Media Ethics

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There are two opposing views on new media and journalism ethics. On one side, professional journalists tend to argue that new media undermine professional ethics. Bloggers flout the rules, in turn putting more pressure on journalists to rush stories out and take less care in sourcing stories and policing conflicts of interest. For professional journalists the solution to the problem is to tighten up: update the journalism codes and apply them to new media and as for the bloggers, try to include the best of these imposters in the professional fold, and teach them how to work like the professionals. On the other hand the bloggers and tweeters argue that that online media are developing their own ethical systems based on distributed intelligence and the wisdom of crowds.  That new media come with new ethics, not less ethics, and that ‘journalistic professional ethics’ have always been a bit of a myth anyway. The debate has at times descended into an exchange of insults: Established journalists say the bloggers have no standards and are responsible for spreading lies and insults. And on the other hand bloggers and citizen journalists roll their eyes and point to the latest scandal involving ‘so called professional journalists’ and failures of ‘so called self-regulation.’ Of course, neither of these groups is entirely right, but they each have a point. My argument is that we need a little bit of theory, and a much wider perspective to understand what is going and to think about some solutions to the current predicament. In one view, journalism ethics comes down to individual conscience and integrity. This of course raises the problem of ‘human error’. Not everyone is a saint, and given the frequency of ethical failure, we have to accept that there are various incentives at work, not all of which spur journalists to act within the rules. Some see it as a legal necessity to act ethically. But in Europe at least the law tends to...
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