text has some tough competition against "Media Ethics-Issues and Cases." That book had some pretty good pictures after all. Not that I am afraid of reading, but photos really help to illustrate some of the broader ethical issues of journalism. For example, the picture of the officer rescuing the little girl from the burning house that ran in the Eugene Register-Guard was very powerful. It would have been harder to make an ethical analysis about whether or not to run this photo without actually seeing it. My suggestion would be to get some really good AP photos for your text to illustrate your chapters. For example, in Chapter 8, you can show a photo of Terri Schiavo and do a brief case study as a segue way into talking about Moral Law.
Compared to "How Good People Make Tough Choices," your text was a walk in the park. That book was a total snore. Unlike your text, this book talks about nothing but ethics and ethical codes and rules. While it brought up some interesting points, like forcing us to look at right vs. right situations, it really doesn't tell us anything new. True, this book is ten years old and probably needs an update, but only about 10% of the book focused on helping me "make tough choices." This book could have been seriously condensed.
But you want to know about your text. It's better than Kidders, but not quite as good as Wilkins/Patterson. However, here are some of the finer points of your text:
1) Wide variety of ethicists: Your text does not suggest that we base our ethical behavior only on the teachings of Kant or Plato. Your text touches down on many different opinions and philosophies, so we are able to decide whether we agree more with Carole Gilligan's moral theory or Lawrence Kohlberg's. And on that note…
2) Your text helps to distinguish morals and ethics. Not that I still can decide which one is which (kidding!). I think that it is important to discuss morals along with ethics, because it is our moral development that guides our ethical behavior. I think that the other textbooks missed the boat because they didn't give as much thought to morals. I would say that this is one of those "broader questions" you were asking about…I think that most people still confuse morals and ethics, and your book appropriately addresses it. While "Media Ethics, Issues and Cases" skirts around morals and lumps it together in the end, it is threaded all throughout your text.
3) One of the biggest questions that I had coming into your class were the ones that weren't answered in law class. Okay, so I know that certain information is not allowed to be printed about private citizens and where my journalistic boundaries are. But I had little idea of how to handle the internal struggles that are going to come with being a journalist. Did I know that not standing up to a sleazy editor in order to avoid punishment was on the bottom rung of the stages of moral development? No. Your text (and your class) helped to confirm my suspicions that guys at the top don't always know what is right.
"The Media Ethics Environment", while a huge volume that is spilling out of my binder, is really quite helpful. While it could use some photos, it doesn't have the monotony that is found in other textbooks. Sure, photos would illustrate this book nicely, but colorful ethical case studies such as the Mirage Bar and Plato's cave theory help to keep things interesting. Also, by giving us applications like the Potter Box to use in our own decision helps your text to be interactive. I think that perhaps your text could use more of that, like the values inventory. Show your students that ethics can be fun! In all, the best aspect of this text is the variety of topics addressed and ethicists outlined. Everyone has their own idea of ethics and morals, and "The Media Ethics Environment" helps to weed through them and help us pick out what works best in our own experiences.
3) Develop a universal code of mass communication ethics:
This was a really interesting thing to do in class, and to see what each media outlet (television, electronic, print) thought was valuable for their lists. While they mirrored each other in many ways, some of us had different ideas of what was expected. Here is my universal list that should be able to transcend all media outlets:
1) Professional Values
All mass communicators must follow this basic code of ethics:
Always uphold the TRUTH, and tell it to the best of what is known. Also be HONEST and ACCURATE.
Minimize HARM, to self, the public and your fellow professionals.
INFORM the masses.
Be ACCOUNTABLE, to the public, professionals, self and government.
Be ENTERPRISING or INDEPENDENT. Do not rely on others for ideas or work.
Be LOYAL to those you are writing for, readers and those whom you represent.
Be FAIR, and give equal exposure to a variety of news. Cover events and interests with as much fairness and equality as possible. This includes being OBJECTIVE.
Be aware of CONFLICTS OF INTEREST. Use your sense of TRUTH and be ACCOUNTABLE when conflicts of interest may arise.
Be COMPETANT. Know your profession and field.
