This paper focuses on the codes of ethics adopted by European media professionals to guide and regulate their own performance. But first that we shall review the issues of media regulation in more general terms, beginning with the question: What is the place and role of the media in a democratic society? Apart from the last section, the paper draws on my article in a European textbook on media ethics (see bibliography: Nordenstreng 2000a).
Media and society
Our starting point is “Galtung’s triangle”:
The figure is from the Norwegian-born social scientist and peace research pioneer Johan Galtung (1999), in whose three-sided model the pillars of society are the State or government, Capital or market forces, and Civil Society or non-governmental and non-commercial people’s activities. In this setup the media are not necessarily located at the apex of the triangle but rather float somewhere between the pillars. In the history of many countries the media have found their place first close to the State, then drifting towards the Civil Society, and more recently, increasingly close to Capital-driven markets.
Galtung does not expect market forces to completely absorb globalizing society; he also sees a burgeoning strength in the civil society with its new movements. Thus the media take a challenging place in a field of conflicts. The media are vital channels not only for the Civil Society in relation to the State and Capital, but also in communication between the State and Capital in order to ensure a common public sphere and dialogue in society. If the media succeed in attaining a strong and independent position in this triangle, they could, according to Galtung, assume the status of a fourth pillar in the power structure of society.
It is typical to exaggerate the power of the media to exert influence by ignoring the fact that communication is not generally an independent power, but rather a continuation of more fundamental social forces (Nordenstreng 2000b). However, there have been in recent years – in conditions of the so-called “information society” – good reasons to speak of the “medialization” of social relations and of the significant power position of the media in society (for a new reader on the topic, see Karvonen 2001). The media have become kingmakers in the field of politics at the same time as the institution of the political party has lost ground. In the old days newspapers were typically an extension of politics, and newspapermen (indeed mostly men!) were politicians. Today politics and the media have split into two institutions, and the media frequently appear to be the stronger.
Traditionally the influence of the media has been emphasized by talk of the “fourth estate” or “fourth branch of government” alongside the legislative (Parliament), executive and judicial branches. This view has gained new impetus from the perspective of the “media society”. For example, the Finnish discussion among constitutional lawyers has generated a proposal that the classic doctrine of the three branches is no longer valid and should be complemented by such contemporary branches as trade unions, market forces – and mass media.
The basic setup, however, is clear and the core question remains, what is the relation of the media power to the people’s power. Taking freedom of speech as a basic principle, the task of the media, and of journalism in particular, is to serve the people and not those who wield power, be that power political or economic. Thus, in Galtung's figure the media should be located closer to the Civil Society. It is not healthy for the cause of democracy that the media should move from the political camp to the economic camp and remain the tool of those elites in society, while the people continue on their own path as consumers and spectators.
From this position in the United States a start has been made to seek new forms of journalism, not only through investigative reporting, but also through civic journalism or public journalism seeking out the grassroots. The premise here is that the people lack not only information but also democracy, and that journalism should pose questions in the manner of the man or woman in the street, not as the political and economic elite would do it. The fault thus lies not with the people but with elitist information alien to their lives. This populist trend has achieved the support of some publishers, who are concerned about the declining readership, especially among the young. (For a general review of civic/public journalism, see Glasser 1999.)
Civic journalism seeks to support local democracy not so much by inundating citizens with information filtered by the elite but by bringing citizens to discuss and act on issues, which concern them. In such a case the media and the journalists are transformed from apparently objective reporters to moderators supporting citizen participation. The objective is to re-activate citizens who have become cynical and to revive the community adrift from its ties – to return from individualism to communitarianism.
It is, however, doubtful whether journalism and the media can completely repair the structural foundations of society. Projects of a popular journalistic nature more likely reflect the rhetoric of the citizens’ society than reality, particularly in the United States. One may furthermore ask whether or not deregulation is making the national and supranational media scene more or less supportive of freedom of speech. On the other hand the interaction of the global and the local opens up a new positive perspective – the glocal – for both society and the media (Tehranian 1999).
My thesis is that behind all those contradictory developments, long-term thinking about the media is changing, and that the change is for the better – in a more democratic and ethical direction. In the ideal world of normative media theories, if not in the real world of media practice, the image of self-sufficient media and a public passively receiving information is being replaced by a new idea of media working as extensions of democracy and serving its citizens. Accordingly, the citizen is moving from the sidelines into the arena.
