07.04.2020 in Society

Media Ethics Case

The journalism investigations exist for many years; it always provokes some ethical questions. Nowadays, the moral issue is one of the most controversial in the sphere. The case is about a reporter of a large TV news station, who has been covering the police beat for 20 years. One day, this person is confronted by a police trainee who wants to know what educational credentials the reporter should have in order to cover the criminal justice system. The next day, the character signs up for a criminal justice course. He enjoys the course and decides to pursue a degree in the evenings. He also continues to work as a newbie covering the police beat during the day. After the graduation with a degree in criminal justice, the journalist decides to go through the certification to become a constabulary.

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Being on the vacation, he takes a temporary job as an officer at the county fair. He also proceeds as the reporter of the local TV news. Moreover, the manager of police station has approved all these actions. Therefore, what is the ethical dilemma here? The character has dealt with the sphere for two decades, which means that he was involved in observing and elucidating all the “dirty laundry” concerning the police beat. The implantation into the service life from the inside seems to be like the betrayal of the ethical principles today. It may be regarded as cheating for twenty years before the community found out about him having got educational credentials. The significant question is also about the possibility of remaining objective in terms of journalistic professionalism and full devotion to work as an officer.


The facts that have influenced the situation are the following:

  • Colleagues from news station: journalism has the standards (like any other sphere), which mean the loyalty to certain requirements. Next, being ready to risk for the idea is a valuable job;
  • Police code: the same thing of professional devotion is about police service standards. The officer’s duty is sacrifice, which means serving the state and the nation and not gaining personal benefit or persuading private interests;
  • The delicate concern refers not only to the local society problem but remains a burning issue all over the country, even in the international scope;
  • On the one hand, the inquiry may also lead to revealing other unpleasant aspects of the officer’s department life. On the other hand, it may give an understanding how hard this work is;
  • The personality of reporter will be discovered in any case (even if expressed by his police colleagues only);
  • Society dilemma: the question here is that a journalist who revealed the service secrets became “one of those guys” whose interests are to defend this person now: is that media, police, or nation?

The claimants’ conflict is resolved among the officers, society members, and the reporter who is performing an action. Moreover, the media community may become a separate side advocating the process of investigation and the truth disclosure to public. The result of the research, which will become a TV reportage or series, or news article and discussion around it, is also a claimant by itself. The constabulary officials may become involved in the process on the chance it causes a significant resonance. 

All the claimants may pass through the influence of the next bulleted list duties:

  1. Fidelity: the contract like a dilemma between the journalist and the police service, and between him and the news station;
  2. Gratitude: depending on the investigation results, the local reporters’ community will abide pride for the colleague’s success about unclosing the truth (naturally, the criticism will come in sight simultaneously). The police “side” (local constabulary department and officials) will appreciate the chance of showing their everyday hard work, all the danger, risks, and violence they fight against to the public;
  3. Justice: the reporter’s merit is prejudiced in terms of satisfying the interests of two jobs. On the contrary, the station’s manager represents an equity because he is ready to sacrifice for the postulates of journalism at any price. The result of the inquiry is considered as an objective material, and the work of policemen depends on the legitimacy and adequacy of their actions; 
  4. Beneficence: for the media institute, it is the case of gratitude for the task and constabulary community for the justice. The reporter has improved his career and personal development.
  5. Self-improvement: the journalist and his rise, the manager with his organizational skills, and the reportage by itself are acting as news in the sphere;
  6. Non-injury: at first, the constabularies who are going to become the research heroes and the reporter as a double standards follower are considered. 

According to the concept, some alternative ways may be regarded:

The first one supposes that the character leaves the media and continue to work as a police officer. This variant is not possible because it puts under the threat all the achievements and results in journalism and makes it an end of the task and career at all. On the contrary, he gets new perspective and interesting job; however, the ethics question remains, and it tortures him again and again without any doubt.

The second alternative variant is to quit working at the station-house, but it also means to leave the investigation and to lose two perspectives at the same time: journalism career development and police experience. This way is unacceptable from the position of self-improvement (as a professional and personality), and it is left behind the moral issues.

The third option implies preserving the honesty and morality completely. The way is to let the police know the objective of character’s task while cooperating within their collective. It may eliminate the existing ethical dilemma, but it may cause the other one as well. The attitude of colleagues among officers and local community members will obviously change, and it will misrepresent the results of the whole work. It can also raise some inconvenience in personal attitude of the character to his duties and make the whole process be useless.

Favored options for the claimants are determined to be:

  1. No one from the alternatives for the reporter and his colleagues;
  2. The same for society as well;
  3. Every choice may be profitable for the police service. The first one is gaining a new colleague; the second one is the way of leaving things as they are and no “dirty laundry” analyzing; and the third one is a variant of getting the report with results that show work of the officers positively.

The best and the worst scenarios for all the alternative ways will probably be:

  • The reporter understands all the complexity of employment in the service, takes it side, and starts making reports opposite to the previous ones he did (made in media sphere). At worst, he will see all the injustice of police beat and return to journalism for shedding the light on this issue;
  • In the second variant, there are probably no worst or best cases; and if only he leaves the officer’s work now, he will return to it sooner or later for his personal development or career improvement reasons;
  • The third “truthful” option gives an opportunity for the society to see all the hardest aspects of the employment in police, and people will value this job more and show respect to the representatives of the profession in the best scenario. Further, the public will get disappointed in the constabulary work, and people will lose faith in the nation defenders.

