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There is an age old question about the relationship between ethics and the law. It is difficult to determine whether it is ethics that determine the kind of laws that are passed or it is the law that determines what we hold as ethics. The relationship is particularly ambiguous in the realm of journalistic ethics and journalistic law…
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. ...
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