I have examined elsewhere (Nordenstreng 1997) the concept of freedom of speech in the light of long-term trends of media ideologies in Western Europe, particularly Finland. That study suggested a paradigm shift emphasizing on the one hand the right of citizens to communicate, and on the other pluralism in public affairs, as well as the responsibility of the media which serves these ends.
This kind of a paradigm shift is evident in various media reform movements such as the MacBride Round Table (Vincent & al. 1999), the Cultural Environment Movement CEM (Duncan 1999), or the Peoples' Communication Charter PCC (Hamelink 1994). My own version of the same line is a call for global content analysis and related media criticism, known as international media monitoring (Nordenstreng 1999).
Symptomatic of the same paradigmatic development is a media ethics boom as documented by a phenomenal growth of literature on this topic. Nevertheless, it is questionable how widely held this paradigm shift is in the contemporary media world. The recent book “Rich Media, Poor Democracy” (McChesney 1999), suggests that the situation of the media, in the USA at lest, is fairly gloomy. But even that book is inspired by a wish for reform, with a set of recommendations about how to make the media system more democratic and how to improve its ethical performance. Thus there remains a margin of hope.
Whether that margin is negligible or significant depends on the conditions, including what is done by those in charge of media policy – and those in charge of media research and education. While we teachers and students should be alert and energetic, we should remain cool and realistic. In other words, we should avoid the twofold trap of being either too passive and conservative or too hyper-active and naive. As I pointed out elsewhere (Nordenstreng 1998), journalism ethics has several faces and needs to be approached with particular care when addressing professionalism.
In any case it is vital to critically examine the doctrines that feed our thinking and doing. And a central part of this homework is to study democracy, which all too often is either taken for granted or simply treated as a mantra. (For my own preliminary homework, see Nordenstreng 2000c and 2001.)
Media responsibility and regulation
Having reflected on media and democracy, let us now focus on the mechanisms of media responsibility and accountability. As well shown by people such as McQuail (1997), all media under all circumstances are responsible and accountable either in the sense of liability or answerability. Christians & al. (1998) lead us further by asking who media professionals are responsible and accountable to. To whom is moral duty owed? Five parties are singled out:
2. their clients (subscribers, supporters, etc.)
3. their organization (company, etc.)
4. their colleagues (workplace, association, etc.)
5. the society at large
In the European tradition, the legacy of Enlightenment and human rights demands that the media should be free – free from coercion by the power holders and free for the pursuit of truth and creativity. However, no social institution can be absolutely free, and even the freest media are always tied to some social forces, serving some political objectives – often indirectly and even unintentionally so but still, sociologically speaking, far from absolutely free. The question then is not whether the media are free but how they are controlled and held accountable.
Three main mechanisms of media control can be distinguished (Bertrand 1998):
1. Law promulgated by Parliament and other state bodies and executed by courts
2. Market based on private property, commercial advertising, etc.
3. Media themselves through various means of maintaining “ethics”
In most countries today (certainly in Europe), these categories are mutually dependent. They coexist. Thus, self-regulation is always accompanied by some degree of legal regulation to ensure than minimum standards of democratic order and human rights are respected. This form of self-regulation is a preferred alternative to more heavy-handed legislation Similarly, as media concentration and tabloidization increase, it is natural for society and the public to prefer this form of self-regulation over commercial markets. Media ethics as another way of highlighting self-regulation is today one of the booming areas of communication studies and literature.
Accordingly, while self-regulation is mostly accompanied by legal and market regulation, we should take it as a most valuable form of regulating the media in society. It is one aspect of a mega trend in contemporary thinking, whereby established political institutions, including nation states, lose their importance – at least in terms of their intellectual potential- and are gradually replaced by more flexible structures, such as grassroots approaches and networking. Part and parcel of this trend is a new emphasis on (ordinary) people as the main subject in communication – as consumers, citizens and ‘owners’ of the right to freedom of information – instead of journalists and media proprietors.
In fact, citizens and civil society could be added to Bertrand’s list of regulatory mechanisms. Yet, in reality regulation on the part of civil society is possible only in small vehicles of communication owned by members of associations and in information networks formed by restricted interest groups. Citizens can bring influence to bear on the main media only marginally, by their own consumer behavior (i.e. as a market force) and by participating in the activities of pressure groups. Likewise, we must remember that citizens constitute the electorate which ultimately determines, in theory at least, what Parliament and the government – the whole state apparatus – is doing with the media.
