The representatives of various media are supposed to follow certain ethical norms that affect the way in which they describe or discuss various individuals, social groups, and the trends that influence the life of the community. This paper is aimed at examining the notion of media ethics from a multi-cultural perspective because this analysis can show how journalists, film-makers, or advertisers coming from different countries can resolve various ethical dilemmas.
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Overall, it is possible to argue that media ethics is profoundly affected by the values imbedded in a certain culture. In this case, much attention should be paid to such aspects as collectivism, individualism, and attitudes towards risks or changes. Apart from that, one should mention that existing political and legal environment that profoundly influences the work of media. On the whole, the norms that guide the work of media can be varied and contested, and it is quite difficult to develop a theory of global media ethics since many people may have conflicting loyalties and priorities. They may not necessarily assess their actions from a global perspective. These are the main questions that should be examined more closely.
The influence of cultural, political, and legal norms on the work of media
Media ethics is largely based on such notions as responsibility and freedom. At first, people, who work in various fields of media, are expected to express their opinion in an open and impartial way. They must not distort relevant facts due to their political, corporate, or social affiliations. However, at the same time, they should consider the effects of their actions on the lives of other people. Thus, one can argue that these concepts interact with one another.
Yet, people, who belong to various cultures, do not always interpret these notions in different ways. For instance, in highly collectivistic cultures, the notion of freedom is restricted by the interests of a certain group such as family, company, or the society1. Certainly, a person can take different choices; nevertheless, these decisions must not contradict the interests and objectives of this group. This is one of the limitations that should be taken into account.
Overall, such attitudes can be observed in various Asian countries. In many cases, these cultural values can be reinforced by the long-standing political and social institutions. This argument is particularly relevant if one speaks about such a country as China. This country has various media, but they are not very likely to make arguments that can critique the policies of the Chinese state. It is not permissible to show that these policies can be flawed. Again, one should stress the idea that the legal norms are determined by the cultural values such as collectivism.
In turn, there are very individualistic cultures. This argument is particularly relevant if one speaks about North American and Western Europe. In this case, much attention is paid to the experiences and rights of a separate person whose needs are regarded as the main priority. In particular, an individual should take responsibility for his/her actions, rather than the actions of the entire group. This is one of the aspects that should be taken into consideration.
Furthermore, a person has the opportunity to define the scope of his/her responsibility. These cultural values have significant implications for media ethics. For instance, a person’s affiliation to a certain group must not affect his/her coverage and interpretations of different events or social phenomena that can affect the society. For instance, this argument is particularly relevant if one speaks about the work of journalists who must eliminate bias and prejudice from their work. They must insure impartial and accurate interpretation of different events, even if this coverage can adversely affect the reputation of a group such as an organisation or a community.
Overall, this behavior of mass media is also supported by existing legislation which limits the ability of the state to control the work of media. For instance, one can speak about such legal protections as the Fourth Amendment. Similar legal safeguards exist in other advanced countries. Therefore, one should not forget about the influence of political and legal environment on media ethics. To a great extent, legal and political norms are important for protecting the professional freedom of people who work in media.
When discussing the influence of culture, one should also speak about such a factor as the attitude towards risks and independent initiatives. In particular, journalists or other representatives of media can publish provocative materials that can raise controversy or challenge some of the assumptions that people may take for granted. In this case, one can speak about the work of film-makers who departed from some artistic or social conventions that could be accepted without any questioning.
For instance, one can mention the release of such films that highlighted the flaws of many social norms and values. One can mention the release of Stanley Kubrick’s films such as Lolita, Full Metal Jacket, or A Clockwork Orange. Each of them was criticised due to its graphic depiction of violence and emphasis on those social problems which many people preferred to overlook. To a great extent, the release of such movies is impossible in countries or cultures in which people tend to avoid risks and conflicts2. It should be mentioned that there are no legal requirements which can prevent them from producing media content that can give rise to criticism or controversy. Nevertheless, they prefer to avoid confrontations with the majority. This is one of the details that can be singled out.
Overall, I belong to a more individualistic culture, and this detail affects my evaluation of various issues, including the work of mass media. Therefore, I usually lay stress on the independence of media and their impartiality. They should be more important than political or social affiliations. Such attitudes are important for their ability to work in a professional way.
Media ethics in the globalised world
Certainly, this division of cultures into collectivistic and individual groups does not always reflect the realities of the modern globalised world in which people can easily adopt the values and norms which were initially typical of foreign cultures. These changes can be explained by various factors such as the development of information technologies, intensification of trade, and increasing communication between people belonging to various cultures.
Therefore, one should not suppose that the representatives of media always act according to pre-determined patterns. This is one of the points should be stressed. This argument is particularly important if one speaks about such Asian countries as South Korea or Japan in which mass media became much more open and transparent. To a great extent, this transformation was possible due to significant changes in their legislation. Finally, one should keep in mind that media is an umbrella term which incorporates many elements such as television, printed press, Internet, and so forth. Moreover, it is not possible to say that these media work in the same way. For instance, online media usually have more freedom because they give a greater degree of autonomy to users.
Theory of global media ethics
Admittedly, there are various theories that are supposed to depict the elements of a certain global ethics of media. For instance, one can mention such a theory as cosmopolitanism according to which the ethical obligations of a person should not be limited by national or cultural boundaries3. To a great extent, these models are based on the premise that there are certain values that can be shared by people coming from various countries. The main problem is that people cannot easily reconcile conflicting loyalties. In many cases, they attach more importance the interests of people who are similar to them in terms of culture or language. Thus, one cannot state that there are certain norms that can be obligatory to various representatives of media.
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On the whole, this discussion shows that media do not necessarily adhere to the same ethical standards. Moreover, the notion of global media ethics is often contested and varied. In this case, much attention should be paid to the influence of cultural and legal norms which can guide the work of journalists, film-makers, writers, and so forth. Among the main variables, one can distinguish the attitudes towards individualism or collectivism and the degree to which the government can intervene into the work of media. In many cases, they shape the work of bloggers, journalists, bloggers, and so forth. These are the main arguments that can be put forward.
Fayolle, Alain, Handbook of Research in Entrepreneurship Education: Contextual perspectives (New York: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2007).
Smetana, Judith, Adolescents, Families, and Social Development: How Teens Construct Their Worlds (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2010).
Ward, Stephen, Ethics and the Media: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
- Judith Smetana, Adolescents, Families, and Social Development: How Teens Construct Their Worlds, p. 70.
- Alain Fayolle, Handbook of Research in Entrepreneurship Education: Contextual Perspectives, p 230.
- Stephen Ward, Ethics and the Media: An Introduction, p. 264