Breit argues “Ethics affect how people view right and wrong, good and bad, what is responsible and the effectiveness of accountability”. Why can ethics be problematic in media and communication industries and what solutions are viable? Ethics is a multi-dimensional concept which is difficult to define. One definition put forward by Breit (2007, p. 308) emphasises ethics as ‘the process of decision-making aimed at making the right choices’ and how ‘people view right and wrong’.
Despite the myriad of theories that have been postulated throughout history, ethics in media and communication industries continues to come under scrutiny since the notion of converging ethics into communication industries is essentially an oxymoron.
This is because the act of public persuasion can be perceived as inherently unethical and it is therefore impossible to have ‘ethical communication’ (Demetrious, 2010).
In order to counteract this discrepancy, a range of theories have been developed that can help media and communication practitioners develop ethical competencies, without compromising their duty toward their occupation and workplace.
Why are ethics important? Most public communicators, who deal with powerful technology that reach mass audiences, are confronted with ethical decision making as an implicit part of their professional practice (Demetrious, 2010). Therefore, it is essentially important to pay attention to ethics because the mass media has the potential to affect and influence copious amounts of people.
How can ethics be problematic? Furthermore, many media and communication industries are not simply neutral purveyors of information. The information these industries release is often subjective and biased, and so may not necessarily reflect the thoughts and opinions of the wider community. Hence, media and communication industries are often, creators and shapers of culture and are institutionalized agents of acculturation. Thus, if the information is unethical, it can have a onsiderable influence on the adoption of the behavior patterns of the surrounding culture, whether the initial source came from a journalist, public relations practitioner or a media release (Valerie, 2004). Here Deetz (1990) draws heavily upon how unethical communication is aroused in a communications workplace environment. Deetz puts forward that ethical issues in the workplace are not the result of interpersonal ethics but instead are a failure to recognise systemic abuses that can occur behind the veil of “ethical”, democratic communication.
In other words, he positions that unethical communication is not the consequence of an individual’s moves or even intentions but how the powerful and influential communication industry engage persons and groups. Unethical communication often occurs when the entire workplace embrace the workplace situation they find themselves in. The remoteness between the wider public and the media industry within communicative contexts and the public’s inability to influence media industries creates power imbalance within these two groups.
Consequently those with the power in the large industries can maintain dominant positions and represent their own interests at the expense of those not allowed equal voice in the discourse, those being the public. This represents an inequitable distribution of power in communication (Harris 2010). A Case Study of Problematic Ethics The James Hardie Industries case study demonstrates a raft of complex legal and ethical issues surrounding the widespread health crisis linked to the production of asbestos in Australia several years ago.
Moreover, it exposes the conceptual weakness in theories of public communication that present almost irresolvable issues for practitioners that seek to practice ethical communication (Demetrious, 2010). James Hardie demonstrated that when public communication, or in this case ‘public relations’, is used unethically, it can in fact conceal the truth from the wider public. In this instance, James Hardie used his communication advantage and abused his power to mislead the public, creating a foundation r trust to compensate asbestos victims in 2001. The case is an important reminder about the role ethics plays in professional communication practice. It shows how powerful language can be and how a culture of spin can work against an organisation. Likewise, that ‘spin’ is now being understood within legal environments and that the media releases have the potential to breach state legislation. It shows that public relations has a professional responsibility to give adequate and informed communication (Demetrious, 2010).
This case sends a strong message that large organizations cannot hide behind a public relations strategy and use congenial statements to manipulate the reader to a false and illusory understanding of a complex and important issue. Thus the case is significant for the public relations occupation as a whole (Demetrious, 2010). Solution A long term solution for reconciling the aforementioned ethical considerations involves adopting the various theories of ethics, which emphasise different aspects of the moral reasoning process. Breit (2007, pp. 12-313) argues that the three influential theories of ethics are deontological, teleological and virtue theories. Deontological theories Deontology theories of ethics focus upon action, where the action is ‘considered by itself, independently of the purpose, goal or end for which the action is performed. ’ Hence, this theory of ethics focuses on the duties, obligations to society and the notion of justice (Breit 2007, pp. 312-313). In a professional communication setting, this is likely to entail a responsibility to uphold peoples rights including freedom of speech, privacy, and remaining truthful and independent.
Since this theory focuses on the responsibility of action, those who pursue this notion would contain ethical characteristics such as accountability. Consequentialist theories Breit says that in this theory the focus is on the outcome of the action, and so ‘the ends justify the means’ (2007, p. 314). Government and anti-smoking organizations often implicitly use this theory to justify using actors or actresses in television commercials as opposed to genuine cancer sufferers in an attempt to put forward the consequences of smoking.
It can be therefore be argued that a somewhat misleading commercial can still be ethical, if the ultimate aim is to deter people from a habit which can cause significant health risks (Joshie, 2006) Virtue theories According to Breit (2007, p. 316), ‘Virtue-orientated ethics are concerned more with developing good character traits than acting in accordance with moral rules. Good actions flow from being a good person whose good character determines what is right
Virtue orientated ethical theories argue that what you do affects others, however, if you have a good character the chances are that you will know what is right and therefore your actions will have a positive effect. Two key categories of virtue theory are moral character and intellect. Virtue theories according to Breit, are becoming more important in areas such as media and communication as it is important to educate practitioners to understand that ‘ethics is more than action and consequence. It is a process of active decision making and human development’ (Breit 2007, p. 317).
To make a difference, ethics must be imbedded in the entire workplace environment and integrated into professional lives. There can be no teaching of ‘purely mechanical operations’, such as television camerawork, (note the aforementioned cigarette commercial) without addressing the ethical implications of these operations, including who is affected by the camera and how images can be manipulated. An adoption of the several theories of ethics will ultimately help people and communication industries make ‘the right choices’, which is essentially what the notion of ethics encompasses.
Cite this Ethics in Media
Ethics in Media. (2017, Mar 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/ethics-in-media/