Be CONSISTENT. Report equally and stay consistent with the values of your corporation. However, know how to change with the times and avoid being consistently wrong.
2) Ideal Expectations
We expect you, as a mass communicator to always uphold the standards of the universal code of ethics. However, we also expect you to question that which may be wrong. As the saying goes, "some rules were meant to be broken." Not these rules. But sometimes, certain situations may make cause for them to be bent. Always question that which may be in conflict with the universal code of ethics.
3) Minimal Standards
Not everyone is perfect. That is why newspapers make retractions. At the minimum, we expect you to first and foremost uphold the standard of honesty. Do your own work, and don't plagiarize. If a breach in accuracy is made, bring it to the attention of the masses immediately. Furthermore, minimize harm at all costs. These are the basic standards to which you must uphold.
The reason that I chose these codes of ethics is because they are pretty common sense and can be applied to almost any profession or organization. The only code which may be specific to mass communicators would be to INFORM the public. That is the basis of mass communication and is imperative to our code of ethics.
4) Persuasion Ethics
How should persuaders use truth against their conflicts of loyalty while still considering harm? While advertising and public relations are a necessity to journalism and to corporations, they occupy a strange territory. Advertisers and PR people are forced by the nature of their jobs to bring all of the best aspects of their client or product forward and to try to brush most of the bad stuff under the rug. Sometimes TRUTH as Plato defines it gets turned into a distorted truth of what advertisers and PR people see, or want the public to see.
In any event, I think that advertisers are the biggest offenders in persuasion ethics. Yes, newspapers rely on them for funding, and little businesses need advertising to get their names out there. However, I think that I will use one of my journal entries to illustrate my "beef" against advertising.
Some advertisers have little ethical or moral consciences when it comes to their jobs. Whether it is carb-free mayonnaise, diabetic toothpaste or plus-sized pantiliners, they have no problem promoting useless products. Advertisers should not be allowed to promote a product that makes people feel as though they have a problem, and should not be allowed to advertise something as being "new" when it has not changed at all (such as carb-free products that are naturally carb-free).
So what is an advertiser to do? If their company has a new product, it is their job to promote it in such a way that will make it successful on the market. While these products may be extreme examples, advertisers can still handle the truth while making their product look good. One good example of this is cigarettes. While many battles over cigarette advertising have been fought (i.e. "The Insider"), I believe that advertising for cigarettes is now on an even keel. They are dangerous to smoke, and the package clearly states that. The Marlboro Man and the Camel cartoon are now only shadows of their once dominant commercial images, but cigarettes are still allowed to be advertised in choice areas, such as magazines. While the cigarette industry did not initiate this even keel in advertising, it is more ethical to make the surgeon generals warning appear on the packaging and to not have that advertising where children can be over exposed. This compromise helps to limit harm, expose the truth and yet keeps the cigarette industry alive.
In the world of PR, it is all about getting a name or information out there and making it look good. Whether it is a sports star or McDonald's, they are in many ways, advertisers. However, they are also gatekeepers of information about these public figures or corporations. Like advertisers, it is their job to make who or whatever they are representing look good. Accentuate the positive-eliminate the negative.
Like advertising, journalists and print media rely on PR people. While they don't give us all of the information, because of their job, we are alerted to newsworthy events or happenings. But how does Michael Jackson's PR guy sleep at night knowing that he is representing a talented slime ball?
Again, truth and conflicts of loyalty are often hard to wrangle against in the world of PR. While they can eliminate harm by simply not commenting on issues instead of lying, they are also lying by avoiding truths. But then again, that is the nature of PR. If the truth is nasty, then it's not their job to tell the world about it. Let the investigative journalists do that.
What about conflicts of loyalty within themselves? Nancy B is a perfect example of how being a PR person is tough. As she shows, sometimes when it comes down to it, your employer doesn't deserve your loyalty anymore (am I seeing a pattern here?). While it isn't a PR person's job to become Joan of Arc when the going gets tough, these people have inside information that sometimes is whistle-blowing material. Always, the greater good deserves to come before money or power. In this sense, they need to know that a little affair probably doesn't have the same affect as a whole town being laid off. This is the way that they can monitor their ethical decisions.
