School of Journalism & Mass Communication

Ethics in News

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Ethics іѕ a word thаt – like professional – іѕ used a great deal bоth hеrе іn thе region, іn оur profession аnd асrоѕѕ mаnу оthеrѕ, but whаt іѕ it? Whаt does thаt mеаn іn practice?

Ethics аrе a code оf conduct fоr аn individual, associations, corporations аnd governing bodies – designed tо stop thе abuse оf power, corruption аnd behaviour thаt іѕ deemed immoral.

Today thіѕ code оf conduct іѕ bеіng undermined аnd wе саn ѕее thіѕ еvеrу day оn оur news feeds wіth thе behaviour оf President Trump аnd hіѕ administration, tо Brexit, tо thе present UK Government, аѕ wеll аѕ оthеr leaders іn Europe аnd furthеr afield.
Setting аn ethical example

Thіѕ does nоt set a good example fоr uѕ аll аnd саn signal tо individuals, associations аnd corporations thаt it’s OK tо undermine thе principles bеhіnd ethics.

Thе bright spot globally іѕ thаt bесаuѕе оf social media аnd thе ability today tо hаvе platforms thаt open оur views, opinions аnd ideas uр tо a muсh wider audience thаn friends, relatives аnd colleagues – corporations аrе mоrе accountable thаn thе people іn politics.

Authenticity delivers huge benefits tо thоѕе thаt practise іt consistently аnd thіѕ іѕ a lesson thаt mаnу brands аnd individuals hаvе learned, аlthоugh thеrе аrе examples tо thе contrary – Prince Andrew аnd Boeing tо nаmе but twо.

Authenticity іѕ acting ethically, honestly аnd transparently аnd companies аrе seeing thіѕ hаvе a positive impact оn thеіr sales аnd thuѕ bоttоm lines аnd shareholder dividends.

Sо wе nоt оnlу hold thіѕ dear internally but work hard tо ensure thаt оur clients ѕее thе benefits оf ethics аnd authenticity аnd act accordingly.
‘Window dressing’

In thіѕ region, ethics, professionalism аnd corporate social responsibility аrе words аnd phrases thаt аrе used frequently аnd аrе оftеn – sadly – mere window dressing fоr brands аnd companies tо pay thе necessary ‘lip service’ tо thеѕе elements, but іn reality аrе prone tо interpretation.

Wе ѕее thаt mаnу wіthіn thе PR industry subscribe tо ethics, whеthеr іt іѕ оn thеіr websites оr іn thе associations thаt thеу аrе members оf, but іn varying degrees tend tо act іn thеіr оwn self-interest аbоvе аll еlѕе. Wе ѕее thіѕ іn thе area оf recruitment, pitches, client conflicts wіthіn thе ѕаmе agency аnd іn оur media relations work.
‘Self-policing mechanism’

It іѕ subtle іn ѕоmе cases аnd mоrе obvious іn оthеrѕ, but thе fact іѕ thаt іt happens аnd іѕ reliant оn a self-policing mechanism, versus аnу recognised official bоdу оr mediation, аnd thuѕ does nоt hаvе thе ‘bite’ thаt іt does іn оthеr regions оf thе world.

Whеn уоu think оf thе mаnу agencies thаt claim thе title оf PR, іtѕ easy tо ѕее hоw thе issue оf ethics саn gеt lost – thеrе іѕ ѕuсh a wide range оf operations, frоm small оnе- tо two-person operations tо agencies оf 30-plus. Mаnу оf thеm аrе nоt subscribed tо аnу оf thе associations оr bodies thаt require аt lеаѕt ѕоmе guarantee thаt thеу operate ethically, ѕо it’s actually impossible tо say categorically thаt аn ethical approach аnd culture іѕ bеіng applied асrоѕѕ thе industry оr – іn ѕоmе cases – еvеn bеіng acknowledged.

It іѕ important tо state аt thіѕ juncture thаt mаnу іn оur sector dо operate ethically, but wе hаvе witnessed thоѕе thаt don’t аnd whilst іt іѕ frustrating, thеrе іѕ little wе саn dо but adjust tо thе inevitable costs оf thеѕе оn оur business аnd mоvе forward.

Onе оf thе responses tо thіѕ mіght bе thаt clients wіll work оnlу wіth agencies thаt subscribe tо аnd саn illustrate thаt thеу act ethically, but wе know thаt thіѕ isn’t thе case, wіth thе issue rarely, іf еvеr, raised bу clients working оr present іn thіѕ region аѕ раrt оf thе pitch process оr аt thе tіmе оf engagement.

Thеіr focus іѕ оn cost аnd wе аll know whаt happens whеn уоu try tо ‘buy cheap’.

