Ethics run amok!

      3 Comments on Ethics run amok!

Jeff Morosoff, Assistant Professor, Hofstra University

The tabloid scandal in Britain is a fascinating study of not only bad ethics gone wild, but how cozy relationships between the press and politicians has been a breeding ground for corruption between reporters and the powerful in England.  As I watched News of the World, the 168-year old tabloid, close shop and its media mogul owner Rupert Murdoch squirm and apologize, I wondered if a code of ethics exists among British reporters.

Of course it does.  Much like the Society of Professional Journalists here in America, Britain’s Press Complaints Commission has its own Code of Practice.  Its list of standards are clear.  Check out this entry on “Clandestine devices and subterfuge:”

“The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held private information without consent.”

Clearly the folks at News International, the U.K. subsidiary of U.S.-based media giant News Corporation, ran amok.  By hacking the phones of as many as 4,000 people (allegedly), surely the desire to “get the story” became far more important than some silly Code of Practice.

The Public Relations Society of America and the Public Relations Professionals of Long Island have their own Code of Ethics as do countless professional organizations.  They are written to serve their industries as not just theoretical guidelines but as the only acceptable way to do business.  If they want to avoid the kind of scandal and scrutiny now being seen at News Corporation (and I think this is just the tip of the iceberg), journalists, PR practitioners and everyone should learn, live and love their ethics codes.  Their professional reputations and their businesses depend on it.  Your thoughts?

3 thoughts on “Ethics run amok!

  1. Amanda

    Murdoch claims that as CEO of a company employing 53,000 people that he can not be made aware of everything happening. However, as CEO it is his job to create the culture that drives his company. If you create an anything goes environment then ethics begin to blur.

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  2. Rachel Tallon

    I would just like to know at what point professionals choose to cross this line, perhaps it is the public’s obsession with “gossip” that push them to do it, but to me, if you are willing to go against your code of ethics and own personal morals then you do not take yourself or your job seriously.

    With the world we’re living in now, where everything is out there already; apparently it has given way to journalists to feel free to hack into private conversations. When is the line going to be drawn between what is appropriate to be out in public and what isn’t, which begs me to ask the question; with the countless new technologies to be able to put whatever you want out into the world, will a line ever be drawn?

    If this is any indication (and I think it may be) of what the future holds of investigative reporting or news reporting, then I’m afraid to say no one is safe, and truly nothing will be able to be held with privacy.

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  3. philhecken

    I completely agree with you that a “code of practice” or similar set of ethics/rules is needed, but I’m not so sure having one in place would actually keep something like the “News of the World Phone Hacking Scandal” from reoccurring. The fact is, NOTW did what they did because the public seemingly wants this kind of “fact finding” discovered and reported upon. And I’m sure NOTW isn’t the first media outlet to come upon “news” by less than scrupulous methods. This is not to say NOTW or News Corp. or Rupert Murdoch are absolved of any guilt, but clearly they were simply using any and all means at their disposal to acquire this “news.”

    If the public were not to have such a salacious appetite for “gossip” disguised as actual news, there would be no reason for NOTW and their ilk to acquire information this way. Also remember, this particular media outlet happened to get caught — in the minds of some (many?), it’s only a crime if you get caught. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find that many legitimate (and some less so) media are engaging in similar practices, only they’ve been discovered … yet.

    I’m neither condoning nor condemning what NOTW did (although it’s fairly obvious they are guilty of at best, bad judgment and at worst, jailable offenses). We must, however, be careful not to react too quickly or too harshly in this regard, lest the fourth estate be face new laws or regulations which ultimately stifle freedom of the press. A measured response to this scandal is completely necessary — an overreaction which results in censorship is possibly worse than the actual crimes (if any) that have been committed. Just my $.02

    — Phil Hecken

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