Chapter 80

Media Ethics


Media ethics is the study of (1) how media practitioners act when making decisions that affect other people, species or natural systems, and (2) how media practitioners should act in making these decisions. The first is descriptive ethics; the second is normative ethics. Choice of actions may be examined on an individual practitioner (micro) level or on an organizational or institutional (macro) level.

Judgments of what is ethically prohibited, permitted, required and ideal in a specific situation are based on understandings from philosophical theory as well as on professional conventions and codes. New technologies that afford opportunities outside traditional boundaries complicate the development of and adherence to professional conventions because new technologies allow for behaviors that are not anticipated or addressed by assumed conventions.

Philosophical theories that serve as the foundation for media ethics draw first on libertarian doctrines that emphasize freedom of expression as essential for self-governing citizens. However, theories that focus on freedoms are paired with those that emphasize social responsibility and communitarian concerns, owing to the harms that can be caused to individuals and vulnerable groups by mass communication.

Two thousand years of Western moral philosophy can be summed up as philosophers finding different ways to articulate a single mantra: “Do your job and don’t cause unjustified harm.” Philosophical ...

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