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Journalism Ethical Dilemma: Moral Discourse Case Study


Scenario

Sara is a student in a high school. After watching an advertisement on TV, she decided to buy Nike rollerblades. She went to a Nike shop in Abu Dhabi and bought a pair of rollerblades. Soon, she went to a special track in Abu Dhabi to try her new purchase. However, while she was rollerblading, the wheels disrupted, Sara fell down and broke her right leg. She was taken to the hospital where she met a journalist who asked her about the accident.

The journalist decided to write a story about this case as she thought people had to know about it to keep safe. The journalist wanted to write about poor quality of the rollerblades bought in the shop. Representatives of Nike found out about the journalist’s intention to publish an article about the accident. They addressed the journalist and offered him Dh5,000 plus 10 free pairs of training shoes to ‘forget about the case’ and leave it unpublished.

This situation resulted in an ethical dilemma for the journalist who has to decide whether to publish the article about the accident and potentially dangerous products or to take the money and remain silent.

Analysis

The journalist is facing an ethical dilemma and she can make several decisions. Different approaches can help come up with a solution in every situation. This case can be analysed in terms of deontological ethics, utilitarianism and virtue ethics.

The first approach to be analysed is virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is concerned with specific features of character and people’s habits which make a person good (MacKinnon & Fiala, 2014). For virtue ethics, a virtuous life should be devoted to developing good qualities and morals (MacKinnon, 2012). Shiell (2011) notes that being a virtuous person is not about knowing and complying with rules, but it is more about having ‘the right’ qualities of a virtuous person.

However, it is rather difficult to define the ‘right’ qualities which a good person should have. Joseph and Boczkowski (2012) state that journalist ethics involves such concepts (or virtues) as unveiling the truth, being truthful and unbiased. More so, being a Muslim, the journalist shares the belief that the truth is one of the central values and a virtuous man should strive for revealing the truth (Rippin, 2013). Therefore, if the journalist unitises this approach, she will understand that she should publish the story.

Another ethical approach to be considered is deontology. This ethical approach is concerned with the concept of duty as deontologists believe that there are certain principles (duties) to follow (Becker & Becker, 2013). Notably, Lunt and Livingstone (2013) claim that duties can be defined as concepts and rules which any reasonable person will follow.

It is noteworthy that thinkers tend to believe that deontological approach is more objective as it presupposes adherence to universal rules which are applicable in the vast majority of (or even all) societies (Harrison, 2004; Ess, 2013).

If the journalist chooses to follow deontological perspective, she should also publish the article. As has been mentioned above, deontological approach presupposes following rules and duties. Patching and Hirst (2013, p. 9) stress that journalists have to tell the truth “under all circumstances” because it is one of their major duties.

Hence, the journalist has to fulfil her role in the society and reveal the truth about poor quality of products sold and tell about certain danger of using these products. Again, being a Muslim, the journalist will find deontological approach consistent with major concepts of Qur’an which provides sets of clear rules which can guide a virtuous person (Kazmi, 2010; Kenney & Moosa, 2013; Naqvi, 2013). Obviously, this approach is helpful in solving the existing dilemma.

The third ethical theory to be analysed is utilitarianism. According to this approach, the morality of the action is measured by its consequences (Conway & Gawronski, 2013).

The approach is often used to “justify the practice” as it helps people to achieve “the greatest” good for all (or, at least, for the majority of people) (Duffy & Freeman, 2011, p. 302). In practical life, this approach justifies harming a person (or property) for the sake of a large group of people (Yao & Eigenmann, 2013). This approach focuses on the result of the action with little attention to morality of the action itself.

In this case, the journalist has to consider consequences of the choice she may make. If she takes the money, she will have some additional financial benefit. Of course, she may use it on the right course. Nonetheless, if the journalist publishes the article the outcome will be much more significant. The journalist will draw public’s attention to the quality of products sold.

The article can also make people more cautious when buying rollerblades and this, in its turn, can prevent people from breaking their limbs or injuring themselves. Remarkably, it is acknowledged that journalism is aimed at drawing people’s attention to essential issues and concepts in order to positively affect the development of the society (Markham, 2009; Vaagan, 2011; O’Neill, 2013).

