Global Media Ethics -Part 1
What is global media ethics?
Global media ethics aims at developing a comprehensive set of principles and standards for the practice of journalism in an age of global news media. New forms of communication are reshaping the practice of a once parochial craft serving a local, regional or national public. Today, news media use communication technology to gather text, video and images from around the world with unprecedented speed and varying degrees of editorial control. The same technology allows news media to disseminate this information to audiences scattered around the globe.
Despite these global trends, most codes of ethics contain standards for news organizations or associations in specific countries. International associations of journalists exist, and some have constructed declarations of principle. But no global code has been adopted by most major journalism associations and news organizations.
In addition to statements of principle, more work needs to be done on the equally important area of specific, practice guidelines for covering international events. An adequate global journalism ethics has yet to be constructed.
The global media debate
The idea of a global media ethics arises out a larger attempt change, improve or reform the global media system to eliminate inequalities ion media technology and to reduce the control of global media in the hands of minority of Western countries. This attempt to re-structure the media system have been controversial, often being accused of being motivated by an agenda to control media or inhibit a free press. The debate continues today.
Beginning in the 1970s, there was an attempt to establish a “New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO)” prompted by concerns that Western media and its values were threatening the cultural values in non-Western, developing nations. The main players in NWICO were non-aligned nations, UNESCO, and the Sean McBride Commission. The recommendations of the McBride report in 1980, One World, Many Voices, outlined a new global media order. The report was endorsed by UNESCO members. The USA and Great Britain left UNESCO in the early 1980s in opposition to NWICO.
The dream of a set of principles and policies for equitable and responsible dissemination of information worldwide has not died. More recently, the United Nations has held two meetings of a movement called “World Summit on the Information Society.” At a summit in Geneva in December 2003, 175 countries adopted a plan of action and a declaration of principles. A second summit was held in Tunisia in November 2005 which looked at ways to implement the Geneva principles. At the heart of the summits’ concerns was the growth of new online media and the “digital divide” between the Global North and South.
On the history of the NWICO debate, see Gerbner, G. & Mowlana, H. & Nordenstreng, K., eds., The Global Media Debate. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1999.
The attempt to reform the global media system is much wider in scope than an attempt to construct a global media ethics. The former looks at what norms should guide media practitioners when they face difficult decisions on what to report. The latter goes beyond ethical reflections to include the economics, politics, and technology of media.
Why a global ethics?
There are at least two reasons:
(1) Practical: a non-global ethic is no longer able to adequately address the new problems that face global journalism, and
(2) Ethical: new global responsibilities come with global impact and reach.
News media now inhabit a radically pluralistic, global community where the impact of their reports can have far-reaching effects — good or bad. News reports, via satellite or the Internet, reach people around the world and influence the actions of governments, militaries, humanitarian agencies and warring ethnic groups. A responsible global ethic is needed in a world where news media bring together a plurality of different religions, traditions and ethnic groups.
One responsibility is to report issues and events in a way that reflects this global plurality of views; to practice a journalism that helps different groups understand each other better. Reports should be accurate, balanced and diverse, as judged from an international perspective. A biased and parochial journalism can wreak havoc in a tightly linked global world. Unless reported properly, North American readers may fail to understand the causes of violence in Middle East, or a famine in Africa. Biased reports may incite ethnic groups in a region to attack each other. A narrow-minded, patriotic news media can stampede populations into war. Moreover, journalism with a global perspective is needed to help citizens understand the daunting global problems of poverty, environmental degradation, technological inequalities and political instability.
For a systematic study of global media (and journalism) ethics, see Stephen J. A. Ward,Global Journalism Ethics (in bibliography below).
New stage in journalism ethics
Since the birth of modern journalism in the 17th century, journalism has gradually broaden the scope of the people that it claims to serve — from factions to specific social classes to the public of nations. The journalistic principle of “serving the public interest” has been understood, tacitly or explicitly, as serving one’s own public, social class or nation. The other principles of objectivity, impartiality and editorial independence were limited by this parochial understanding of who journalism serves. For example, “impartiality” meant being impartial in one’s coverage of rival groups within one’s society, but not necessarily being impartial to groups outside one’s national boundaries.