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Old Monday, August 19, 2013
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Default Jounalism notes 7

(Islamic & Western Perspective)

Mass media appear to be more practical than abstract and philosophical. However, both news and entertainment convey, reinforce, and are based on certain beliefs and value system. The epistemological and the ethical foundations of contemporary mass media practices are deeply rooted in the western ideologies and philosophies. The major motive behind all mass media structures, practices and processes is based on sales values and governed by the market mechanism.1 Media code of ethics and watchdog mechanism are ignored by the media practitioners because they contradict the prevailing social order and hinder the pursuit of private good. The situation in Muslim countries, or of Muslim media practitioners, is no different from that of the western media.
Western Perspective
Various forms of mass media ethics pertaining to the rights, responsibilities, freedom, and regulation of the press have been debated in European cultures since the introduction of the press in the 15th and early 16th centuries. Most of these debates focused on two areas: professional ethics related to the training of media professionals; and normative philosophical theories of public communication which bear on the professional obligations of media practitioners. The new information technologies of our time have tremendously increased the power and function of the mass media, and at the same time have put enormous pressure on media scholars to rethink and redefine
the parameters of ethics for journalists and media practitioners. On the one hand these new technologies are democratizing the process of communication by encouraging communication between individuals; on the other hand they also provide opportunities for the rich and elite to monopolize the information and manipulate it and thus control others' destinies without their consent or even against their will. This, as an eminent communication scholar Everett Rogers notes, is an epistemological turning point in media analysis and the new communication technologies are the driving force behind this revolution.
Merrill has divided existing media codes of ethics and responsibility into three types: that which is legally defined or determined by governments; that which is professionally defined or determined by the press itself; and that which is pluralistically defined or determined by individual journalists themselves. Merrill
sees the third theory as the only one that is valid, meaningful, and in harmony with the values and goals of western societies, especially American society.
In attempting to compare existing codes of ethics, Thomas W. Cooper has provided a national, ideational, historical, and linguistic context. Placing these codes within a spectrum of emphasis, Cooper illustrated some of the most important polarities by which most of the codes can be explained from 'informal' to 'formal', from 'minimal' to 'ideal', from 'material' to metaphysical', the 'inhibitive' to the 'inspirational', etc While obviously there is no attempt, by western scholars, to compare these codes within the Islamic framework, Claude-Jean Bertrand has noted that the West is more concerned with ethical issues in the context of a 'free press', 'and the rest of the world is more interested in issues regarding 'justice'. Herbert Altschull has used loose categories of market oriented countries, Marxist, and advancing nations, and has described the articles of faith that form the basis of media codes of ethics. There may be numerous contexts and methodological devices by which codes may be classified. However looking at the three perspectives discussed in this article, (John C. Merrill, Thomas Cooper, and Herbert Altschull) one may conclude that most western nations, including the newly liberated nations of East Europe, are increasingly inclined towards a market based theory of responsibility in mass media which is in fact a theory of individual pluralism. Or in clearer terms: the code of ethics is what an individual journalist, or a particular media institution, or a particular society deems fit for the material benefit of the journalist, or the press, or of the society as a whole. Thus the meaning and values assigned to concepts such as news, truth, objectivity, freedom, people's right to know, and facts, may change according to
particular circumstances or according to the needs and priorities of a particular society at a particular time.

This is the most that one can get from reviewing the existing literature on media ethics from western scholars' theses on this issue. Individual codes of ethics may vary from nation to nation only with respect to national priorities, linguistic constraints, cultural diversity, or the type of political structure.
Despite efforts to draw up an internationally agreed code of ethics, in practical terms there exist different codes of journalistic ethics in many nations of the east, west, north and south. The process of mass communication is dictated by a journalist's own vision of what can be most readily sold to the public, and in what form. That is why there are 'codes without conduct, technology without humanity, theory without
reality [practice], global change without personal change, and personal ethics, without world awareness.'
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