The harm that can be raised by the alternative ways of the events flow may influence:

  • The society does not know the objective truth about police work in a whole and police beat in particular;
  • The reporter with his revealing by the third option, in the case of terminating his media career, or personal stagnation;
  • The reporter may be challenged to a large amount of criticism, and its purpose may be mistakenly mixed.

If talking about the claims, rules, or principles that may invalidate the goal of the whole issue, there are two possible variants:

  1. The first and the second alternatives may withdraw the investigation concern for a long period of time until the character or someone else returns to the issue;
  2. The third choice may change the aim of the reporter’s work so that the general principles of the idea will be under the question.

In the next five paragraphs, the alternative courses of action will be regarded from the position of ethical theories: Mill’s harm principle, Mill’s utilitarianism, Machiavellian ethical egoism, Aristotle’s golden mean, and Virtue ethics.

  1. According to Mill’s harm principle, the task of the topic is to search for good things overweighed by the harm caused. Thus, media career quit will be not beneficial for the reporter in terms of his professional growth. In case he decides to leave the work of a police officer, he will lose his chance to become an expert of the topic study (he was investigating this sphere for twenty years), so the damage in this scenario is to be overweighed the most serious. Moreover, talking about the third alternative, damage may be caused to society by leaving it without complete and truthful information about the situation with police beat.
  2. Mill’s utilitarianism theory can provide the information about the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people. Here, two variants can be considered. If the actions develop in the way they are, the society and media community would gain the biggest profit. The public is going to know the objective information, and the journalists will have this question covered and even feel proud about it. If to concern all the choices, only the third one will contribute to police institute in terms of showing the complexity of their occupation.
  3. Machiavellian ethical egoism helps to diverse the person’s or group’s benefit about the case. Here, it may be experienced by the character and the manager if they adhere to the ethics. Similarly, the third “truthful” alternative of revealing the aim of reporter’s work in the station-house may give advantage to employees and the officials.
  4. Aristotle’s doctrine of golden mean seems to be a perfect scenario at first sight due to its dealing with any complicated situation. In this context, it is not so easy to find the golden mean considering different groups that have various interests. The media wants to make resonance, the public desires to know the truth and find out who is guilty in any injustice, and the police’s target is to save face of nation defenders, truth fighters, and others. Still, the investigation seems to be the golden mean of the dilemma because it lets every side take part equally and defend their own values.
  5. Virtue ethics is obviously experienced by the reporter personally and media community in general for denouncing the virtue to the society in the form of truth and justice. 

The next challenge is to define whether absolutist ethical theories support or reject the alternative ways of the question conduct. 

Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, for example, has to answer the question whether the ethical dilemma (or any alternative way) leads to making the decision as a rule of policy and it pretends to be followed by others. Considering leaving one of the professions (the first and the second variants), these lines of behavior can not impress and become the example as they both seem an executive decision. Probably, the third option has a chance to get support as it seems to be the most suitable one. Still, the line of conduct chosen by the character from the beginning remains the most alike in pretending to become a rule of policy.

John Rawls’ veil of ignorance provides the imagination of the idealistic vision of the situation using the experiment tool. If we do not know the views, judgments, and even gossip and have to count the morality of the issue, what course of action will be chosen in this case? It is not easy to do that and stay objective to abstract from the outside factors. If to think over this situation, it leads to two variants. The first one is about absolute truth and belief that everyone sticks to that course so that the third alternative is applied; and the other one is about following the concept of the professional ethics by every representative of such sphere. This fact gives the picture about how reporters will present credence to journalism postulates, and how the police officer will remain faithful to the code of rules for a society defender.

Regarding everything stated above, there is the demand for making conclusions and determining the course of actions. The idea of the character to dig deeper into the problem situation is worth trying without any doubt. Even considering the ethical dilemma about the case, the supposed benefit (for the media community and public) exceeds the shortage it causes. Further, any alternative cannot reach the same distinction between pluses and minuses so that the course of action may be determined as the only one acceptable for the problem.

The Letter (behind the Scenes, Addressed to the Police Officials)

The situation with police beat specifically and the level of people’s reliance among the officers in general has been remaining the burning issue during the last years. There are many reasons for that: an increase in the crime rate, rapid changes in the lifestyle due to the era of information and technologies, economic problems, and accumulation of negative social factors, All these aspects influence society life day by day. Moreover, when the targets of the officers’ work are fighting against criminals defending peaceful groups of population and protecting the moral values on local and state levels, the key goal of journalists’ and reporters’ job is to deliver the truth to the public in all the spheres that need to be covered. Sometimes, this high aim contains tricky elements, misunderstandings, and even ethical dilemmas.

Nevertheless, it has to be done. For the character that devoted twenty years of his life fulfilling his duties and got the opportunity to expand his knowledge lately and to approach the constabulary life as close as possible, it is not correct to not give him even a chance. His contribution to the area may give a good harvest for the society in a separate region and on the state or even international level. The main thought is not to find lapses and throw mud at the name of police, but to search for verity and to elucidate the case from as many sides as possible. Therefore, all the necessary measures must be taken, and story will follow its logical path.

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