Moral Difficulties Involved in War Reporting

Topics: United States, Iraq War, 2003 invasion of Iraq Pages: 13 (3407 words) Published: March 26, 2010
Moral Difficulties Involved
in War Reporting

Contents

Introduction………………………………………………………………….page 3

Historical perspective on the evolution of journalistic ethics……………….page 4

Deontology and Utilitarianism………………………………………………page 5

Ethical Dilemma: Should reporters ever leak and/or publish
classified information in a time of war? Arguments in favour……………...page 5

Ethical dilemma: Should reporters ever leak and/or publish
classified information in a time of war? Arguments opposed………………page 6

Applying principles of Deontology and Utilitarianism
to the ethical dilemma………………………………………………………page 8

Conclusion….………………………………………………………………page 10

Bibliography………………………………………………………………...page 11

Introduction

Journalists covering wars and conflicts are faced with numerous ethical dilemmas regarding professional codes of conduct, laws regulating national security and personal commitments to ideals such as the public’s right to know, and acting as the fourth estate (with the first three estates being the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government).

Of the ethical theories we studied in the Communication Ethics course, I chose to compare and contrast Deontology and Utilitarianism, describe how they apply to a specific moral difficulty, and detail what conclusions can be drawn.

For brevity sake, I have left out such theories as Justice and Fairness, Care Ethics, Virtue Ethics, and Moral Intuition as described by Jordin and Beaken (2009). I have also left out numerous other dilemmas, such as the role advocacy or bias plays in the journalism profession as it relates to war and conflict.

Here are just a few of the contemporary moral difficulties that could be examined:

1. Should reporters use neutral labels to describe terrorists? When is a terrorist a terrorist?

2. When can wartime photos and video incite violence? What are the journalist's responsibilities?

3. Should reporters ever leak and/or publish classified information in a time of war?

4. Can (and should) news media be used for war propaganda or censorship?

5. What would public support have been like for WWI, WWII or Korea if there had been unlimited and unregulated scrutiny as there is today with broadcast and digital media?

The conflict I am specifically examining, and the moral difficulties it presents, involves the current conflict in Iraq.

To thoroughly examine one dilemma within this paper’s space limitation, I have chosen number three: should reporters ever leak and/or publish classified information in time of war? It is in this area that, while researching the above moral difficulties, I found a significant variation in attitude from war to war.

Historical perspective on the evolution of journalistic ethics

I found it is useful to place this examination within the historical context and journalistic attitudes of just a few of many past conflicts reaching as far back as the American Revolutionary War period.

Ben Franklin was one of America’s earliest and most influential journalists (Burns 2006). Burns says (p. 91), “. . . he was as ethical a journalist as America produced in the eighteenth century. Yet, he deceived on occasion, but only because he thought it was a better way to tell a story, and only because he believed his readers were sophisticated enough to know the ruse and understand that it served a deeper purpose.”

Franklin’s newspaper, magazine, and others he inspired covered political and foreign news and wars. War reporting of the French and Indian War of 1754 to 1763, which began in Europe as the Seven Years’ War, provided exciting reading to colonists. Reports were common of troop movements, battles and scalpings. Advocacy journalism was in full flourish, and readers were encouraged (Burns 2006, p. 121) “. . . to resist their French and Indian attackers.”

As taxes were increased in the colonies, newspapers began to encourage disobedience and a boycott of...

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BAUDER, Julia (2009). Media ethics. Michigan, Greenhaven Press.
BERKOWITZ, Bill (2003). Escalating secrecy wars. WorkingForChange.com, 9 July. [online]. Last accessed 21 Dec. 2009 at: http://www.alternet.org/story/16369/
BRUCE, James (2007)
BURNS, Eric (2006). Infamous scribblers. New York, Public Affairs.
HATCHEN, William (2000). Reporting the Gulf War. In: Graber, Mark A., Media Power in politics. Washington D.C., CQ Press, pp. 304-312.
JORDIN, Martin. Ethical Theories. In: Communication ethics, Revised (2009) by Beaken, Mike. Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University, pp. 14-30.
MITCHELL, Greg (2008). So wrong for so long. New York, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
RICHARDS, Ian (2005). Quagmires and quandaries: exploring journalism ethics. Australia, University of New South Wales Press Ltd.
SCHOENFELD, Gabriel (2007). Why journalists are not above the law. Commentarymagazine.com, Feb. [online]. Last accessed 20 Dec. 2009 at:
http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/why-journalists-are-not-above-the-law-10827
TAPPER, Jake (2001). Bush scolds Congress. Salon.com, 9 Oct. [online]. Last accessed 20 Dec. 2009 at:
http://www.salon.com/politics/feature/2001/10/09/bush/index1.html
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