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Ethics in Media: Theories and Practices Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 27th, 2020

According to the Oxford Dictionary, ethics has to do with what is right, fair, equitable, accountable, and dutiful (Ward 7). Ethics has an implied meaning in media. It is understood as a series of principles governing the journalists towards unbiased and objective reporting. In media, ethical practice is vital as it has a huge impact on the general public.

The media industry has decades acted as the public watchdog for the past few. It has been labeled the mouthpiece of the underprivileged. Informed and decisive reporting is what is expected of it (Black and Roberts 2). But it has consistently failed to honor this privilege. It has adopted varied principles that barely define media ethics. This paper will attempt to explore what media ethics is all about and what makes a story unethical.

Ethical Values

Literally, ethical values deal with right conduct and good life or simply a good work ethic. Impliedly, ethical values are a set of principles that govern virtuous behavior. Media ethics cuts across the entire media industry, including the Internet.

Though the Internet is a bit complex as far as ethics are concerned, it has not been spared of the chaos either (Plaisance 2-4). Governments across the globe read from the same script on the set standards for all media houses. Some of these ethics are truthfulness, conflict of interest, sensationalism, and authenticity, and confidence, invasion of privacy, and appropriateness of the pictures.


Literally, truthfulness denotes the quality of being honest and open. Impliedly, media houses are only credible and unbiased if they are reporting accurate and verified news to avoid legal confrontation, loss of confidence, and a drop in the market share. Despite this conventional wisdom, newspapers, radios, and televisions find themselves in danger of reporting rumors and misleading the public (Pattyn 3-5).

There are a number of cases that are associated with insincere reporting. A case in point is the story published in the News Week in 2005 alleging that an American interrogator flushed a Koran down a toilet (Kurtz par. 2-4). This incidence captured the Muslim community by a storm of protests that occurred in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Indonesia, among other Muslim countries, causing the death of sixteen people.

Conflict of interest

Literally, conflict of interest is a situation that can easily undermine the independence of a person as a result of the likely clash between the self-interest and public interest or even professional interest. Impliedly, in media, the organization may at times take issues with the stories some of their journalists cover (Pollock 251).

Stories that can damage the reputation of the company are nullified before they get published or aired. Editors, on the other hand, are warned on the kind of stories to publish. These cases are some of the ethical dilemmas that journalists face in the course of their careers (Pattyn 3).


Literally, sensationalism is basically creating a public hype. Impliedly, in mass media, it is all about presenting stories in a manner that provokes public excitement or interest, at the cost of accuracy. News organizations sometimes focus on less important stories to trigger a positive reaction from their audience.

Such stories are only meant to attract advertisements and revenue to keep the organizations above their counterparts (Gross 2-3). In journalism, a story with significance to the news organization changes the roles of the media from that of informing, educating, and entertaining to that of making people bored. Untimely strategies of this kind have forced many media houses to close shops.

Authenticity and appropriateness

Literally, authenticity and appropriateness denote doing things honestly. The implied meaning is that, in mass media, it is all about editing pictures in ways that do not create any conflict. Any manipulation with the photo portrays a different image, thus giving room for defamation cases. This applies when the picture has been magnified beyond the required length (Gross 16-20). Many organizations are victims of manipulation of photos.

Most of these photojournalists violated the code of ethics spelled out in the National Press Artists Association (NPAA), which states in part that it is unethical to alter or change the image or configuration of photographs in a manner that deceives people (NPPA par. 2-4). Ethics to have shortcoming as far as their authenticity is concerned. If a photo is manipulated into a cartoon, there are no damages for defamation as none can justify that the cartoon looks like him.

Invasion of privacy

Literally, invasion of privacy is derived from two words with different meanings altogether. Invasion means to intrude or report what individuals perceive as secret. Privacy also refers to anything that cannot be exposed to the public. Impliedly, invasion of privacy as the intrusion into another’s personal life without just cause (American Press Association par. 3-4).

This gives the person whose privacy has been invaded a reason to bring a lawsuit for damages against the person or entity that invaded. Such cases are rare, but journalists are at a higher risk of lawsuits. However, there are limitations to the law of pornography. If one willingly or otherwise took photos and displayed them on the Internet for all to see, whether the person was ridiculed, there would be no room for complaint. All these laws are spelled out in the publication act.

Internet ethics

Literally, Internet ethics is all about respecting the property and rights of other people on the Internet (Plaisance 2-4). Impliedly, in media, it has something to do with violating the ethical standards of media by reporting rumor and hearsay. Nelson Mandela, for instance, was reported to have died while he was unconscious in hospital in some of South Africa’s social sites and tabloids.

The latest case of Murdock intruding phone conversations and reporting them in the UK’s leading tabloid led to the closure (Simmons and Johnston par. 20-26). Quality is a news value that all look up to. But this seems to have changed significantly on the Internet as most poor quality articles find space in the net.

Furthermore, the Internet has limited the valid media houses from selling top content as they produce tones of rumors to stay ahead of competitors. Some governments are fighting to have control of the content in the public domain (Gross 7-13). The government of China leads in this competition as all its sites are manned from a central server in the government. This model has limited the suicidal websites, as well as the pornographic sites that impact its citizens negatively.

Anonymous sources

Literally, anonymous are information sources, who cannot be traced. Impliedly, in mass media, it must be proven that the news presented is accurate, clear, and less skeptical.

But newspapers and TVs opt to use anonymous sources to avoid a breach of confidence (American Press Association par. 2-4). This development has killed credibility as most journalists have made its tendency. Media ethics dictate that if anonymous sources must be used, they must not exceed two. The use of this source has created a new crop of journalists who only report stories inaccurately.

Works Cited

American Press Association. Code of Conduct for American Press Association Journalists and Photographers. 2014. Web.

Black, Jay and Chris Roberts. Doing Ethics in Media: Theories and Practical Applications. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, 2011. Print.

Gross, Larry. Image ethics in the digital age. Minneapolis, u.a.: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. Print.

Kurtz, Howard. . 2005. Web.

NPPA. NPPA Code of Ethics. 2012. Web.

Pattyn, Bart. Media ethics: opening social dialogue. Leuven, Germany: Peeters, 2000. Print.

Plaisance, Patrick Lee. Media ethics: key principles for responsible practice. Los Angeles, LA: SAGE, 2009. Print.

Pollock, Joycelyn. Ethical Dilemmas and Decisions in Criminal Justice. New Tork, NY.: Cengane Learning, 2011. Print.

Simmons, Keir and Ian Johnston. Key US lawmaker watching as Rupert Murdoch, UK press brace for phone-hacking report. 2012. Web.

Ward, Stephen. Ethics and the Media: An Introduction. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.

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