The idea that the media are responsible to the general public made up of citizens is widely accepted, not least among journalists (as will be documented below). Journalists see themselves as using freedom of speech as the representatives of the citizens, and the professional ideal of the journalist typically embodies the roles of both a watchdog and an educator. On the other hand journalists, not to mention media owners, are anxious to remain independent, at least regarding the state, and therefore they are reluctant to accept laws to concretize their abstract responsibility. Accordingly, while media professionals speak warmly about responsibility, they remain lukewarm about accountability.
Upon closer examination the media present a constitutional dilemma. On the one hand, some countries have freedom of speech and a ban on advance censorship written into their Constitution (e.g., the US First Amendment and corresponding provisions in many countries such as Finland). On the other hand the media, like any institution in society, including free enterprise, are to a certain extent accountable to a democratic society. The responsibility of communication has been specified in international agreements on human rights, which both guarantee freedom of opinion and expression and set limitations on the dissemination of things like racist and warmongering propaganda. In general, human rights instruments set clear boundary conditions for the media, just as there are boundary conditions on other aspects of life. It is thus impossible for the media to use freedom of speech to justify their setting themselves above social norms and institutions. They have, on the contrary, a special responsibility, for in a democratic society both constitutional protection for freedom of speech and human rights agreements place the media in the position of a tool in the service of citizens.
Self-regulation by councils and codes
Self-regulation of the media is a widely accepted mechanism of regulating the responsibility of the media to the citizens. In practice this boils down to professional codes of ethics and independent media councils.
Self-regulation, however, is quite a weak form of regulation compared to official laws and perpetual market forces. Moreover, self-regulation tends to remain cosmetic window-dressing of the media industry and its professionals – a repertoire of good intentions with little or no impact on practical media operation and performance. Even if media people were honest and not just tactical in their willingness to be accountable to the public, their professional values and work practices, supported by a culture of autonomy, easily leads to “fortress journalism” where professionalism inhibits rather than promotes the fulfilling of the citizens' communication needs (Nordenstreng 1995a and 1998). It thus becomes necessary both to intensify the effects of self-regulation on professional practice and to monitor critically the state of self-regulation.
For self-regulation this means that the main function shifts from protecting media professionals to protecting ordinary citizens. This does not mean that the idea of media self-regulation is diluted. On the contrary, taking a little distance from the media themselves and taking the role of the audience and citizens more seriously brings self-regulation closer to what it is supposed to be in theories of democracy.
Actually self-regulation can and should be justified not only on the basis of defensive strategies on the part journalists and media but first and foremost seen through the public interest – ultimately as an innovative approach to democracy. I have suggested (Nordenstreng 1999) a rationale in four steps based on the premises that the media are:
1. influential (operating and perceived as powerful socio-political institutions)
2. free (autonomy guaranteed by national and international law)
3. accountable (responsibility determined by social and legal provisions)
4. best made accountable by proactive self-regulation
This logic was articulated with a view to a new type of self-regulation: media criticism. This scientifically and professionally based system of monitoring media performance facilitates debate between media producers, consumers and the political and economic interest groups that hunger for influence over various aspects of media coverage (Nordenstreng 1999). But it fits equally well with the old ways of media self-regulation: councils and codes. Given the ever more vital role played by the media – including the so-called new media – in the emerging information society, it is a great challenge for both media professionals and media academics, as well as media policy makers, to promote self-regulation.
Self-regulation is the most obvious way to ensure both the freedom and responsibility of the mass media in society. Claude-Jean Bertrand (1998) refers to it as media accountability systems (MAS) and lists over thirty different ways to uphold the quality and responsibility of the free media. These include media criticism and monitoring, public access to the media and even training – the education of both professionals and consumers. However, the most important and internationally recognised mechanisms of self-regulation are independent media councils and professional codes of ethics.
The following table lists the European countries where media self-regulation operates through councils and codes. The table shows graphically that codes are more widespread than councils. Every one of the 38 countries listed has a document of principles and practices typically called “code of ethics”, adopted by an independent media organisation (the UK has two codes). Meanwhile, less than 25 countries have a body to function as a court of honour mostly called “press council”. Considering the nature of these means of self-regulation this is understandable: a code is relatively easy to adopt by a single professional association, whereas a council requires agreement between several parties (journalists and publishers often in conflict with each other) and an institutional commitment far beyond a single resolution. Some of the councils are no longer or not yet operational, or their status as an independent body is under dispute, which is marked by brackets in the table (altogether 8 cases). In addition, the councils which are instruments of governmental regulation rather than professional self-regulation are marked by asterisk in the table (2 cases).
