Ethics in journalism are not mandatory. (http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp) Journalism has power that should not be misused or abused, yet journalism as a whole, does not embrace these ethics because adherence is voluntary. Journalists and media companies are the ones to make that choice. If we do not question these practices, they may never adopt mandatory standards.
Let’s look at the bigger picture: by not having ethics mandatory, it alludes the very standards outlined in ethics are not “important enough” to make the standards mandatory because it is left as a choice which is well accepted. It means that people can use deception, write garbage, lies, and intentionally distort the facts in a story if the author so chooses. It means that people like Martin Bashir, Diane Dimond, Nancy Grace and their ilk can deceive someone and still profit greatly by doing so. We do ourselves a disservice by allowing that to happen. In all fairness, the problem is also our responsibility as we decide whether we listen to them or not. Several “journalists” and company decision makers demonstrate that they don’t care as much about ethics, morality, fairness, their own integrity, or the impact they can have on their subjects when they focus on sensationalism rather than truth and facts. This demonstrates they care about their careers, making money and increasing ratings through the “quality” of their work. People may have an interest to their ideas or comments, however, news reporting is not meant to include another’s personal interpretation. Public attention to gossip and fodder only reinforces them to behave without ethical and moral responsibility. Had ethics in journalism been mandatory, news media would HAVE to present facts, and take care to represent facts honestly without bias, without prejudice, or media “spin”. MILLIONS have access to news in ONE production or publishing. With the increasing availability to the internet, millions more have access to news media that was once only available in certain countries. For that reason alone, the news media is an entity has as much power and influence over a person’s life as the kind of power other professions (with ethical standards) have to those they serve. Its time news reporting as an entity becomes a responsible and ethical as it was meant to be.
There are many benefits to having professional standards. In psychology and medical professions, it means standards to care are honored in the client’s best interests. Doctors are upheld to a high standard to ensure proper and quality treatment to all and everyone alike. In judicial/law professions, enforced ethics help ensure that people are treated fairly and mandate professionals to serve the public with quality justice practices and competence. Standards strive to ensure competence as best they can and they discourage behavior that satisfies personal agenda as that behavior is biased. In having ethics, the roles of each profession are kept in a “check and balance” through a governing board. Ethics include codes in conduct that each profession is obligated to adopt for the best quality service one can give.(http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx , http://www.law.duke.edu/lib/researchguides/legale , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_ethics )
When professionals with mandated ethics in their field make infractions, they stand to lose their licences and businesses. If news, investigative reporters or companies lost their licenses due to infractions in ethics, they would care more about ethical standards and quality to the public they serve. Considering the world relies on the media for their connection to the outside world they should govern themselves ethically. People actually trust the media. While it is recognized that not all investigative journalists/media companies are unethical, they are few and far between.
The bigger picture is that individuals like Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Princess Diana and several other celebrities could have rested better at night and not have to endure unnecessary public scrutiny. The emotional impact they all endured due to lies in the media was very cruel and it is equivalent to bullying on a massive scale. The problem is compounded as media bullying can become world-wide bullying by extension to others who are NOT in the media. The quality of their lives could have been made better without having to worry about “what garbage will the media print next”. Research about the psychological effects to bullying, PTSD and Complex PTSD are detailed here:(http://www.bullyonline.org/stress/ptsd.htm) When the personal effects to media bullying causes a person to suffer severely emotionally, it is another reason why journalism needs to be accountable for their actions. Celebrities are not immune to any emotional trauma.
Part of the bigger picture: the media as a whole serves the public. Aren’t celebrities part of the public they serve? Don’t THEY deserve the respect and dignity honored in other professions? Don’t YOU as part of public they serve deserve to know the truth and with fairness to everyone?
Ethics in journalism does not mean that Freedom of Speech or the press would be compromised to the extent some could think. These “rights” were intended so that no subject would be censored. It meant that “topics” could be freely written without retribution, but these rights assumes ethics and morality are honored universally and meant for everyone as an individual entity in their right to autonomy and individuation. Journalists can express their opinions and thoughts – ethics addresses that aspect as the journalist would be expected to indicate which is opinion, individual thought or idea as theirs from fact. The aspect that journalists are individuals too and their profession is entwined with “expression” should not be reason to disregard ethics or morality simply because they have a right to express their opinions and ideas. It is because they have power to influence millions with one article and there is the difference between individuation and rights with professional responsibility.
Freedom of Press entails freedom of speech reasoning but at the same time, it was meant so that journalists could write about any event of their choosing; however, it was never meant to allow someone to just write or comment about anything, truth or not, without accountability and responsibility considering there are laws against slander. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_the_press) Since Freedom of Speech allows individuals to have opinions and formulate ideas and Freedom of the Press was formulated with those rights in mind, journalism as a profession has opened up to allow journalists to write about their ideas and opinions. This is called “commentary” in journalism. However, commentary is abundant and lately, it nearly replaces responsible journalism when commentaries are the bulk content in “news” reporting. This is where there is a gray area between freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
Real news is not commentary. Journalism is defined as: writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts/description of events without attempt at interpretation; writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest. (Webster Dictionary) The operative phrase in the definition is exactly without attempt at interpretation. When the news and investigative reporters present ideas and commentary without the balance to facts, the relationship between fact and their own opinions becomes cloudy to the reader. This is the point to where journalism as a whole abandons the very definition to which their profession was founded, especially when they are allowed to ignore the ethical considerations through selective choice if they produce biased journalism. Some journalism ethics such as OFCOM were made in respect to universal human rights as well as rights given to freedom of speech. (http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/broadcasting/) They need to balance this better because what has happened is that commentary journalism is now mainstream news reporting.
Commentaries are simply just that: its someone’s opinion. Sure, journalists should have a right to express themselves just as we do, but they are not supposed to use commentaries as means to persuade the public to a pre-conceived perception. When stories are not backed up by verified, reliable sources, when they are without all the facts, and without proper investigation/citation, all the writing becomes is someone’s perception based on partial information. The bulk content of a news based article should be made with researched facts. After all, we should be allowed to base our own thoughts on truth when regarding the news. Isn’t that what journalism is meant to be?