In this class we’ve tried to touch on a variety of
ethics problems media practitioners might face.
We began by talking about whether we can
rightfully learn ethics at all in a class
Should ethical relativism be our guide?
Most of us seemed to think it should not.
Ethical relativism does not offer the possibility
of critical scrutiny.
“Everybody has the right to his opinion.” But
we have the responsibility to critically consider
We decided, perhaps, instead that
“Everybody’s opinion has the right to be
The danger with believing that ethics is relative
to a society’s standards, and that society’s
differ from each other—is that you end up
condoning such society’s as Nazi Germany or
Pol Pot’s Cambodia.
Just because it’s a moral view of a society
doesn’t mean it’s “equally correct.”
Personal bias is the basis for ethical decisions of
But we as media practitioners have a greater
responsibility to consider our prejudices more
critically—because our decisions can affect
thousands, perhaps millions.
The goal of this class was to help us find ways
to do that through critical analysis.
It was not designed to be indoctrination. Of the
cases covered this semester, you probably don’t
recall very often the instructor offering his
That’s because the instructor’s opinion on these
cases doesn’t matter. What matters is the
process you go through to make your own
How do we consider complicated factors in an
I hoped this class would give you some system
of considering the evidence, your values, the
alternatives, and the defense of your decision.
The ethics worksheet offers one way to do that.
Having a decision-making system helps us
really consider what’s at stake, who is
involved, and what you believe.
The defense of your decision was emphasized,
because media people often have to defend
ethical decisions, and they often don’t do a
very good job of that.
You’ll hear many media people say they make
decisions “on a case-by-case basis.” But
guidance is available if you recognize it.
Every major media organization has a code of
ethics designed to help us make decisions—but
a lot of folks in the media don’t even realize
Even if codes have their limits, as we
discovered, they can help.
We also have to remember that media ethics is
more than journalism—it applies to the entire
spectrum of communication-related disciplines.
So some final thoughts. In a world full of
cynicism, people responsible for one of
society’s most powerful forces, the media, need
some sense of responsibility to consider the
impact of their exercise of this power.
Secondly, it seems we need to understand a
little more about how ethical decisions that we
and others make affect distribution of power in
Power is distributed through distribution of
Those with the information have power to
make decisions in a democracy.
The media are in the information business,
supplying and redistributing information to
those who do not have it. And when they have
it, they can take action.
The ability to take action is the definition of