Table: European countries which have a press council and/or a professional code of ethics
(Sources: Nordenstreng 1995b; www.uta.fi/ethicnet; www.u-paris-2.fr/ifp ...Deontologie/ethic)
|Council ||Code |
|Armenia ||- ||+ |
|Austria ||+ ||+ |
|Belarus ||- ||+ |
|Belgium ||+ ||+ |
|Bosnia-Herzegovina ||- ||+ |
|Bulgaria ||- ||+ |
|Croatia ||- ||+ |
|Czech Republic ||- ||+ |
|Cyprus ||+ ||+ |
|Denmark ||+ ||+ |
|Estonia ||+ ||+ |
|Finland ||+ ||+ |
|France ||- ||+ |
|Germany ||+ ||+ |
|Greece ||* ||+ |
|Hungary ||- ||+ |
|Iceland ||+ ||+ |
|Ireland ||- ||+ |
|Italy ||(+) ||+ |
|Latvia ||- ||+ |
|Lithuana ||+ ||+ |
|Luxembourg ||(+) ||+ |
|Malta ||(+) ||+ |
|Moldova ||(+) ||+ |
|Netherlands ||+ ||+ |
|Norway ||+ ||+ |
|Poland ||(+) ||+ |
|Portugal ||* ||+ |
|Romania ||(+) ||+ |
|Russia ||(+) ||+ |
|Serbia ||- ||+ |
|Slovakia ||- ||+ |
|Slovenia ||(+) ||+ |
|Spain ||+ ||+ |
|Sweden ||+ ||+ |
|Switzerland ||+ ||+ |
|Turkey ||+ ||+ |
|United Kingdom ||+ ||+ |
For a council to be an agency of self-regulation, it must be independent of the political and judiciary system. Thus an official body incorporated in the state apparatus does not qualify as a self-regulatory media council. Yet there are two countries, Denmark and Lithuania, where a media council has been established by Parliament, and is thus formally speaking official, but which operates like any independent self-regulatory body. Most broadcasting councils are official state bodies in this respect, and therefore they are omitted here, although such radio and/or television councils may in some cases have quite a professional and pluralist orientation. Since the councils are first and foremost established for and by the print media – although most of them today also cover the electronic media – they are usually called “press councils”.
The first councils were established in the beginning of the 20th century, at around the same time as the first ethical codes were emerged. A real boom of the councils began after the Second World War and peaked in the 1960s, when several already existing councils also began to be remodelled or revised. The most important example for the later councils was the now defunct British “General Council of the Press”, founded in 1953, on which the German Presserat was modelled. The British Press Council was not, however, the first of its kind in Europe. Scandinavian journalists were years ahead of their British colleagues. The Swedish Court of Honour was founded as early as in 1916, the Finnish and the Norwegian bodies in the late1920s.
After the opening move by the Scandinavians, the councils spread around the world. At the end of the 1970s there were around 50 media councils or similar organizations throughout the world. Further councils were established in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s – among these the councils in Greece and Portugal sponsored by the state (the latter not recognized by the Syndicate of Journalists). The British body went through a crisis and was reborn in 1991 as the Press Complaints Commission (without participation of the National Union of Journalists). Russia is a case in its own class, with the “Judicial Chamber on Informational Disputes under the President of the Russian Federation”, established in 1993 and discontinued in 2000, as well as an independent “Grand Jury of the Media” set up by the Russian Union of Journalists in 1998.
Although there are considerable differences between the various media councils, they also have much in common. Their main task everywhere is twofold. First, the councils protect the rights of the public (audience, sources and referents of the content) in relation to the mass media. By giving the public the opportunity to complain about bad or unethical journalism, the councils give the public at least some empathy if not a direct voice in media performance. The council investigates complaints by the public and, if the media are found to have breached good practice, makes a public statement to that effect and requires the offender to publish a prompt and prominent correction and apology.
Secondly, the councils protect the mass media themselves from unjustified complaints or accusations from both the public and private sectors of society. Thus self-regulation is also a way for the journalists and publishers to demonstrate that the media are responsible, with no further official regulation needed. Many councils, including the Swedish, were in fact founded under public interest pressure.
