The Moral Media: How Journalists Reason about Ethics

By Lee Wilkins; Renita Coleman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Advertising Practitioners Respond:
The News Is Not Good

Anne Cunningham Louisiana State University

Whether it is controversy over the latest Calvin Klein campaign or attacks against R. J. Reynolds' use of the cartoon character Joe Camel, it seems much of the criticism of media falls on its commercial content. Even the Pontifical Council of the Catholic Church (1996) has issued a treatise on ethics in advertising.

Critics have accused advertising of selling cigarettes and alcohol to children, polluting the airwaves and landscapes, unduly influencing the free flow of information through the media, subverting the marketplace, and even undermining personal autonomy. Some go so far as to argue that advertising, by its very nature, is unethical. Ethicist Roger Crisp, for example, asserted, “[I]n a very real sense, decisions are made for consumers by persuasive advertisers, who occupy the motivational territory properly belonging to the agent…. It seems, then, that persuasive advertising does override the autonomy of consumers, and that, if the overriding of autonomy, all things being equal, is immoral, then persuasive advertising is immoral” (Crisp, 1987, pp. 414, 416–417). Although this contention, which essentially relegates consumers to unwitting dupes, is debatable, the criticism itself is widespread. Leveling a more institutional attack on the industry, Sut Jhally (1998) contended that advertising, acting as the “mouthpiece of capitalism, ” erodes cultural values, leaving in their place the hollow desire for consumption of goods. Both sorts of criticisms by inference implicate individual advertising practitioners in minimally acquiescing to decisions that many others consider to be ethically problematic. Maximally, individual practitioners, again by inference, are indicted as willing participants in an immoral act.

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