The notion “media” stands for all kinds of means of communication such as magazines, newspapers, the World Wide Web, television, cinema films, radio, out-of-home advertising, books, videocassettes, CDs, DVDs, computer games and other forms of publishing. The term itself appeared in 1920s though the phenomenon of media first appeared with the advent of the printing press in the fifteenth century. Today media purposes different aims, among which one can name advertising and publicity, enrichment and education, journalism and of course, entertainment. Media generally covers all spheres of life and its influence is very strong on people. It is no secret that it is generally a subject of controversy as its evaluation of this or that situation can often run counter to a general opinion or some personal principles. That is why nowadays the question of media ethics emerges. If to look up the word “ethics” in an English-English dictionary we can find out that it is “the study of values and customs of a person or group, which covers the analysis and employment of concepts such as right and wrong, good and evil, and responsibility”(Collins, 368). Therefore, media ethics deals with some certain ethical standards and principles of media, covering manifold topics, frequently contradictory.
Media ethics comprises a great number of areas, the most prevalent of which is the ethics of journalism. It is probably one of the most conflict fields as these are newspapers and magazines that are involved into news manipulation. The methods of manipulation, primarily used by governments are subtle and various, and can greatly influence the society. The fact that news can also distort facts in order to attract as much attention as possible is a general knowledge. Such kind of journalism, also called “yellow journalism”, has to do with all sorts of scandals and sensations regardless ethical issues of privacy and tact. But those journalists who try to follow the ethics code always face the problem of revealing one or another fact as it can often be objectionable either for the government or for public figures or for the society in general.
Moreover, public figures, such as politicians and movie stars, play a significant role in media ethics dealing with advertising and public relations. On the one hand, they may suffer from journalists, so-called paparazzi, interfering their lives and setting forth all the details, but on the other hand, they get fame due to media and help media to develop as well.
Another field where media ethics is essential is entertainment media. The use of strong language, the depiction of violence, the practice of products placement, the widespread use of stereotypes and taboos are among the most controversial issues in this area. For example, product placement in movies, television series, and music videos is quite common. Still it has its supporters and adversaries as it has huge impact on people, especially on teenagers. While widely using stereotypes media also tends to break some of the rules formed in the society in order to shock the public. The problem to what extent it is acceptable causes hot ethical arguments. Profiting by proclaimed freedom of speech journalists often lose the sense of proportion and get out of line.
Besides media ethics is closely connected to media transparency that implies existence of many sources of information, usually competing with each other, freely available funds of information and the methods of information delivery. This criterion of media purifies its quality. In order to cope with all these ethical dilemmas properly journalists create codes of ethics, aiming at guiding them through all difficulties and helping them at self-correction. Being coined in different countries and in different organizations all journalistic codes have similar features and promote common principles of work. Among the most significant ones there are clear distinction between news and opinion as well the separation between advertisements and news, accuracy in factual reporting, balance of different points of view and the limitation of harmful information, even if it is true. Still there is a permanent opinion that journalists ignore the majority of these rules and today media is far away from the principles proclaimed in the codes.
What about the American media? Does it have its own code and does it stick to it? The Society of American Business Editors and Writers developed the Ethics Code, the main statement of which says: “Recognize the trust, confidence and responsibility placed in him or her by the publication’s readers and do nothing to abuse this obligation.”( Ethics Code, 2)
In fact, the question about the ethics of modern American media is rather ambiguous and as every controversy topic it causes different opinions. An important issue in American media is the depicting of ethnic minorities in the USA. At the beginning of the 20th century, the portrayals of ethnic groups were very radical and even racist. Eventually, with the development of the ideology of “melting pot” they became more moderate but preserved some subtle pejorative traits. Today images of nations in American media are primitive and based on stereotypes.
The coverage of world tragedies and violence is another issue that produces many ethic concerns. Journalists confront with the problem how to handle the images of catastrophes and cruelty. Assessing the way in which Americans report about the war in Iraq, the earthquakes and hurricanes, journalism professors disaccord. For example, commenting on the American coverage of the earthquake in Indian ocean that happened on the 26th of December, 2004, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University Paul Janensch said: “[g]reat on explaining what a tsunami is. But otherwise I can see why the rest of the world thinks Americans care about death and destruction only when Americans are involved.” (Deutsch, 3) He also remarked that journalists’ attention was focused mainly on American and European tourists that were victims, in spite of the fact that the majority of perished people were natives. There are other professors who support him in so-called double standard of media ethics: “If it’s OK to show us images of dead Indians, Sri Lankans, Thais and Indonesians killed by a giant wave, then isn’t it OK to show us images of dead Americans? We see virtually no images of Americans killed in Iraq.”(Deutsch, 2) Actually, there is an opinion among American people that the media tends to back up patriotic spirit more than to assure the complete true coverage of a certain situation. This was evident during the war in Iraq. The American public noticed that at the beginning of the war reporters failed to present the complete situation of the damage and sufferings of people. That is why at first American society supported the war. But after the announcement that the weapon of mass destruction had not been found, the reports changed and the coverage of the war became negative. So the problem is how far the journalists should be patriotic in their reports.