Most independent media councils have been established by journalists and/or publishers, and are typically composed of representatives appointed by their respective national associations. Ethics committees belonging exclusively to journalists’ associations may not be taken as councils proper, but nevertheless some such cases are included in this presentation (among those bracketed in the Table). In addition, more often than not a media council also has lay members – people representing the general public. The selection of these lay members remains a problem, because in this case one obviously does not want to resort to Parliament as a representative sample of the population. However, the members of the general public have proved to be an important asset to the councils, adding to their credibility.
European ethics of journalism
Following up earlier studies in the 1970s, I initiated in 1989 an inventory of the journalistic codes of ethics adopted in the countries of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE). A graduate student (Pauli Juusela) made it with the assistance of the Prague-based International Journalism Institute (IJI). Based on twenty four codes, the conclusion was that “there is developing among the CSCE countries some sort of basic, universal model of journalistic codes where the accent is on truth, freedom of information, and protection of the individual” (Juusela 1991).
Since 1989-90 Europe has fundamentally changed, and therefore with another graduate student (Tiina Laitila) I made a new inventory of the codes that were valid in Europe in 1994-95. We located thirty one contemporary codes adopted by journalists’ associations or other bodies, notably media councils (Laitila 1995). This inventory shows that most of the codes are quite fresh; over two thirds of them were adopted in the 1990s. Many of those, such as the Polish and the Russian codes, were preceded by other codes, but they were updated and revised recently in order to keep up with changing times. More codes are in the making. Between 1995 and 2000 several new codes were completed (including Armenia, Belarus, Czech Republic and Estonia). By and large we can say that there are current codes of professional ethics, adopted by journalists' own associations, in thirty-eight European countries – that is, from the Atlantic to the Urals. These 38 countries are listed in the Table above. The codes as a whole are to be found in English translations in EthicNet, the Databank for European Codes of Journalistic Ethics, hosted by my Department at the University of Tampere (www.uta.fi/ethicnet).
As shown by Laitila, the most widely covered aspects in these codes are the journalists’ accountability towards the public, their accountability towards the sources and referents and the protection of the journalist’s integrity. Least salient is the journalist’s accountability towards the state and the employers. It is significant how much emphasis the codes give to the public, as well as to the sources and referents (some 60 % of the 61 provisions mentioned in the 31 codes), seen against the natural functions of protecting the integrity and status of the journalist (only 30 %). This means that the codes are designed not just for the selfish purpose of safeguarding the journalists' fortress but also for an idealistic purpose of serving the public interest.
An idealistic and altruistic emphasis is still present if we pick up only those provisions, which are present in at least half of the European codes. This list, which could be taken as a basis for a common European code (in case there is a need to construct one), according to Laitila (1995), is as follows:
1. Truthfulness in gathering and reporting information
2. Freedom of expression and comment; defence of these rights
3. Equality by not discriminating against anyone on the basis of his/her race, ethnicity or religion, sex, social class, profession, handicap or other personal characteristics
4. Fairness by using only straightforward means in gathering information
5. Respect for the sources and referents and their integrity; for copyright and quoting
6. Independence/integrity by refusing bribes or any other outside influence on the work; by demanding the conscience clause
These six themes mostly represent conventional professionalism – in its less self-centred form – except the third one (equality and non-discrimination) which has a bias on behalf of so-called ordinary people and their human rights, i.e. a clear tendency away from fortress journalism. But it is worth noting that combating racism and xenophobia in the media has become in the 1990s a common concern for journalist associations in Europe, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Council of Europe and the European Union.
Accordingly, the contemporary ethics of European journalists, as reflected in the codes of ethics, is dedicated to not only journalists' but also people's rights and is committed not only to “professional” but also to “political” values. This suggests quite a balanced approach to professionalism, far from the doubtful perspectives opened up by the above reflections on professionalism as such.
However, the significance of these codes of ethics must be questioned – to what extent are they put into practice in real life and to what extent are they even known among rank and file journalists? On both counts the evidence is rather distressing, supporting a cynical view of the codes as window dressing. Am I then naive in taking the codes seriously? Am I not inconsistent in accepting them as true readings of positive professionalism, while suspecting most other aspects of professionalism as negative building blocks of self-centred fortress journalism?
My response to this challenge is, firstly, that it is worth taking the codes of ethics at face value, since they have after all been carefully elaborated and adopted by representative professional bodies. In no case should they be taken as dead letters of history, since most of them are quite recent and kept alive by periodic revisions. In other words, the codes do represent real and present professional thinking – however rhetorical it may be in its relation to actual practice. Secondly, the codes are invaluable as an instrument of self-reflection by helping the practitioners to understand the nature of their work and relating their practice to broader moral and ethical values. In other words, the codes serve as vehicles of sensitisation or, in Paolo Freire’s words, “conscientization”.
