In other words, ethics is internally self determined rather that externally enforced. But ethics itself is written down as a guide on the practice of different professions such as journalism, medicine and law. This is done to avoid excesses in the practice of the profession. Law, on the other hand, is itself a set of laid down ethics. The basic difference between law and ethics is, therefore, that one is determined by government legislation while the other is determined by practitioners of journalism, or other trade, themselves.
The laws that are of most concern to journalists are definitely defamation and libel. The former differs from the latter in that it is concerned with the spoken word while the other deals primarily with the written. Both laws govern against publication of material or information that is detrimental to the reputation and standing in society of individuals, provided that such published material is either false or cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt to be true. Where such information is published, the individual mentioned adversely in the publication has a right to sue the journalists concerned, and if successful, is entitled to compensation relative to the extent of damage done as determined by a court of law. Members of the journalism profession are faced with the dilemma of choosing between telling the truth and the imminent danger of being sued legally for libel or defamation. Where there isn't sufficient evidence to support an adverse story, editors may be left with no choice but to stop publicizing of a story.
Even the fact that journalism is the only private trade that is explicitly recognized by the constitution in many countries, such as the first amendment in the US constitution, the relationship between the fourth estate and government remains a thorny one. In most cases, individuals who bring up libel cases are public figures involved directly in governance. Matters of public interest such as official misappropriation of public funds and corruption may not see the light of day through the media since there is a difficult choice between the potential damage it can do to the persons mentioned if in the end proved not to be true. Journalists in some cases advocate for objectivity in reporting a story as sufficient ground for exemption from legal proceedings, a view that is seen as self- serving government.
All the same, the media holds a privileged status in society since it is the most effective way of checking excesses in government; but is austerely governed by both its internal ethics and the long arm of the law. Most journalists prefer the former to the latter.
2. Advertisers influence media content and the resultant ethical issues.
Adverts form a large part of media content, since the media depend on advertisers for their income. It is estimated that more than a third of the content carried by the media is adverts. This puts the media in direct conflict with the government time and again.
One ethical issue that brings the government into direct conflict with the media is the impact of advertisement on minors who are still not old enough to make fully informed choices. Such an impact on the formative and highly impressionable minds of children is critically examined. The interest of the advertisers is to influence children to buy products by creating the impression that their lives are incomplete without