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Media Ethics. Chapter 15.

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media ethics
Media Ethics

Chapter 15


“The family is not going to make a statement until this is resolved,” said Michael Willard of Underhill, a friend of Richard Phillips and his wife Andrea. “Andrea is doing well under the circumstances, but she would just like her privacy,” Willard said. He asked the gathering of news media camped outside the family’s home to clear out as soon as possible. On the scene Thursday were six satellite trucks, a dozen or so cameras and about 30 reporters and photographers. “She’s just overwhelmed,” Willard said of Andrea Phillips. “She’s just worried about her husband. She just needs her privacy.”

April 2009: Somali Pirates hold Vermont captain hostage


Media Companies



Other Countries



ethical standards
Ethical Standards
  • Ethics
    • Guideline or moral rules about how professional communicators should behave
  • Self-regulation
    • Industry codes, particles, and standards
  • Ethical issues include
    • Accuracy in reporting
    • Privacy for media subjects
    • Fairness in presenting all sides
    • Confidentiality of sources
    • Reporting suicides, “outing” homosexuals
    • Depiction of sex and violence
    • Perpetuation of stereotypes
    • Responsibility for “bread and circuses”

Natalee Holloway

broadcast ethics
Broadcast Ethics
  • Don Imus was fired in April 2007 for calling the Rutgers’ Women’s Basketball Team “nappy-headed hos.”
  • Was this appropriate? Or what he was hired to do?
  • What about the financial loss to radio stations carrying the show? What about CBS shareholders?
  • What about the “marketplace of ideas?” And Free Speech?
sensation in the magazine world
Sensation in the Magazine World
  • Bonnie Fuller
    • “Sexed up” Cosmopolitan
      • Sexy cover
    • Reworked Young Miss into YM: Young and Modern
  • How far should a magazine go using sex to draw an audience
    • People featured in magazine are not real
    • Quotes are “Sexed up”
  • People don’t have the same expectation about Cosmo’s use of quotes and facts
    • What standards apply to a magazine like Cosmo?
sensation in the magazine world1
Sensation in the Magazine World
  • How much celebrity news is really news?
sensation in the magazine world2
Sensation in the Magazine World
  • 1982 National Geographic cover modified to move pyramids closer together.
sensation in the magazine world3
Sensation in the Magazine World
  • 1989 TV Guide spliced the head of Winfrey onto the body of actress Ann-Margret, taken from a 1979 publicity shot. The composite was created without permission of Winfrey or Ann-Margret, and was detected by Ann-Margret's fashion designer, who recognized the dress.
  • Newsweek 2005: Composite photo of Martha Stewart’s head on a model’s body.
  • Newsweek disclosed the source of the cover image on Page 3 with the lines: "Cover: Photo illustration by Michael Elins ... head shot by Marc Bryan-Brown."
  • April 2005: This digital composite of actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, rumored to have a romantic relationship, appeared on the cover of Star Magazine. The picture of Pitt was taken in Anguilla, a Caribbean island, in January 2005. The picture of Jolie was taken in Virginia some time in 2004.
  • On page 8 is a disclaimer noting the image is a "composite of two photographs." This composite was purchased from Big Pictures, a London-based photography agency, for $500,000.
alison jackson
Alison Jackson
  • Famous for taking photos of fake celebrities, in 2006 New York magazine even featured one of her fake photos on the cover.
  • 2005: USA Today gives Condaleezza Rice scary eyes.
  • After receiving complaints from readers, this photograph was removed from USA Today's website, and the following Editor's note appeared alongside a "properly adjusted copy": Photos published online are routinely cropped for size and adjusted for brightness and sharpness to optimize their appearance. In this case, after sharpening the photo for clarity, the editor brightened a portion of Rice's face, giving her eyes an unnatural appearance. This resulted in a distortion of the original not in keeping with our editorial standards.