However, not all people agree with such critical point of view. Many journalists back their colleagues and state that covering that particular disaster reports managed to cover the tragedy in a more substantive than usually and it could be an example for coverage of catastrophes in future. The investigations of PEW Research Center for the People and the Press showed that 75% of the American public believes media; moreover people trust media more than such democratic institution as the parties, the Supreme Court or Congress. Still such high rate does not mean that people do not criticize the American media. According to the research of the mentioned-above center 25% of Americans believe that the majority of media channels are more guided by opinions than the facts in their news. Concerning the issue of democracy in the American media 47% of the American public think that the media supports democracy and 33% suppose it saps it. Besides American media is often involved into scandals both within the country and on the international stage. The cases of plagiarism, distorted facts and political bias are very common. In 2005 the White House paid several journalists in order to promote the policy of George W. Bush’s administration. In 2007 a journalist was accused in plagiarism, the newspaper found out that all the articles were copied from the free electronic encyclopedia Wikipedia.
In order to control the news media in the United States several organizations were created, such as Accuracy in Media (AIM) founded by Reed Irvine in 1969 and Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), founded in 1986 in New York, Media Matters for America founded by a journalist David Brock in 2004. Media Matters even instituted a prize “Misinformer of the Year” which is awarded to a journalist or a network that committed the most numerous blunders.
Thus, the system of American media is imperfect as everything in this world. Personally, I believe that American media is unethical, though it tends to create laws of journalism and ethics codes. Unfortunately, to know and to preserve these rules does not mean to fulfil them. Today we can witness various cases of nonobservance of ethical laws by reporters. I should say as there are different people in any society, so there are different journalists. As every person has his or her own moral principles and adhere to them throughout the life, so every journalist choose the particular policy and elaborates some rules he can not overstep in any situation. When there is a dilemma whether to earn much money at the expense of others’ grief or misfortune, then exactly these principles come to the rescue. Those who choose cheating people and thus earning money undermine the reputation of the media and so the trust of public in the media as well. Due to such representatives there is an opinion that the media in the U.S. is unethical.
As the rate of Americans who give credence to the media is very high, it plays a very important role in the forming of the public opinion and has great impact on the situation in the country. Therefore, journalists should be aware of the great responsibility that lies on them and realize what consequences their work may cause. Moreover, they form public opinion not only within the country but also beyond the bounds of the USA, so their activity contributes much to the forming of international opinion about the country. Despite it nowadays in the history of media you can find scandalous cases which conflict with each and every statement of the code. According to the ethics code journalists should “accept no gift, special treatment or any other thing of more than token value given in the course of his professional activities. In addition, he or she will accept no out-of-town travel paid for by anyone other than his or her employer for the ostensible purpose of covering or backgrounding news. Free-lance writing opportunities and honoraria for speeches should be examined carefully to assure that they are not in fact disguised gratuities. Food and refreshments of ordinary value may be accepted where necessary during the normal course of business.”(Ethics Code,5) Nevertheless, journalists take bribes and use all opportunities to make a profit.
Still, it is necessary to acknowledge that the American media has its advantages and is considered to be patriotic not only by the Americans but by foreigners as well. The organizations that control media try to improve the situation and though they are criticized, their role in the monitoring the situation in the USA cannot be denied. In comparison with other countries people in the U.S. trust it more and the main aim of the American media is not to lose the trust it has now and to gain even more. I wish that among journalists there would be more and more people with high moral and ethical standards who would devote much time to their work and think about the status of their country on the international stage.
Christians, Clifford G.; et al. (2004). Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning, 7th edition. Allyn & Bacon.
Patterson, Philip; Lee C Wilkins (2004). Media Ethics: Issues and Cases, 5th edition. McGraw-Hill
Andrew Deutsch, Silha research assistant, Media Ethics Tsunami Coverage Raises Ethical Concerns
Journalism Ethics — A Reference Handbook (Contemporary Ethical Issues) edited by Elliot D. Cohen and Deni Elliott (Abc-Clio, 1998)
Crisis of Conscience – Perspectives on Journalism Ethics. Hausman, Carl. New York, Harper Collins, 1992.
Ethics & Journalism, Sanders, Karen. London, Sage Publications, 2003.
The Society of American Business Editors and Writers Ethics Code, 2003
Lidar Grave, Michal Nissenson, Ethics and the Media. It Sounds More Patriot ic In American, 2007
Timothy Garton Ash, Anti-Europeanism in America, 2003
Collins Cobuild English Learner’s Dictionary. HarperCollins Publishers, 2004.
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