Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Media Ethics Part 2: Minimize Harm

Journalists have a special responsibility. They filter our news. They present a picture of the world. Journalists aren't licensed like lawyers. Yet they can impact society in huge ways. The Society for Professional Journalists has developed a voluntary Code of Ethics. In a previous post, we looked at the first tenet of journalism as defined by the SPJ - Seek Truth and Report It.

The second is to Minimize Harm. According to the SPJ, ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect. "Journalists should:

Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.

Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.

— Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.

— Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.

Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.

Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.

Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed."

Source: Society for Professional Journalists: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Kim's Note: Do you think the mainstream media try to minimize harm? I have observed reporters follow this tenet, so I know they can. There is a fine line between reporting the news and pandering to lurid curiosity. It's interesting to think about reporters valuing sensitivity, compassion and good taste. A few of the cable news reporters could use a reminder. The SPJ says it best: Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.

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