Moral Claimants, Obligation,
and Social Responsibility
Whenever we make moral decisions, we affect other people. In fact, anyone who is affected by our decisions or has some effect on us could be considered a stakeholder–or, in the language of ethics–a moral claimant. This claimant could be our reading or viewing publics, the people who pay our salaries, our families, those we are reporting on, their families, our fellow professionals, or virtually anyone. The fact that the media affect so many seriously complicates moral decisions, because we must consider all those affected or be found lacking by those we do not consider.
As mentioned in chapter 1, our daily decisions as private individuals don't usually affect that many people, but the influence of even those private decisions may have repercussions far beyond our immediate circle. Imagine, then, the impact the media have on vast numbers of people every day. If we are to act as responsible media practitioners, we must consider all of those people every time we make a decision affecting them. In order to accomplish that, we must first decide exactly who those people are and what likely effect we will have on them.
For all media there are four primary claimant groups: our clients/customers, the organization for which we work, the profession of which we are a part, and society as a whole.1 Naturally, the order in which we address these groups will depend on a number of variables, including the media job we hold (in journalism, advertising, or public relations); the environment in which we are having to make a moral decision (political, economic, and so-____________________