Ethics and the media….or lack of

I was reading in the BPS Psychologist magazine (March 2014) an article by Sian Williams (y’know, her that use to do BBC Breakfast before they moved to Salford and the thought of being in the North scared her into resigning) about ethics in journalism.

Apparently, she is taking an MSc in psychology.

I’m assuming she’s just had a lecture on the ethical treatment of people and she’s had an epiphany. In case you didn’t know, ETHICS IS IMPORTANT. Journalists should be careful to treat vulnerable people ethically. Informed consent is important. And think about the terrible mental strain it has on the poor journalist reporting from war and disaster zones.


I’m pleased to see that after around 20 years in journalism that it took an MSc course for her to have these thoughts. Pray tell, have you treated all your previous interviewees ethically? Given that these issues seem to have just dawned on you, I’m having my doubts.

But, the word that came to mind time and again while reading this article is ‘parochial’.

Journalists shouldn’t only be worried about treating vulnerable people ethically, everyone is entitled to it. Best practice usually says that if something needs to be altered for someone with a disability then you need to consider that it will benefit everyone. You shouldn’t have to be vulnerable to expect ethical treatment from journalists. We are all entitled to it. Underlining all of it is proper informed consent.

And, yes, journalists do have to consider the mental toll that some stories will have on them. But, you could say no. And what about the rest of us, the public viewer? If you think that seeing dead and mutilated bodies as a journalist is traumatic why do you show us these pictures time and again on TV? Aren’t the victims of war zones and disasters entitled to ethical treatment too rather than pointing a TV camera in their face and recording the worst moment of their lives. Did they give you permission? Did they have a choice? Could they have told you to fuck off? What about their families seeing that? No, instead you go out of your way to broadcast images of highly distressed people, at the worst point in their life, who have not given their consent, and may even be to traumatised to do so even if you asked. What happened to all that talk about treating vulnerable people ethically? Are they not the definition of vulnerable??

And, have you noticed that, when dead bodies are shown on TV news, they are inevitably not westerners? Disasters sometimes happen in western countries but we tend not to see dead and mutilated bodies while we’re eating our fish and chips. But nonwesterners seem to be fair game.

So, next time you see a child from Africa starving to death and on the brink of dying all over the news, spare a thought for the child and their family and ask whether this is ethical, or even humane, treatment.

Oh, and spare a thought for the journalist…..apparently they may be traumatised


Am I talking out of my ass?

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