Decision

If I were the journalist, I would follow utilitarian approach and I would definitely publish the article. I believe utilitarian approach is the most applicable in this case as a journalist has to think of the outcomes of his articles in the first place. Ward (2008) notes that journalism has a great influence on people and their decision so journalists have to be responsible and think of consequences of their work. Interestingly, in this case, following all the three approaches is likely to lead to the same decision and the journalist will publish the article.

Nonetheless, the two other approaches (deontological ethics and virtue ethics) focus on rather abstract things which have little practical value for the present case. It is easy to break the rule and to take money. Virtues are also quite debatable concepts as different people may have rather different values. However, when it comes to utilitarian approach, the journalist may weigh two possible consequences. One result is certain financial benefit for being silent. Of course, some people may stress that this will be her personal gaining.

Nonetheless, publishing the article will be something bigger than just revealing the truth and preventing others from getting injures. The journalist will also have personal significant benefit as she will draw people’s attention to the problem and to her name. This publicity will help the journalist to be more successful. Therefore, it is clear that in the case in question the journalist should employ utilitarian approach as it will help her make the right decision which, in its turn, will be beneficial for the community, society and the journalist.

Reference List

Becker, L.C., & Becker, C.B. (2013). Encyclopaedia of ethics. Oxon: Routledge.

Conway, P., & Gawronski, B. (2013). Anonymous sources: A utilitarian exploration of their justification and guidelines for limited use. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(2), 216-235.

Duffy, M.J., & Freeman, C.P. (2011). Anonymous sources: A utilitarian exploration of their justification and guidelines for limited use. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 26(4), 297-315.

Ess, C. (2013). Digital media ethics. Cambridge: Polity.

Harrison, J. (2004). Conflicts of duty and the virtues of Aristotle in public relations ethics: Continuing the conversation commenced by Monica Walle. Web.

Joseph, N., & Boczkowski, P. (2012). Anonymous sources: A utilitarian exploration of their justification and guidelines for limited use. The International Journal of Communication Ethics, 9(4), 16-26.

Kazmi, L.H.S. (2010). . Sophia Perennis, 1(1), 111-134. Web.

Lunt, P., & Livingstone, J. (2013). A meta-ethical analysis of moral discourse on the Jeremy Kyle Show. In N. Couldry, M. Madianou, & A. Pinchevski (Eds.), Ethics in media (pp. 198-215). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kenney, J.T., & Moosa, E. (2013). Islam in the modern world. London: Routledge.

MacKinnon, B. (2012). Ethics: Theory and contemporary issues. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

MacKinnon, B., & Fiala, A. (2014). Ethics: Theory and contemporary issues. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Markham, T. (2009). : A particular case of the possible. Journalistic Ethics as Field Strategies. Web.

Naqvi, S.N.H. (2013). Islam, economics, and society. London: Routledge.

O’Neill, O. (2013). Media freedoms and media standards. In N. Couldry, M. Madianou, & A. Pinchevski (Eds.), Ethics in media (pp. 21-39). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan

Patching, R., & Hirst, M. (2013). Journalism ethics: Arguments and cases for the twenty-first century. Oxon: Routledge.

Rippin, A. (2013). The Islamic world. Oxon: Routledge.

Shiell, T.C. (2011). Using the concept of “traditional ethics” to teach introductory ethics. Teaching Ethics, 1(1), 113-124. Web.

Vaagan, R.W. (2011). Ethics, social media and mass self-communication. Web.

Ward, S.J.A. (2008). Global journalism ethics: Widening the conceptual base. Global Media Journal, 1(1), 137-149.

Yao, Q.J., & Eigenmann, C.S. (2013). Building a coordinate system: An ethical framework for analysing media coverage of disasters. American Communication Journal, 15(2), 1-16.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Journalism Ethical Dilemma: Moral Discourse." April 9, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/journalism-ethical-dilemma-moral-discourse/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Journalism Ethical Dilemma: Moral Discourse'. 9 April.

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