  • 2006: CBS News slims Katie Couric


  • 2006: Marie Claire shows a composite photo of ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas nursing.
  • A spokesperson for the magazine called Vargas "a great journalist," and added that "We do not believe anyone seriously thought she would nurse and report the news at the same time!"
sensation in the magazine world4
Sensation in the Magazine World
  • 2000: University of Wisconsin alters a picture for its catalog to suggest diversity.
  • 2000: The White House releases a publicity photo which has been doctored to suggest a larger audience for the President. They eventually apologize and send the original to news outlets.
sensation in the magazine world5
Sensation in the Magazine World
  • June 1994: Time and Newsweek both use the same picture for their covers, but Time darkens theirs.
sensation in the magazine world6
Sensation in the Magazine World
  • March 2007: Time makes Ronald Reagan cry.
  • Time issued a statement saying it regularly runs what it calls "conceptual covers." They said: "This week's cover image is clearly credited on the table of contents page, naming both the photographer of the Reagan photo and the illustrator of the tear."
  • 2003: LA Times’ correspondent Brian Walski combines two war photos to add drama.
  • 2003: Reuters’ photographer Adnan Hadjj adds smoke to photo of burning Beirut.
morals ethics
Morals & Ethics
  • Morals: System of values. Defines right and wrong, good and bad.
  • Ethics: Practical application of morals.
  • Sources:
    • Religion: All religions present a set of moral laws (e.g. Ten Commandments), predicated on “Divine Law:” knowledge passed down from Divinity to men.
    • Science: Evolutionary psychology suggests that moral rules are innate, created by millions of human interactions over the course of evolution. Offshoot of Game Theory.
    • Politics: Political systems also have implied moral rules (e.g. privacy, social responsibility, free speech)
    • Industry: Each media business also has rules, designed to preserve market viability (e.g. truthfulness, entertainment, etc.)
the golden rule
The Golden Rule
  • * "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" — Torah Leviticus 19:18
  • "When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.” — Torah Leviticus 19:33-34
  • "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." — Jesus (c. 5 BCE—33 CE) in the Gospels, Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31, Luke 10:27
  • "None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." — Muhammad (c. 571 – 632 CE) in a Hadith.
  • "This is the sum of duty; do naught unto others what you would not have them do unto you." — Mahabharata (5:15:17) (c. 500 BCE)
  • "What you do not wish upon yourself, extend not to others." — Confucius (ca. 551–479 BCE)
  • "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man." — Hillel (ca. 50 BCE-10 CE)
  • Aristotle’s Golden Mean
    • Between two extremes
    • Moderation and balance
  • Kant’s Categorical Imperative
    • What you wish to be a universal law
  • Situation ethics
    • Rules can be broken if the overall purpose is good
  • Mill’s Principle of Utility
    • Seek the greatest good for the greatest number
rules of behavior
Rules of Behavior
  • Laws
  • Morals
  • Ethics
  • Best choices: Rules of thumb, utilitarian rules, epigenetic rules




Rules of thumb

potter s box
Potter’s Box
  • A process approach for thinking through ethical problems
    • Harvard Divinity professor Ralph Potter
  • Definition
    • Clarify the facts of the issue
  • Values
    • Identify the choices and the ethical issues underlying each
  • Principles
    • Look for general principles that underlie the options
    • Link options with overarching principles
      • Start thinking about your own vales
  • Loyalties
    • Clarify your main loyalties
      • Being true to your own values
plame affair
Plame Affair
  • Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr. (born August 22, 1950) is the former Chief of Staff and assistant for National Security Affairs to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and presidential advisor. In 2003 and 2004, intense speculation about Libby centered on the possibility that he may have been the administration official who "outed" Valerie Plame, a CIA covert operative whose identity was classified.

Scooter Libby

Valerie Plame Wilson

plame affair1
Plame Affair
  • In July of 2005, Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper revealed that Libby and Karl Rove were the first to disclose Wilson's wife had 'offered up' Wilson's name on the mission to Niger and that she was a CIA officer without mentioning her name. The American Prospect magazine revealed in August 2005 that Libby had testified that he met with Judith Miller on July 8, 2003 and discussed Wilson's wife with her at that time. It was later learned Miller's notes indicated the name "Flame" rather than Plame.
  • Miller was jailed on 7 July 2005 for contempt of court after refusing to testify to the grand jury about this meeting despite a signed blanket waiver from Libby allowing journalists to discuss their conversations.

Judith Miller

plame affair2
Plame Affair
  • Libby, 55, is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to the FBI and a federal grand jury about how he learned about CIA operative Valerie Plame and what he subsequently told reporters about her.
  • Conservative columnist Robert Novak named her in a column July 14, 2003, eight days after Plame's husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, alleged in an opinion piece in The New York Times that the Bush administration had twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq to justify going to war.
  • In April, 2006 the New York Times claimed that it was President Bush who ordered the leak to Miller.

