The first code of ethics related to digital and mediated communication that it is important to discuss and analyze is the code of ethics written and produced by the Society of Professional Journalists: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp. Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. They believe that it is important for journalists to act with integrity in all that they do and report. The Society of Professional Journalists has four guiding principles in the practice of ethical journalism and promotes their ideals to all media participants.
The first section of the code of ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists states that media professionals should seek the truth and reports it, while being ethical and fair. Media professionals are responsible for the accuracy of their own work, it is important to provide context and identify sources, while also considering the motive behind the source. Media professionals should avoid undercover or sketchy methods of gathering information, while being vigilant and courageous about holding those in power accountable. The Society of Professional Journalists states that journalists and media professionals have an obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government. Journalists need to be willing to provide source materials when it is important. The first section emphasizes truth telling, honest source identification, and sharing the diverse truth with the public.
The second code of ethics section discusses the intricacies of minimizing harm. Journalists should show compassion for those that will be affected by the news stories and coverage, specifically juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. They discuss the importance of balancing a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know in addition to considering the long-term implications of their published material.
Journalists and media professionals should act independently. The most important journalistic obligation is to serve the public. It is important for journalists to avoid conflicts of interest, and if that’s not possible they must disclose them. Journalists should not accept gifts or favors; this will compromise their integrity.
Lastly, journalists should be accountable and transparent. According to their code of ethics, journalists should explain ethical choices and processes to their readers. They should ethically respond to questions about accuracy, clarity, and fairness. Journalists should acknowledge their mistakes and correct them as quickly as possible. Importantly, journalists should expose unethical conduct in journalism including within their own organization.
The discussion of the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics because journalists are the media’s front lines. They are the gatherers of information and they shape the stories that the public is exposed to. There is an impression that journalists are “of the people”. They aren’t big executives with an agenda. Their priority is sharing the truth with their constituents. In addition, with the current changes happening in media and journalism the journalistic standards are changing. Media is becoming more relaxed and less ethical. We are currently experiencing a changing media culture. The topics and methods used in reporting have evolved and become less professional, less ethical, and more sensational. This is happening because of the way that media and journalism has become more instantaneous. There is less time for journalists to fact check and find quality sources in the rush to be the first to publish and report on an event or incident.
The second code of ethics related to digital and mediated communication that is important to discuss is the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Member Code of Ethics: https://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/CodeEnglish/index.html#.WB-nrGQrIfF. In the preamble of their code of ethics the Public Relations Society of America states that the value of member reputation depends upon the ethical conduct of everyone affiliated with the Public Relations Society of America. This is a direct announcement and request that really speaks to the importance of the code of ethics for this specific society. They also directly state the repercussions of failing to follow these guidelines, which include the Board of Directors barring membership or expelling the individual from the Public Relations Society of America. This sets an expectation and a standard that this code must be followed, and if it isn’t there will be serious consequences.
The member statement of professional values, which include advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence loyalty, and fairness, follows the Preamble. The rest of the Public Relations Society of America’s code of ethics states core principles, leading with the free flow of information which involves protecting and advancing the accurate and truthful information and states how that is essential to serving public interest. The free flow of information states the necessity of being honest and accurate in all communication and acting quickly to correct erroneous communications. The next principle is competition. The core principle of competition promotes healthy and fair competition among professionals. The following principle is the disclosure of information, which fosters informed decision-making in a democratic society. This includes being honest and accurate in all communication and acting quickly to correct misinformation. This principle is very similar to one stated in the Society for Professional Journalists about acting honestly and correcting incorrect information while accurately identifying sponsors and special interests. The difference between the two surrounds the idea of Public Relations professionals not falsifying “grass roots” movements or campaigns. This is specific to the Public Relations Society of America’s code of ethics and is not discussed in as much detail in the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics. The Public Relations Society of America continues on to discuss the safeguarding of confidences, which is typically more industry specific to public relations, followed by the conflict of interest principle and finishing with the last principle, enhancing the profession.
The Public Relations Society of America code of ethics is relevant because you will need to adhere to this code to be a media professional at any company or institution. It is important to understand the code of ethics behind your profession and be able and willing to uphold that code of ethics in the face of adversity. You cannot be a successful professional if you do not understand all of the professional requirements and expectations of your job.
There are definitely common themes between these two different communication media codes of ethics. Both ethics codes emphasized the importance of being truthful, honest, and accurate in your presentation of communication. It is vital that the journals or public relations personnel accurately and honestly present the truth in their communication and also work to correct any misinformation or untruths. Both codes discussed the importance of disclosing information of any conflict of interest to the public and revealing any special interests that may exist. Both the Society for Professional Journalists and the Public Relations Society of America discuss the importance of safeguarding the privacy rights of clients, employees, or story subjects. This protection of innocents is an important aspect of both ethical codes. In addition both codes discuss the importance of not accepting extravagant gifts or favors that would influence an honest outcome.
The commonalities between these two communication and media ethical codes is the perfect place to start when assembling a selection of best practices. Our ethical guideline outlines the importance of honesty. All media professionals should be accurate, honest, and truthful in their work, while striving to maintain and discover the truth in other’s work. It’s important to include the principle of honesty because without honesty there is no trust. Without honesty and trust there is no point. If a professional cannot be trusted, then their work is entirely useless. The guiding principle of honesty is included in both the Society for Professional Journalists and the Public Relations Society of America’s codes of ethics. This reiterates the importance of this principle. This best practice is also the root of all my additional best practices.
Our second ethical guideline would be to always avoid or absolutely disclose any conflict of interest. It isn’t fair to the public to have a hidden agenda or secret reason behind your media. All conflicts of interest, whether real or perceived, should be shared clearly and effectively, and also avoided at all cost. Avoiding conflicts of interest is also mentioned in both codes of ethics; while being more encompassing in journalism and more interrelated to special interests in public relations. Conflicts of interest can lead to falsifying information, or sharing of untrue specifics with media consumers. Keeping your media free from special interest is what keeps it democratic. For example, if the government were able to control the media our right to free speech would be jeopardized.
The third most important ethical guideline is to minimize harm. Every person, source, client, member of the public deserves respect and should be treated fairly. It is important to not spread propaganda, lies, gossip, or untruths about an individual, a cause, or a story. The power of the media should be used for good, and negative stories should only be shared if they help the greater good. Treating people and causes fairly and respectfully is also mentioned in both codes of ethics. It is a widespread belief practiced across professions and should be made a best practice in this one as well.
Make sure to follow these three ethical best practices when creating work for our organization:
1) All media professionals should be accurate, honest, and truthful in their work, while striving to maintain and discover the truth in other’s work.
2) Always avoid or absolutely disclose any conflict of interest.
3) Minimize harm.
These ethical guidelines all revolve around being the most honest professional you can be. It is important to strive for truth and practice excellence in all that you do. You should work to make the world a better place and educate the public to the best of your ability.
Moore, R. L., & Murray, M. D. (2012). Media law and ethics (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Member Code of Ethics. (2016). Retrieved November 6, 2016, from https://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/CodeEnglish/index.html#.WB- nrGQrIfF
SPJ Code of Ethics. (2014). Retrieved November 5, 2016, from http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp