Do ethical theories help journalists do their job? With ethical theory defined as an organised body of thought that explains what are the right/good and wrong/bad thoughts and practices (Williams 2006, p. 72) makes it not only very useful but necessary to journalists in doing their job, because it helps them discern the best course of action they should take in situations that put them in a dilemma…
101). In the conduct of their profession, journalists are practically confronted with various ethical dilemmas that it would be better for them to be armed with ethical theories than not. Furthermore, ethical theory becomes more important to journalists given the impact they can create to their readership (public opinion) and the society (public values) as a whole – which according to Iggers (1998, p. 15) makes journalism ethics unique – especially in this era of corporate journalism wherein the interest of capital often clashes with that of the public, putting in jeopardy journalism’s long-held principles as defined by the Society of Professional Journalists (1973): “Seek truth and report it; minimize harm; act independently; and be accountable” (Friend & Singer 2007, p. xix; Boeyink & Sandra 2010, p. 17; Black & Roberts 2011, p. 51). Hanlin (1992, p. 28) is perfectly understandable to say that “many critics might agree with the suggestion that any man rich enough to buy a newspaper should not be allowed to own one.” This statement simply illustrates how the situation and the organisation in which journalists perform their profession today make journalism ethically challenging. It is easy to criticise journalists in fulfilling their profession. But the very condition in which journalists perform their profession oftentimes puts them in situations that test their ethical principles. For example, while journalists are committed to reporting the truth – which is believed to be the core of journalism – finding the truth, especially the dangerous ones, is actually something not easy to achieve in legal and even ethical ways. So, what course of action should journalists take if the only way to find the truth is either by stealing the information or by using deceptive strategies? (Jackson 1992, p. 69) Would it be unethical to go into stealing, lying and deceiving in the name of truth? But what would happen with journalism if it defaults in finding out and reporting the truth? The answer to this question will surely vary depending on the ethical theory that journalists hold onto. For example, one may find the task to bring out the truth by any means more important than observing the law. Anyway, it is often argued that not all that is legal is ethical and not all that is ethical may be legal. It may also be argued that the end justify the means. Added to this ethical dilemma is the issue of confidentiality in journalism. The News Manual defines the centrality of confidentiality of sources in the ethics of journalism on the basis of trust. Meaning, journalists may divulge information given in confidence, but must protect the identity of their sources not unless the sources permit journalists to name them. Any breach on this agreement might jeopardize the whole profession, because in the future sources may no longer give sensitive information in confidence. (Ingram & Henshall, 2008) In relation to acquiring information through illegal means, journalists can deny it by opting to invoke this confidentiality clause. But to resort to such trick only worsens the ethical dilemma because aside from lying, this clause that is meant to protect sources is maliciously used. Though the confidentiality clause can be misused by journalists to get away with the law, this same clause can also put journalists into an extremely difficult situation. In ...
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