Quagmires and Quandaries: Exploring Journalism Ethics

Article excerpt

Quagmires and Quandaries: Exploring Journalism Ethics. Ian Richards. Sydney, Australia: University of South Wales Press, 2005. 191 pp. $34.95 pbk.

In a book that is both broad in scope and succinctly argued, Ian Richards provides an overview of key ethical issues arising from the institutional structure, occupational practices, and technological trappings of Western-style journalism. The book "sets out to locate and examine these forces in detail" at a time when media ethics scholars are increasingly turning their attention to such factors.

Richards' exploration of contextual forces influencing ethical behavior includes discussions of the social responsibility theory resulting from the 1947 Hutchins Commission report, codes of ethics (with a primary focus on the journalism code of ethics for a national media union in Australia), corporate pressures, new technologies, and occupational ideologies related to objectivity and newsworthiness. Richards includes a chapter on public journalism, but it is the shortest and least developed in the book.

The examples Richards weaves throughout the text primarily reference Australian journalism practice and education. Nevertheless, he relies substantially on media ethics scholarship from the United States to make many of his theoretical points and also draws on scholars in philosophy, sociology, political science, and psychology. The well-rounded argument that results is interdisciplinary and international to a degree that remains too rare in media ethics scholarship.

Although the book presents a sophisticated treatment of major ideas, it is written at a level accessible to readers who have not previously studied journalism ethics, including undergraduates, practitioners, and citizens. Richards does not summarize major ethical theories. The only mentions of normative ethical theories are brief discussions of utilitarianism and deontology in the privacy chapter and of American pragmatism in the conclusion chapter. In other words, this is a book that is a good choice for sensitizing students of all backgrounds to issues in journalism ethics, but not one that lends itself to learning the skill of moral reasoning. There are no discussion questions or extended case studies, so instructors will have to work in such learning aides on their own. It also would be helpful to include examples of exemplary journalistic behavior.

Students may end up somewhat confused about the roles of professionalism and codes of ethics in journalism. Richards sets aside professionalism as a central category for evaluating journalistic conduct early on in the book, but he later goes on to invoke professional terms and categories (e. …