Monday, January 18, 2010

Media Ethics and Journalism

Written on Novemer 17,2009

In 1981 Janet Cooke a writer for the Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize for a story about a 8 year old heroin addict. A few days later the story broke that Cooke’s story was a fabrication. In May 2003 it was discovered that Jayson Blair a writer for the New York Times had been plagiarizing and fabricating stories. In recent years in America the issue of Media ethics in journalism has been a frequent issue that has been brought up due to serious scandals like the ones mentioned threatening the integrity of Media institutions.

In discussing ethics in the Media it is important to note that the Society of Professional Journalists which has been in existence since 1909, has already established a code of ethics. Among this code of ethics is an obligation to seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable. The problem though with this code of ethics is that it is voluntary and not necessarily subscribed to by all journalists. Some commentators like John Merrill are of the position that the media is essentially unethical. This position is true for some media people, but I would make the argument that the vast majority of media people are ethical and looking to uphold high standards of journalism, since the entire credibility of journalism rests on a credibility with readers. Journalists from the International Federation of Journalists have launched an Ethical Journalism Initiative. Journalists have sensed that the growing sentiment about unethical journalism is affecting their field, and they are working hard to bring a higher standard for journalists to adhere to. The use of digital media has jumped in the journalism field and sometimes the news being distributed via social media is unverified as happened in the Iranian Election protests of 2009. Journalists have looked for ways to ensure that the digital media conforms to ethical standards of journalism. Journalists who have been found to fabricate or misrepresent stories have been forced out of the field or punished in various other ways no matter how esteemed as Dan Rather at CBS found out.

The power that the Media holds in America is significant. Scandals brought out in the press have helped take down government administrations and ensured that democracy is working correctly. It only makes sense then that standards exist to make sure that the press is working ethically. Under a free press system as the one here in the United States there is not too much that the government can do to ensure Media ethics in journalism aside from whether journalists break the law, but consumers and owners of Media outlets have to be the ones to ensure that the media is working ethically. Consumers have continually spoken as public esteem for the press has been continuously falling for about the last 20 years. The public has also spoken with their usage of traditional media outlets which continues to drop. For the Media to continue to ensure the public trust constant vigilance is necessary to make sure journalists are trained in the right way from the very beginning to uphold a standard of ethics and for it to carry over in their professional work.

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Leach, Jan. (Fall 2009) Accessed from
Dennis, Everette & Merrill, John. Media Debates 4th Edition. Thompson Wadsworth, 2006

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