Persuaders have a pretty easy job until an ethical dilemma comes up. If they can come up with a catchy jingle or get good exposure for their clients, then they have earned my respect. But we have to remember that they can also be gatekeepers of critical information, and they must remember to minimize harm above truth and loyalty to practice ethical behavior.
5) "Real World' ethics
Perhaps the biggest problem that comes with developing moral autonomy in the "real world" is the moral obligations that we bestow upon ourselves. Family, friends and self-preservation are much higher than corporations on my personal list of loyalties. According to "The Media Ethics Environment," an "…emotionally based decision may ignore authority and precedent, and defy logic."
The aspect of media ethics that translates the most when dealing with my own set of moral standards for me is analyzing the situation through models like the Potter Box. This is perhaps the most helpful for me in deciding how to be ethical against my own personal moral standards. Self-analysis is probably the best way for me to deal with my own moral struggles in the "real world".
Sometimes, an issue (such as whether or not to give harsher punishment and restrictions to sex offenders) may fog my judgment in reporting. The Potter Box will help me to decide the way that I report on a story involving sex offenders. While my moral standards may be to dig up as much dirt on a sexual offender and to paint them in the worst possible light, that may be an unfair judgment in "real world" standards. By going through the steps of the Potter Box, I would ideally come to the conclusion that I need to be loyal to my newspaper and do a story the way that I am supposed to (fairly, accurately) and not express my own personal vendetta.
In all honesty, to me the aspect of media ethics that translates the least are codes of conduct. Yes, they are necessary because people like Glass and Blair do exist and leave us to question how much truth there is to reporting. Those kind of people are the reason that guidelines exist. But as I stated above (in my code of ethics) the codes can't always be followed exclusively. Times and standards change, and so the codes must change with them.
As "The Media Ethics Environment" comments, codes of ethics make us look like "professional journalists," therefore being controlled and losing our autonomy. It makes journalists look like a part of the "machine." Part of me thinks that this is absolutely repulsive, but necessary. We as journalists don't work for "the man," but it certainly seems like we do to the outside world (in my opinion).
My answer for surviving moral dilemmas in the "real world" would be to avoid losing the sense of moral autonomy by utilizing self-analysis. If we still look within ourselves for the answers, while following a necessary code of conduct, then we avoid becoming a part of the machine.
6) A corporation with a soul?
Let Nike Play
While I think that this is a great idea for a commercial, and feel as though it speaks an important message, it obviously has some snags or it wouldn't be worthy of being in our text.
The biggest ethical problem that I see with this commercial is the generalizations that it makes. For one thing, it is all about girls. As the text states, there was no similar commercial made to target boys, adults or senior citizens for that matter. It was unethical of Nike to single out girls only for this commercial. In that way, it generalized girls and basically gave the impression that boys don't need to be persuaded to "play."
Our text defines one aspect of propaganda as being "A reduction of situations into readily identifiable cause and effect relationships, ignoring multiple reasons for events." Under this definition I would label this commercial as propaganda. While there is only so much you can squeeze into 30 seconds, this commercial makes a promise of "you will" and doesn't support much else. The cause is playing sports, and the effects are the in-your-face list of real life maladies and social problems.
Does this commercial suggest that the best or only way to avoid these dilemmas in your future is by playing sports, while wearing Nike apparel? No, but a young viewer (to whom this is the target audience) may perceive it that way. As the case states, Carole Gilligan claims that children and the elderly are especially sensitive to commercial messages. While an adult may be able to shrug off the powerful message that this commercial conveys, a child may take it to heart.
Ultimately, I think that this is a great idea for a commercial…for people my age. I truly think that it is unethical to use "scare tactics" in this way against children who already place so much value on labels, and put so much trust into what they see on TV.
I believe that the Nike Corporation was trying to listen to their own little Jiminy Cricket conscience and honestly do a service announcement as a way to peddle their merchandise. Someone probably had the great idea to make a commercial that encourages girls to play sports (something that doesn't happen enough, if you ask me) and it turned into something else. I don't think that the Nike bigwigs are going straight to heck for this one, though their ethical judgment was askew when they didn't comment on the positive affects sports have on the opposite sex.