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November 13th, 2019 at 1:18 am

Posted in News


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Journalism ethics sites

This section contains links to major sites dedicated to media ethics and high-quality journalism, such as the Poynter Institute and the Project for Excellence in Journalism. It also has direct links to a number of major journalistic codes of ethics.


The Poynter Institute Online – “Everything you need to be a better
Online home of the Project for Excellence in Journalism
The Canadian Journalism Project’s online resource for Canadian journalism news and tools.
Canadian Association of Journalists’ principles and codes of ethics
Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics
Federation professionelle des journalistes du Quebec
Radio-Television News Directors Association code of ethics
How to subscribe to the SPJ Ethics listserv
The Media Wise Trust, an independent charity set up in 1993 by ‘victims of media abuse’, is supported by concerned journalists, media lawyers and politicians in the UK.

Quick Study:

BOOK: The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect, by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, New York: Crown Publishers, 2001.

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September 13th, 2019 at 1:32 am

Posted in Feature

Dancing with the sheiks: Freedom in a global age

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In a global age, there is no master plan for advancing media freedom, writes Ward. There are only the precarious, pragmatic efforts of journalists to push the boundaries of societies that have been wary of the Western idea of press freedom. Ward explores the tensions between new and old practices by focusing on a radio talk show host in Dubai.

Around the world, dozens of organizations, from Freedom House to Reporters Without Borders, advance the ideal of a free press and a free citizenry. The ideal suggests there is one type of free press to be secured globally: the Western model of a constitutionally protected free press. What stands over and against the free press? The typical examples are the media systems found in China or Burma.

But this thinking is too simple for a global age. The attempt to develop a free press follows different pathways in different regions. New ways of combining media freedom and responsibility are evolving.

Consider the impressive development of media in the more liberal Arab states, such as Dubai. Rather than quote statistics, I will describe one journalist in Dubai who experiences daily the tensions at work as the Arab media evolve.

“Freedom” within limits

It is 10 p.m. in Dubai and I am a guest on “Nightline” – Dubai’s English-language radio talk show.

The host is James Piecowye, whose studio is in the radio station, DubaiEye, 103.8 FM, part of Arabian Radio Network. The network is one of the largest media conglomerates in the Middle East and owned by the ruling family of Dubai.

Piecowye is a Canadian who earned a doctorate in communication from the University of Montreal. He arrived in the United Arab Emirates a decade ago to teach at Zayed University, a  college for Emirati women. About four years ago, he decided to try radio broadcasting after deciding that Dubai’s English radio was a “wasteland” of classic rock and pop stations.

Radio, and especially talk radio, is new to Dubai. Before 1971, there was no locally operated radio in the region. Citizens relied on the BBC, Radio America, and stations in Lebanon and Jordan. When radio was established, a Western style was often adopted.

Each night, on air, Piecowye carefully walks a tightrope between the listeners who call in and the state officials who monitor the show.

Some boundaries are clear: topics such as homosexuality, drugs, prostitution, abortion, and religion are taboo. When Dubai World announced recently it was $40 billion in debt, shocking the markets, Piecowye could not discuss the problem on his show. Even discussion of lifestyles, such as dating, is sensitive in a country that outlaws kissing in public.

Still, Piecowye manages to provide interesting discussions using officials, scholars, and professors to discuss sanitation, traffic, education, and tonight’s topic – media ethics. He finds inventive ways to discuss sensitive topics.
For example, he cannot ask callers to discuss the drug problem. But he can invite the chief of the Dubai narcotics division to discuss what the division is doing to combat drugs. In Canada, using only official comments is considered one-sided and, well, boring. In Dubai, it is a way of putting the issue into the public sphere.

Working without a net

Yet, despite these precautions, any show can be cause for worry. “Offensive” is a terribly subjective word, even in a country with strict laws.  “Often, I am never really sure where the line is between offending and not offending, and who will take offensive to what,” said Piecowye.

Having grown up with CBC radio, Piecowye adds: “I attempt to bring Canadian journalism values into my show.” He takes on the role of the neutral CBC-like moderator who seeks facts and “reasoned discussion.”

But here is the kicker: Piecowye works without a tape delay. Offensive comments by guests or his callers potentially can go straight to air. Luckily, this has happened rarely.

And what happens when officials do not approve of something on Nightline?

The radio station gets a call from a well-placed person who expresses official displeasure. Such calls are taken very seriously. Violations of media laws in Dubai can be a crime, leading to jail or swift deportation out of the country.

The danger is always there: One seriously offensive broadcast and Piecowye’s decade of service to Zayed University and Dubai could be in jeopardy.

So, on this night, I and three other international ethicists engage in discussion with Piecowye about global media ethics, the theme of a conference we are attending. We talk in general terms about what global media ethics is, and how media can be made more responsible.

