To Tell the Truth
Of all the possible virtues a media practitioner would like to be known for, truth stands out as preeminent. On the list of virtues the public would like to see the media practice most, avoidance of harm may be nearer the top.
Hardly anyone doubts that the media go to great lengths to tell the truth. With the exception of the tabloid press, which typically runs stories on alien births and Elvis spottings, most media base their reputations on their veracity. In fact, the few laws that limit freedom of speech have mostly to do with protection from harm caused by some form of lying. Laws against libel, slander, defamation, and so on, all deal with false or misleading speech. These laws apply equally to both public relations and advertising. In addition, both public relations and advertising are subject to very strict U. S. Federal Trade Commission guidelines governing deception in print and broadcast ads. In short, truth is the default position for all serious media, both legally and ethically. However, as we will see, truth is defined somewhat differently for journalism than it is for public relations and advertising, and on that definitional difference turns a great deal of controversy.
We have all heard the phrase, “The truth hurts. ” This simple adage illuminates one of the most controversial areas of media ethics: the avoidance of harm. The media, in fulfilling their role as disseminators of information, often face the invariable conflict between providing news or respecting rights. As mentioned in chapter 1, values and ideals come in conflict all the time. A citizen's right to privacy can be, and often is, ignored by the news media. Every tragedy has its victims and tragedy is news. Unfortunately, so are the victims. The recent rash of high school shootings has illustrated the extremes that some reporters will go to get a story. In the aftermath of the