Channel One: Commercialism in Schools
I remember that the first time I saw To Kill A Mockingbird was at school. How did my school get a television and VCR in every classroom so that I could view this masterpiece in 9th grade? Probably through Channel One funding.
While this case study doesn't go into detail about what kind of commercials Channel One was playing for the students (cereal and soda, no doubt), I don't think that any of it could have possibly been harmful. Normally, I am pretty negative towards commercials, but I feel as though this is an excessive claim. Surely, students are exposed to more than two minutes of commercials at home, so I don't feel as though this is a major ethical dilemma.
Yes, it does seem as though the corporation is pretty slimy for making a contractual agreement with the school that the students must watch commercials in exchange for free programming and equipment. But where do these people think that the equipment comes from? Would people have a different feeling towards this situation if Channel One were a non-profit organization?
I don't think that the big wigs at Channel One had the noblest intentions in mind, but they certainly aren't alone. Soda machines now line the hallways of almost every public school, and commercials are the foundation of every school yearbook. Sometimes, commercials are a necessity.
Furthermore, Channel One provided educational programming about current events that teachers and students both seemed to like. If Channel One was merely giving schools television sets and made students watch only commercials on a set schedule, my opinion of the situation would be completely different. Channel One is helping to even out the commercial exposure with educational programming, so someone must have had a conscience at their headquarters.
Ultimately, the biggest problem I see with Channel One's package, a problem the text really doesn't address, is the content in the educational programming. Was it tailored to meet the needs of the advertisers? Was it of good quality and was it correct and well-reported information? What were the students missing out on because of the way they received their information? In the end, I think that it is important for students to have technological resources at their fingertips, even if there is a small price to pay.
7) "Journalists cannot be objective, and they should stop pretending they can be"
In a lot of ways, this is what media ethics is about, isn't it? Trying to face our own set of morals and base them on ethical principles and codes to try and write objectively.
I keep thinking back to our chapter in "Defining Truth" to try to sum up how I feel about journalists being objective. How can we be objective all of the time when we are only human? To me, the grass is a vibrant green (TRUTH) but to a colorblind person it's bland and gray (truth). If we only report on what we experience with our senses, how do we know when to trust them?
Aside from "channel noise" objectivity, I think that journalists CAN be objective. Some of them aren't, but we all certainly should strive to be.
Above all, I would like to think that journalists are professionals, able to still keep our moral autonomy while not becoming government or capitalist word processor. Being objective is part of our job description as journalists, and if we maintain a level of professionalism, as defined by Flexner, it's really not that hard. Briefly, Flexner says that professionals derive their raw materials from science and learning, and also "apply their knowledge for the betterment of society." If journalists uphold these standards and omit personal opinion, then they will succeed in being objective.
Ideally, journalists will look to utilitarian statement "I believe in doing what is best for the most people." In order to write objectively, journalists (or PR, advertising or broadcast folks) shouldn't look out just for themselves in their writing. As we learned in our class case study of the Tennessee prostitution sting, decisions can be hard to make when your friends dignity is on the line. I couldn't imagine how hard this would have been for the editor if this had taken place in a small town. However, by following a code of ethics that the paper has written and looking to precedent (if it's right, that is), an editor and the reporters for this story could make objective, fair decisions before running the story.
All throughout the semester, you have done a pretty good job about hiding your political swaying. If only the media could figure out how to do that too. This is one of the areas where I hear the most critiquing about newspapers. I don't think that a paper should be based on conservative, liberal, independent or any other political ideals. This lack of equal political representation in papers is probably the biggest reasons that people think journalists can't be objective.
Nonetheless, I feel that despite people's own perceptions of the world, personal agenda's and honest misinterpretation, journalists are truly as objective as they can be. There is a whole separate aspect of journalism where they can be non-objective; opinion columns and reviews. As long as journalists remember that their stories are meant to be informative, and not educational to only what they want the reader to learn, they will still be able to remain objective.