On Ethics

I'm back in university finishing up my degree in journalism so one might wonder why I don't write more on this blog. Mostly, it's laziness. But a good chunk of my time goes into the reading (and reading and reading) of textbooks and articles required for lectures every week. It's daunting and often not interesting. But finally, I have something a bit more upbeat to do on a weekly basis.

In my Journalism Ethics course, I have to write a blog about in-class discussions every week. I post it on Facebook and tag my professor on the note, it's mostly to prove to him that we're paying attention. But since I'm writing about relevant issues over there, I thought I would post them over here as well.

This is blog post number one. I have to apologize for the sometimes cryptic examples. I write as though the reader is aware of the context and the discussions had.

January 17 blog - the evolution of ethics in printed media
I am by trade, a journalist. The college diploma hangs over my desk and I have a portfolio containing a variety of clippings of past writing gigs. I should know a little about journalism ethics (and deadlines for that matter). The fact is, ethics is perhaps the most complex aspect of journalism and I find myself wondering where I stand when discussions erupt in class. One moment I think I have a firm grasp on a certain issue, and the next moment I'm convinced that my previous opinion was wrong. 
The primary focus of conversation in the January 17 class was straightforward - a journalist does not insert opinion when reporting. It is the fundamental rule put in place since the beginning of journalism. That much is simple. The beauty of journalism is the door it can open in terms of helping the public form an opinion by presenting all the facts. However, sometimes the facts simply can not be published, as it may obstruct constitutional boundaries.
The Charter indicates freedom of expression, so long as society remains protected. And so the case of British BNP leader Nick Griffon came into conversation. Would it be wise to publish racist remarks made by the British candidate? If he was using inappropriate language that could cause discomfort to the general public, I would flatly say no. Should a journalist report on the racist remarks? Most certainly. In my opinion, it is not only the right of the journalist, but the journalist's responsibility to report on such remarks to the public - as long as all facts are presented in an impartial and accurate manner.
So far, the job of a newsgatherer is pretty simple - and then we delve into individual cases such as the Vancouver riots and the release of video footage from news agencies to the police. In this matter, I personally see it as a no-brainer. The media was present with cameras to report on the goings-on after the Canucks lost the game and the city went wild. Certainly that footage was being filmed with all intents and purposes to be published. So, why not give it to police? (This was certainly a special case, however. I have distinct memories of reporters on major Canadian networks blatantly criticizing the rioters. A justifiable offer of opinion, I think.) Some argue that the public should have remained protected by the media and tapes should not have been handed over despite the fact that these members of the public were posing danger on other members of the public... Tricky.
Moving on; the infamous radio pranks. They never cease to entertain on the airwaves, but left to their own devices, radio personalities can cause personal damage to those they pick on, and subsequently to themselves. By voicing snaring remarks to a slanderous level about actor Andrew Sachs and his family, Russell Brand lost his job. It was an empty prank with no good reason behind it except to make Sachs look foolish - and it backfired on Brand. So, with that said and done, why a didn't Canadian radio personality get fired for posing as French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a telephone interview with Sarah Palin? Because he didn't make remarks about her. He simply conducted an interview - a rather entertaining one - and let her answer the questions at her own will, thus allowing the public to form their own opinions during a crucial time in American politics.
True, he did lie about his identity but I would think that calling a potential presidential candidate would involve some kind of verification which must have been a little too easy to get by. Regardless, this prank might not have been the most ethical stunt, but it wasn't entirely unethical. The radio station gave the people a genuine Sarah Palin.
At the beginning of this course, it's apparent why future journalists are required to study ethics. It is broad, complicated and one that requires time to study individual cases. There are ins and outs when it comes to this topic and as we dive into various situations, I will likely re-adjust my opinions more than once.
More to come.

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