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Media ethics is the subdivision of applied ethics dealing with the specific ethical principles and standards of media, including broadcast media, film, theatre, the arts, print media and the internet. The field covers many varied and highly controversial topics, ranging from war journalism to Benetton advertising.
The ethics of journalism is one of the most well-defined branches of media ethics, primarily because it is frequently taught in schools of journalism. Journalistic ethics tends to dominate media ethics, sometimes almost to the exclusion of other areas. Topics covered by journalism ethics include:
Issues in the ethics of entertainment media include:
In democratic countries, a special relationship exists between media and government. Although the freedom of the media may be constitutionally enshrined and have precise legal definition and enforcement, the exercise of that freedom by individual journalists is a matter of personal choice and ethics. Modern democratic government subsists in representation of millions by hundreds. For the representatives to be accountable, and for the process of government to be transparent, effective communication paths must exist to their constituents. Today these paths consist primarily of the mass media, to the extent that if press freedom disappeared, so would most political accountability. In this area, media ethics merges with issues of civil rights and politics. Issues include:
Media economics where things such as -- deregulation of media, concentration of media ownership, FCC regulations in the U.S, media trade unions and labor issues, and other such worldwide regulating bodies, citizen media (low power FM, community radio) -- have ethical implications......
The media has manipulated the way public officials conduct themselves through the advancement of technology. Constant television coverage displays the legislative proceedings; exposing faster than ever before, unjust rulings throughout the government process. Truth telling is crucial in media ethics as any opposition of truth telling is considered deception. Anything shown by the media whether print or video is considered to be original. When a statement is written in an article or a video is shown of a public official, it is the original “truthful” words of the individual official themselves.
If values differ interculturally, the issue arises of the extent to which behaviour should be modified in the light of the values of specific cultures. Two examples of controversy from the field of media ethics:
One theoretical question for media ethics is the extent to which media ethics is just another topical subdivision of applied ethics, differing only in terms of case applications and raising no theoretical issues peculiar to itself. The oldest subdivisions of applied ethics are medical ethics and business ethics. Does media ethics have anything new to add other than interesting cases?
Privacy and honesty are issues extensively covered in medical ethical literature, as is the principle of harm-avoidance. The trade-offs between economic goals and social values has been covered extensively in business ethics (as well as medical and environmental ethics).
The issues of freedom of speech and aesthetic values (taste) are primarily at home in media ethics. However a number of further issues distinguish media ethics as a field in its own right.
A theoretical issue peculiar to media ethics is the identity of observer and observed. The press is one of the primary guardians in a democratic society of many of the freedoms, rights and duties discussed by other fields of applied ethics. In media ethics the ethical obligations of the guardians themselves comes more strongly into the foreground. Who guards the guardians? This question also arises in the field of legal ethics.
A further self-referentiality or circular characteristic in media ethics is the questioning of its own values. Meta-issues can become identical with the subject matter of media ethics. This is most strongly seen when artistic elements are considered. Benetton advertisements and Turner prize candidates are both examples of ethically questionable media uses which question their own questioner.
Another characteristic of media ethics is the disparate nature of its goals. Ethical dilemmas emerge when goals conflict. The goals of media usage diverge sharply. Expressed in a consequentialist manner, media usage may be subject to pressures to maximize: economic profits, entertainment value, information provision, the upholding of democratic freedoms, the development of art and culture, fame and vanity.