Ethics of News Gathering
Ethical issues have become a matter of global concern. Ethics refers to moral values that are held by an individual. An action is termed ethical if it complies with the set code of principles. Different professions have various moral standards, because ethical codes differ from one field to another. However, all ethical codes share the same elements (Merrill, 1997). Journalists have general agreements about ethical standards and practices that they are supposed to follow. Sometimes people think that the media is inaccurate and ends up not believing the news from particular media. All the journalists have faced challenges while gathering information from different sources. Unethical issues in journalism arise due to the acts of inaccuracy, the lack of objectivity, bias and propaganda. Journalism provides rough drafts for history, and, therefore, any information about the news should be accurate. Information should also be collected through the honest means. Maintaining high ethical standards is not only important to a media organization, but also to an individual. A journalist should give truthful information in a balanced manner to prevent persuading the audience towards his/her perspective on issues (Merrill, 1997).
News is defined as a new information that a person has not known know previously. News is described as the first-hand accounts based on direct observation of an incident or event. News is usually linear depending on the type of story. News writing and reporting should be very specific, and should not be manipulated.
Three Ethical Paths
Accuracy is very important on the ethical path of a journalist. Inaccurate reporting may give wrong information to the public, even though the information has been intended for a different purpose. The lack of accuracy can also ruin the reputation of the organization. Wrong reporting can cause unexpected negative reactions from the public. As a result, a journalist should seek information from reliable sources to avoid gathering inaccurate data. Accuracy is also based on the honesty of journalists, because they are tempted to change the actual collected information, and then the information becomes inaccurate. In the attempt to achieve accuracy, a journalist should not change a story to suit his interests or the interests of the interviewee. The accuracy of the information is sometimes affected when journalists accept to be bribed by free gifts from people who want a report or a story to favor them. Journalists should not take gifts in terms of money to safeguard information accuracy.
Objectivity means setting standards defining where to get information and whom to avoid. A journalist should set standards defining what he/she needs to research, what to ask and what not to ask at an interview. A journalist should have an objective of what he wants to accomplish. In doing so, a journalist will select only the information that will not cause harm to the public.
A journalist should have a balanced point of view while providing or gathering information. If information is not balanced, then the journalist ends up reporting the views of people who have been interviewed. Providing balanced information helps to avoid bias. Research is required while gathering information to avoid providing uninformed or inaccurate information to the public. Balanced information offers a fair representation without basing the argument on particular stereotypes (Freeman, 2007). A journalist should pay special attention on how he/she portrays a particular minority or race. Therefore, a journalist should evade the usage of ethical clichés and slang terms. Balanced information gathering means that the journalist needs to collect the information from credible sources. Such sources can provide information about anything, but a journalist should be in a position to tell whether this data is true. A balanced point of view should also be applied while referring to people with disability by using the correct language.
It is the journalists’ responsibility to ensure that they seek truthful information and report it. According to SPJ code of ethics, the basis of this ethical responsibility is stating the importance of validating statistics before use. In their responsibility to seek the truth, they should provide the right content of a story. A journalist may decide to simplify a story, and in such a case special care is required to avoid oversimplification or misinterpretation of information. Journalists should be truthful while making promises. They should take caution while making promises and make sure they adhere to their promises.
It is also the responsibility of journalists to inform and enlighten the public (Russell, 2011). Informing the public is the basis for justice and democracy. The public has the right to know everything that is happening in the society, whether good or bad. Journalists are responsible for providing updated information that is not misleading to the public. They are also responsible for being the voice of the voiceless. They should not fear the powerful people, but rather they should confront them concerning issues about the public (Merrill, 1997).
Another ethical responsibility is acting independently. Journalists should gather information by avoiding the conflict of interests. They should act ethically by refusing to take free gifts or receiving special treatment. They should not pay a person or organization to access data. Lastly, journalists need to be transparent and accountable. Journalists should be accountable for their mistakes by acknowledging and correcting them. As part of their accountability, media organizations should control themselves and avoid public scrutiny. Journalists should follow their conscience, because self-conscience is right is most cases. At the same time, they should adhere to journalists’ ethical standards (Merrill, 1997).
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Choices and Ethical Dilemmas
Journalists find themselves in dilemmas as they gather and report news to the public. In most cases, journalists face dilemmas in matters concerning justice and confidentiality. There are times when journalists are required to assure their sources about confidentiality. This dilemma is common while collecting information regarding crime, especially when the source confesses having committed the crime after having been promised confidentiality. A journalist would like to keep his/her promise regarding confidentiality and at the same time he would like to fulfill his duty of serving the public interest by exposing this information. In such a case, a journalist should choose what to do by prioritizing the options. He/she should weigh options and choose to take the action that will bring more benefit than harm. For instance, if it is a matter of national security, then the journalist will need to report the issue and not keep it confidential.
Examples of Journalism
The first faulty example of journalism is the acceptance of benefits and free gifts by a CBC journalist in the process of gathering information as reported by the Blacklock’s Reporter (Korski, 2015). The report states that the CBC journalist accepted VIP rides in government-chartered aircraft to gather information intended to cover a story regarding environmental leadership. Accepting such privileges from the subjects of the story may alter information that needs to be reported. Accuracy is altered by the lack of honesty, as it is expected that the journalist are treated fairly by the cabinet of officials so as to write a story that favors their interests.
The second example from CBC media is when a news broadcaster Evan Solomon was fired after engaging in lucrative activities involving art business. The involvement in art deals is against the corporation’s ethical code of conduct, which states that employees should not be involved in the activities of personal interests. Just like in the first example, engaging in activities of personal interest may hinder the accuracy of the information (Desjardins, 2015).
The third example of journalism is whereby the business reporter at CBC has been criticized due to the conflict of interest in the processes of gathering and reporting information. She does not always provide accurate information. At times, she reports information that supports her interests (Desjardins, 2015).
Firstly, the organizations should offer training regarding ethical policies to their employees from time to time. Some employee may not take ethical practices seriously if they are not reminded of them constantly. Secondly, the organizations should also give promotions in terms of results from evaluations of ethical practices. Employees are promoted not only based on their performance or personal qualities, but also due to how they handle ethical dilemmas and issues. As a result, the employees become more committed to following ethical standards. Thirdly, media organizations like CBC should prepare employment contracts that explain all ethical policies and state the consequences of failing to adhere to those policies. If employees are aware of consequences of unethical practices upon employment, then they can do their best to avoid them.
Ethical practices may differ across different fields, but they share the same elements. Journalists should follow the ethical standards of journalism when processing or gathering information. This information should be accurate, not biased or manipulated for personal interests. Journalist have a set of commonly agreed ethical standards and practices, and, therefore, there should be no conflicts regarding what is ethical and what is not. Journalists are also faced with ethical dilemmas, but there are still available guidelines on how to deal with particular dilemmas.