We are fully aware that there is no tape delay. No one wants to get Piecowye in trouble by uttering an offensive comment or by raising a taboo topic. I find myself, like Piecowye, dancing with the sheiks and their monitoring officials — at least in my imagination. I find myself rephrasing comments before they come out of my mouth. Nonetheless, our group has a lively discussion on media freedom and responsibility, without directly attacking media restrictions in Dubai.

Negotiating freedom

Piecowye later recounted an on-air anecdote that captured the experience: “One night I was struggling to not say something that couldn’t be said, and I got a text message from a listener. The person wrote, ‘We know what you’re trying to say, so why don’t you just SAY it!’”

This experience of ‘saying some things but not saying everything’ defines the working conditions of many journalists in Dubai and other Arab countries. It is not full media freedom but it is not insignificant, either. It should not be dismissed as odious self-censorship. It is an important and evolving experiment that runs counter to hundreds of years of tradition.

Dubai’s “Nightline” shows that we need a nuanced understanding of how to advance media freedom globally; there is no master plan. The evolution of media freedom will depend on the country’s media laws, the culture’s tolerance of free speech, and local definitions of what is appropriate and what is offensive.

In many countries, journalists will negotiate for increasing freedom, and learn to navigate around limits. In the new “hybrid” globalized societies, such as Dubai, media freedom will take on hybrid forms.

There is no guarantee that liberalizing forces will win; and no predicting how far they will advance. There is no saying how this dance will end. But Piecowye and other journalists continue to expand the boundaries of media freedom, working pragmatically within the limits of law and society.

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September 13th, 2019 at 1:22 am

Posted in Feature

Speed and Accuracy

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Accuracy — to get the facts and context of a story right — is a fundamental norm of ethical journalism. Inaccurate reporting undermines important news stories and can mislead the public. Though accuracy is not the sole ingredient for truthful reporting, it is nevertheless indispensable.

Accurate reporting has never been easy, given journalism’s deadline-driven nature. But today, accuracy is further challenged, as news-making adopts the internet medium.

One of the greatest benefits of online journalism is its ability to reach millions of people almost instantaneously. But the pressure to keep news current – online within minutes of an event’s occurrence – can jeopardize the accurate reportingof even the most ethically-conscious journalist. Furthermore, the proliferation of news outlets – bloggers by the millions, of course, but also cable television, satellite television, web sites, and web broadcasts – has resulted in a multi-media race to get “the” story 24 hours a day. As the pace intensifies, so does the pressure to cut corners.

Adding to the pressure is the public’s increasing demand to see news as it happens. When a volcano erupts in Mexico, news will reach radio-listeners, web-news readers, and international bloggers within hours, if not minutes. Recently, Hurricane Katrina in the southern United States exemplified this situation. The whole world followed news-coverage of the disaster. Networks and newspapers competed to break the first and most heart-rending stories. In the race, however, many newsmakers incorporated unsubstantiated rumors into their reports. Rapes that never occurred were mourned on network news; accounts of mass deaths were aired, but the vividly-described corpses have not been found; one report claimed that a woman high-jacked a bus to rescue fellow New Orleans residents – she denied it three days later.

Laziness, lack of rigor, and other bad habits complicate the ethics of accuracy and speed. Journalists who, in the interest of time, report press releases as news do an ethical disservice to the populations they inform. Consider a July 25, 2005 story on Myanmar (Burma) by the Associated Press (AP). The article states that Shan State army leaders gave up their weapons in an arms-for-peace exchange. The story behind this event, however, is much more complex and interesting. For the five months prior to the “deal,” the Burmese military government had been pressuring Shan leaders to disarm, using means that included “confiscating” their cars to immobilize them in remore corners of the country (far from their public), imprisoning some, and instigating third-party militants to attack the Shan. The AP article was timely, and it accurately represented the NCLC (Burmese Government) press release, but it failed to inform readers of the surrounding events and circumstances.

How fast is too fast, when news must be more than mere glorified rumors? And how much accuracy is too much, when news must be current?

The same impatient public that wants speedy information also expects the news media to take pains to ensure their reports are as accurate and verified as possible. Almost every poll regarding news media credibility shows that the public expects accuracy from journalists, no matter how pressing their deadlines. See Report Card on Canadian News. This is neither surprising nor unreasonable, though it is certainly extremely – and increasingly – challenging. A balance is necessary between speed and accuracy. The public demands it, and so do journalistic codes of ethics. The consequences of disseminating falsehoods can be equally serious as the consequence of tardy news-dissemination.

Useful Links
JD Lasica’s interview/report on speed and accuracy in internet news, as well as his blog

The Poynter Institute.
Online resources, articles, and information

Written by admin

August 13th, 2019 at 1:46 am

Posted in Opinion