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?