Robert Novak


As a reporter for the campus paper, a student tells you that a professor gave him a better grade in exchange for sex. The student wants to remain anonymous, because he is embarrassed about what he did. He says others students also exchanged sex for grades.

Do you:

  • Print the story?
  • Name the professor?
  • Name the student?

As a respected and influential student blogger, you are approached by Dr. Pepper to promote its new “Raging Cow” drink. They want you to rave about how wonderful it is, (even if you don’t like it.) They won’t pay you, but they will give you lots of free stuff to keep or give away, and even fly you to Dallas in an all-expenses paid trip. You just can’t disclose that you are working for them.

Do you:

  • Push the drink?
  • Disclose your link to the campaign?

Virginia Tech shootings:

  • When does press coverage cross the line of intrusion?
  • How useful is the question “How do you feel?”

Virginia Tech shootings:

  • NBC received a videotape and leters from the killer, Cho Seung-Hui.
  • They aired parts of it, as did other news outlets, and then, a day later, announced they would limit the amount of it they would show.

a) Does this sort of thing just turn villains into icons?

b) Does the public’s right to know about the case supersede a)?

c) If b) is true, should news outlets self-censor like this?


Virginia Tech shootings: NBC statement 4/19/2007

  • Upon receiving the materials from Cho Seung-Hui, NBC News took careful consideration in determining how the information should be distributed.  We did not rush the material onto air, but instead consulted with local authorities, who have since publicly acknowledged our appropriate handling of the matter.  Beginning this morning, we have limited our usage of the video across NBC News, including MSNBC, to no more than 10 percent of our airtime. 
  • Our Standards and Policies chief reviewed all material before it was released. One of our most experienced correspondents, Pete Williams, handled the reporting. We believe it provides some answers to the critical question, "why did this man carry out these awful murders?" The decision to run this video was reached by virtually every news organization in the world, as evidenced by coverage on television, on Web sites and in newspapers. We have covered this story — and our unique role in it — with extreme sensitivity, underscored by our devoted efforts to remember and honor the victims and heroes of this tragic incident. We are committed to nothing less.
  • Virginia Tech shootings: is this tabloid news?
  • How do you balance what the audience needs to know, vs. what they want to know?

In March 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, a directive arrived from the Pentagon at U.S. military bases. "There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to or departing from Ramstein [Germany] airbase or Dover [Del.] base, to include interim stops," the Defense Department said, referring to the major ports for the returning remains.

President Obama and the Pentagon rescinded this policy in 2009.


Duke Lacrosse players accused of rape:

  • Were they tried in the press before being tried in court?
  • Rape victim’s names are usually kept secret: but what about the accused?
ethical issues
Ethical Issues
  • Complications of freedom of speech
    • Ethics of using indecent language
      • First Amendment was written to protect political and religious speech
      • Standards of what is acceptable vary between communities
  • Accurate Information
    • Fabrication of stories is not ethical
      • Boston Globe columnist, Patricia Smith fabricated characters and quotes
  • Fairness and responsibility
    • Include issues of fairness favoritism, partisanship, corruption and bribery
additional ethical issues
Additional Ethical Issues
  • Source attribution
    • Politicians use leaks as trial balloons
      • Ken Starr’s staff was accused of leaking sealed grand jury testimony
  • Sensationalism
    • Boston Phoenix published a photo of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s severed head
    • Some consider sensationalism a matter of taste
  • Junkets, freebies, and expenses
    • Junket is a free trip given to reporters in hopes of generating a favorable story
    • Freebies
      • Free tickets to sporting events or free lunch
    • Paying the expenses of reporters
more ethical issues
More Ethical Issues
  • Commercialism
    • Pressure to increase rating or circulation
      • NBC’s “Dateline” staged the explosion of a GM pickup truck
    • Vertical integration interferers with news coverage
  • Press releases and journalism
    • Press release and video news releases are very often useful information
    • Ethical issue
      • News is being reported by an advocacy group
        • Promoting a commercial or political interest
  • Privacy
    • Reporters show little concern for the privacy of those they cover
    • Content of mail and telephone conversations are legally protected
payola and plugola
Payola and Plugola
  • Payola
      • Recoding companies and independent promoters pay DJs to play new recordings
      • Prominent in the 1950s
        • Repapering today
  • Plugola
    • Paying someone to mention or plug something on the air
      • If a DJ receives a free pizza and mentions the pizza shop on the air, is it unethical?
codes of ethics
Codes of Ethics
  • Growing out of fears of the power of the media
    • Hutchins Commission issued a code of social responsibility
      • Accuracy
        • Truthful account of the day’s events
      • Forum for comment and criticism
      • Representative picture of groups in society
      • Presentation of goals and values of society
      • Broad coverage of society
  • Society of Professional Journalisms’ Code of Ethics
    • Current version adopted in 1996
  • Following the code would prevent mistakes
    • NBC’s “Dateline” staged the explosion of a GM pickup truck
    • The code states that misleading re-enactments or staged news events should be avoided
newspaper ombudsman
Newspaper Ombudsman
  • Ombudsman is an experienced reporter or editor
    • Saves as an internal critic
    • Spokesperson for the public’s interest
  • Organizations of newspaper Ombudsmen list duties of an ombudsman
    • Represent the readers
    • Alert the newspaper to public complaints
    • Serve as in-house critic
    • Write columns about newspaper policy
    • Defend the newspaper publicly when warranted
  • Fewer than 40 American newspapers have ombudsman
key ethical issues
Key Ethical Issues
  • Crisis in business ethics
    • Shift in values of large corporations
      • Maximize the value of the companies stock
        • Top executives are paid through stock options
        • Recoding phony profits and hiding losses
  • Corporate ethics
    • Corporate responsibility model
      • Give back to the community
  • Ethical entertainment
    • Should filmmakers take responsibility for the social effect of their movies?
      • Filmmakers and entertainment executes deny responsibly

