November 29, 2007

What is ethics?

Ethics is a philosophical discipline that proposes criteria for good and bad human conduct. It tries to evaluate different motives for and consequences of either good or bad human conduct. Its purpose is to formulate universal human values and norms of human conduct to improve our lives and the way we function in society ( → Aristotle’s Ethics).

Ethics in journalism:

As mouthpiece for society, journalists find themselves in a difficult position when it comes to ethics: For the decisions they make and for the journalistic content they produce, they not only have to answer to themselves but to thousands of people in their audience.
To help journalists cope with this responsibility, individual media organizations like the BBC or professional journalism associations like the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) have formulated different codes of ethics that constitute guidelines for ethical, journalistic conduct.
Although different codes may stress different principles, most of them share the same basic principles of ethical conduct such as truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability.

This is an excerpt from the NUJ’s Code of Conduct, which was first formulated in 1936 and last updated in 2007 ( → Full version):

A Journalist
2. Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair

4. Differentiates between fact and opinion

5. Obtains material by honest, straightforward and open means
6. Does nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest

7. Protects the identity of sources who supply information in confidence and material gathered in the course of her/his work

9. Takes no unfair personal advantage of information gained in the course of her/his duties before the information is public knowledge

10. Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation

Also see: BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, The Press Complaints Commission’s Code of Practice

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