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Old Thursday, September 26, 2013
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In a survey of 31 European codes of journalistic ethics, Tiina Laitila (1995) ascertains by and large, with respect to the function of these professional principles, how frequently certain things come up: 40% of the codes formulate a responsibility of journalists to the public (e.g. truth and clarity of information; defence of the rights of the public; responsibility, as figures in a position of influence, for public opinion); 23% contained principles referring to protection of the professional integrity of journalists (e.g. protection from public authorities; protection from employers and from advertising clients); in 22% a responsibility with regard to information sources was found (e.g. requirements about the collection and presentation of information and on the integrity of the source); in 9% of the codes there was something about the protection of status and professional solidarity; 4% contained requirements about responsibility toward employers and 2% had requirements on responsibility toward state institutions.
As the most frequently mentioned principles (contained in more than half of the national codes looked at) Laitila identified:
 Truthfulness in gathering and reporting information;
 Freedom of expression and comment, defence of these rights;
 Equality by not discriminating against anyone on the basis of his or her race, ethnicity or religion, sex, social class, profession, handicap or any other personal characteristics;
 Fairness by using only straightforward means in the gathering of information;
 Respect for the integrity of sources, copyright and laws of citation;
 Independence/integrity by refusing bribes or any other outside influences on the work, by demanding the conscience clause.
No clear-cut answer can be given to the question as to how codes like these influence the behaviour of journalists. A survey conducted among 226 publishers in the US in the mid-1980s showed that newspapers with a code of ethics dealt with ethical violations more strictly than those that had no codes. When David Pritchard and Madelyn Peroni Morgan surveyed two newspapers in Indianapolis in 1989, on the other hand, they found that it made no difference. These authors came to the conclusion that codes of ethics are not much more than a public relations device, irrelevant to professional practice. David E. Boeyink (1994), however, concludes from his case study of three US newspapers that the effectiveness of such principles strongly depends on what significance the management attributes to them, and whether, in discussions with the journalists, the gap between general guidelines and concrete cases is closed. There is too little empirical evidence, though, to answer this question conclusively.
4. Systematic aspects of a journalistic ethic and the public ethic

The extent to which professional principles can achieve their purpose depends on whether there is a professional jurisdiction with sanctioning powers. In the Federal Republic of Germany, for instance, the German Press Council (Deutscher Presserat), in which journalists and publishers are represented equally, has endeavoured since 1956 to support press freedom and to search out and remove abuses in the press. An idea of individual ethics forms the basis of journalistic professional principles. In other words, responsibility is personally assigned to individual journalists. However, that does not take full account of the fact that in many cases individual journalists would definitely prefer to comply with the code, but that conditions do not allow them to. It might simply be a matter of having to make a living; or perhaps the state, using its power, prevents "ethically perfect journalism," preferring lies and manipulation instead. But even a commercial organisation within a medium, in competition with other media, can prevent the emergence of ethical journalism; it may be that an owner, publisher or manager demands or supports a certain political leaning; it may be that the pursuit of profits leads to a preference for a certain kind of content (e.g. sex, crime and human interest are big sellers); it may be that, owing to the pressure of current events, ethically perfect journalistic work (e.g. in research) is prevented or that quite unethical behaviour (e.g. invasion of privacy, use of illegal methods to procure information) is supported. Commercialisation can also mean that the criteria for journalistic quality go by the board and that media organisations, on the recommendation of business consulting firms, slim down their organisational structure. Here the individualistic ethic should be supplemented by an ethic that takes the system into account. In the framework of an ethic for the media sector, the following authorities must be assigned co-responsibility for the results of journalistic work: the legislature, which shapes the legal basis for the media sector; the media owners, whose interests in economic success can interfere with the journalistic ethic; the editorial hierarchy (all employees inside a media business who, in the context of their jobs, are decision-makers); and the colleagues, among whom the individual journalists work.

It should be noted that employers make their own claims to having three areas of responsibility. These include, firstly, responsibility for the survival of the business, and with that the obligation to provide job security for the employees; secondly, a responsibility for the quality and reliability of the product, as well as, thirdly, a responsibility for the overall social consequences of their work. Another approach to ethics includes the public, too. Thus, Clifford Christians, the American communications scholar, sees "a comprehensive moral duty on the part of the public to watch over societal processes such as social communication." (Christians, 1989). This might be conceivable, for instance, in the case where the public avoids the consumption of inferior media products. Here the public would have to be educated over a long period, in order to direct journalism. Cees Hamelink (1995) sees the beginnings of an ethic for the public in internationally-based initiatives by media consumers to demand from governments and media organisations rights for recipients and safeguards for their interests. Hamelink wants media consumption understood as a social activity involving moral choices. In Germany, Manfred Buchwald, director of Saarland Broadcasting Corporation (1989-1996), referred to this, saying that along with the producers, the public also has a responsibility for the quality of media content.
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