by Ingrida Andrijauskaite
Journalism without borders: ethical dilemmas?
The doctor comes to the hospital ward and says to the patient:
- Patient, I have some news for you – good and bad. Which do you want to hear first?
- No, just tell me the bad news, I don’t want to hear the good news at all – the patient said
- Why? – the doctor asked
- You see, I am a journalist!
This anecdote assumes that this is the reality of journalism now. Journalists want to show and inform us about the bad news, because it‘s said that good news is not as interesting for people as bad news is. The media lends great attention to the topics related to death, violence, acts of terrorism, war, natural disasters. Ethics is sometimes absent from decisions concerning how to show these news stories to the general public.
Often, the media intends to shock or cause controversy with the features it shows. Let’s look at an example – the very popular TV serial “Family Guy”. Every scene includes black humour with shocking, satirical content. An important part of this is devoted to the TV news, with the anchors Tom Tucker and Diane Simmons only presenting negative or unbelievable news.
The authors of “Family Guy” have made an effort to show that the media is not just showing too much populist, cheap information, but also that it focuses attention to news which is controversial. This TV show implies that journalists don’t care about ethics.
In reality, the majority of journalists confront ethical dilemmas in their jobs; theoretically it is easy to comply with the rules of ethics, but it’s more complex in practice. Amongst communities of professional journalists, there is an ongoing debate about the need for ethical practice, but it is still difficult to find actionable solutions to ethical issues.
One of the dilemmas facing journalists is freedom of speech. Quite often, there is arguably a fine line between morality and immorality when it comes to telling the truth.
Lithuanian media professor Audrone Nugaraite has said, that “Journalism is telling the truth and building the community. These values are fundamental for the new media channels. The future of journalism is inseparable from ethics, because otherwise there wouldn‘t be democracy. Ethical value is growing, and the practice needs to be shaped with examples in law.”
Effective criteria for the Media news
Today, one of the most important things to do is look around and see what the Media looks like without “borders“.
The main objective for creating the news remains the same – it’s purpose is not just to be informative, but also to have emotional impact on people.
If we are more interested in how the media generates the news, we can find a lot of different criteria to be considered. For example the scientists Brooks, Kenedy, et al. distinguish the main values of knowledge criteria for the news:
- impact (how and how much the “event” touches a person and his/her feelings. Theoretically, the higher the level of the impact created by an event, the more significant it is);
- proximity (people are interested in events which geographically closer to them);
- timeliness (the event must be completely new, so that the news is useful to the public. It also must be prepared in time);
- uniqueness (in the news, there must be something novel, unique and unusual);
- human interest (empathy for the successes and celebrations, or failures and hardships, of other people);
- tension (people should be interested in how the story progresses; what will happen in the end);
Another ethical issue mentioned by the media professional is social media. Social networks are progressively having a greater impact on journalists, as now these channels are used extensively for finding materials.
The impact of Social media on Journalism
We can see that journalists actively use social media channels, like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc., as these platforms help them to learn more quickly about events from different countries.
On the one hand, it is very good that traditional media such as TV, newspapers and radio actively use the virtual information space, as it allows for quick transmission of news and an easy way to source stories. But what about the authenticity of this information? Often the views shown to us via TV or social media channels are very unethical.
Social media allows for journalists to find great stories more quickly, but here begins one of the problems – the majority of journalists don’t stop to research events more thoroughly and they don’t conduct a proper analysis.
Journalists “catch” short news from Twitter or other social media platforms and then rush to report this. Reporters try to find some people who can provide them general information, so they do an interview and write a small amount of text, with most of the feature devoted to a video, which clearly has to be memorable.
Often journalists forget about rules or disciplines of ethics, because they’re focused on the search for the “best” news.
The example of “Charlie Hebdo”
All of Europe are still reeling from the terrorist attacks in France. A lot of media channels have spoken about them in the French satirical weekly magazine “Charlie Hebdo”. But the main information was provided in the form of primary sources, with video footage. For example, engineer Jordi Mir posted a short video on Facebook, which recorded the cold-blooded murder of a Parisian policeman by a terrorist in the street.
The news agency “The Associated Press” published this footage as proof of the horrific event. This short video has become the most shocking depiction of the French three-day drama that began the mass slaughter and ended in the deaths of four hostages and three terrorists. This video has caused worldwide outrage. British tabloids called it “shocking” and “a cause of disgust”.
This story is an example of social media ethics today, with people trying to “catch” everything which is unusual, unbelievable or shocking and then sharing this with others users of social networks, either as evidence or just for the sake of novelty. Later they may regret sharing this content.
As engineer Jordi Mir explained, it was his ten years of experience using social media which gave him the habit of sharing everything he saw. And he is not the only person who is like this – a lot of people use social networks to share everything that is happening to them. They are a virtual second life for many people.
Unfortunately, journalists actively follows social networks too and sometimes it doesn’t care whether newsworthy videos or images were acquired ethically. If they concern important events and attract attention, they will be showed openly in order to provide viewers with the facts.
Perhaps, we can’t solely blame the media for every slip in ethics, because she shows the reality of the world in which we all live these days.