Individuals are not as vulnerable as might be supposed

Individuals must take responsibility for the decision of what they watch

public relations ethics
Public Relations Ethics
  • Poster, Thank you for Smoking
public relations ethics1
Public Relations Ethics
  • Criticism of public relations
    • Public relations restrict economic competition
      • Marvin Olasky - 1967
  • In the 1930s many of the people who worked in public relations were press agents
    • Hollywood star Rita Hayworth wins best-dressed contest in 1939
      • There was no contest, it was a publicity stunt
  • No amount of public relations can save a company that acts in a way to harm people
  • Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
    • Established first Code of Professional Standards in 1954
    • Revised in 2000
advertising ethics
Advertising Ethics
  • Emerson Foote resigned as chairman of McCann-Erickson
    • Protest over cigarette advertising
  • Cigarette advertising aimed at children
    • More children could recognize Joe Camel than other cartoon characters
    • Cigarette companies need to replace customers who die from using their product
  • Tobacco advertisers have become more responsible
    • Pulled cigarette advertising from magazines with young readers
    • Outdoor billboards advertising has bee banned
  • Product placement
    • Reeses Pieces sales increased after “E.T.”
    • Prizes on television game shows
direct marketing ethics
Direct Marketing Ethics
  • Database marketing
    • Develop database from supermarket discount cards and other sources of personal information
    • Computer personalized ads
      • Greeting cards
        • E-mail reminder for dates to send cards
  • Place based advertising
    • Specialized television programming in public places
      • airports, doctors’ offices, schools, supermarkets
        • Channel One in schools
  • Direct marketing guidelines
    • Anonymous data collection cannot be linked with personally identifiable data without consent
    • People can ask to be put on “do not call list”
    • Government does not regulate puffery
      • “New and improved,” “best in the world”
consumer ethics
Consumer Ethics
  • Internet service providers enforce a set of rules for users
    • Acceptable use policy
      • No harassment
        • Sending of spam, abusive e-mail, sexual harassment
      • No misrepresentations
        • Middle aged men posing as teenagers in chat rooms
      • No hacking
        • Braking into systems
      • No lawbreaking
        • Drug dealing, child pornography, and other illegal acts
  • Corporate and university users have no right of privacy
    • Employers and universities own the network
  • Copying material from the Web
    • It is illegal
media consumer ethics
Media Consumer Ethics
  • Plagiarism
    • Downloading term papers from the Internet
      • Violation of honor code
      • Professors can find where the papers were stolen from
  • Intellectual property and ethics
    • Legal to record programs from cable or broadcast
    • Illegal to make copies and sell them
    • Some countries are permitting illegal copying
  • Research ethics
    • All surveys are not legitimate
      • End with a sales pitch
    • Experimental manipulation must not be harmful
    • Use of human subjects guidelines

Pirated videos readily available on the street in China