Consequently, the professional codes support the notion of a common core in European journalism ethics. Moreover, comparisons with ethical codes from other geopolitical regions show striking commonalties, particularly regarding respect for truth and privacy (Hafez 2001). Common elements were also exposed by a global survey of news people around the world, although national characteristics remain striking as well (Weaver 1998). A landmark document prepared in the early 1980s by an almost universally representative body of international and regional organizations of journalists, International Principles of Professional Ethics in Journalism (Nordenstreng 1989 and 1998), serves as further evidence of a worldwide common core, at least as wishful thinking, although not necessarily as everyday practice.
Two declarations to be found in Küng and Schmidt (1998) also provide significant reminders of a global common core – no doubt also valid in Europe. They demonstrate that despite all the conflicts and talk about clash of civilizations, on the one hand, and all the ruthless globalisation, on the other, there is an ecumenical movement proceeding slowly but surely both among world political leaders and between churches and religions.
As I noted in the introduction to a special issue on media ethics of the European Journal of Communication (Nordenstreng 1995c), the world of communication is not a composite of completely disparate cultures and values. There are indeed universals, and in media ethics they have traditionally included truth, justice and freedom. Christians and Traber (1997) in their worldwide survey of the values held by communicators in various cultures discovered that the sacredness of life itself provides a “protonorm”, standing above all others albeit surrounded by human dignity, truth-telling, non-violence and solidarity.
Of all this, perhaps two keywords crystallize the current European thinking, both professional and political: tolerance and diversity.
The concept and teaching of media ethics
This paper has used the term “media ethics” in a vague and general sense as is customary in professional and academic circles. Its most general meaning is the overall value foundation of media content or the normative orientation of the media. This can refer to both the actual media performance and to the intended media performance. In such a general sense it is logical that media ethics is part and parcel of the media-society relationship; as soon as we talk about the role and mission of media in society, we also face the issues of media ethics. And as shown above, one meaning of the term is simply self-regulation of the media.
My preferred use of the term is what is typically suggested in the Anglo-American tradition, whereby the term “ethics” refers to the basic principles about how to define good and bad media performance, rather than to its actual practice. In everyday discussion ethics is often used to mean exactly the opposite: concrete behaviour of journalists/media. Still, I consider it vital that media scholars and educators distinguish between these aspects and try to be consistent in their use of terms. In point of fact, my university encourages students of journalism and media practice to study the basics of philosophy to be conceptually equipped to understand various aspects of media ethics.
Following Christians & al. (1998), our students are reminded of the five principles, which dominate Western thinking – from Aristotle’s golden mean through Kant’s categorical imperative, Mill’s utility and Rawl’s justice to the Judeo-Christian adage: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” A condensed framework of the philosophical legacy for media ethics is visualized in our Finnish textbook (inspired by Merrill 1997) as follows:
Consequently, when approaching ethics we inevitably encounter philosophy – at least its landmarks – and we are led to a terrain of contradictions, which offers few simple “right answers”. But that is precisely what makes media ethics intellectually stimulating. It is much less interesting and challenging to study concepts in an abstract and static world than to wrestle with the three dilemmas that I highlight in my introduction to the special issue of European Journal of Communication on media ethics (Nordenstreng 1995c): universal vs. particular, individualism vs. communitarianism, freedom vs. control.
In addition to the conceptual fundamentals of media ethics, our teaching of media ethics – in Finland as well as the rest of Scandinavia – includes basic knowledge of the media laws of the land. This is usually taught as a separate course on media law, with a related textbook and nowadays also online material encouraging students to use Internet for legal advice. Parallel to media law is media ethics as a course, with another book and online material, which presents the codified standards of good journalistic practice and presents several cases where these have and have not been followed. The media ethics course is mostly combined with the media law course – not only for convenience but also to make the point that law and ethics are two different spheres of regulation, which need to be kept conceptually separate.
Ethics will naturally occupy some place in virtually all elements of the curriculum. No course on reporting can overlook ethics – as an aspect of journalistic work or as a criterion in assessing the stories produced. But ethics are also implicit in courses, which are less directly related to media practice. Actually, theory courses often bring us back to the basics, which naturally also invite ethical reflection.
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