Media Ethics in Education

By Christians, Clifford G. | Journalism and Communication Monographs, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Media Ethics in Education

Christians, Clifford G., Journalism and Communication Monographs


Two major publications in 1980 established the most recent phase of media ethics history in the United States. The MacBride Commission's Many Voices, One World and the Hastings-Carnegie studies of professional ethics in the U.S. (Teaching of Ethics in Higher Education) were both published in 1980. This productive academic period from 1980 to the present revolves around five major areas: theory, social philosophy, religious ethics, technology, and truth. The history of scholarship in these five domains sets the agenda for the study of media ethics today.

A historical overview of academic media ethics in its contemporary form most appropriately begins in 1980, with two signature publications appearing the same year.

One important background event for ethics in journalism education was the completion of the MacBride Report in 1980: Many Voices, One World: Towards a New More fust and More Efficient World Information and Communication Order. As president of the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems, Sean MacBride spearheaded a review for UNESCO of international media policies and practices, communication and human rights, cultural diversity and professional journalism. It serves as a marker for the rapid globalization of media technologies since 1980. Its recommendations established the debates ever since over the economic concentration of media industries worldwide, the possibilities for democratic politics through the convergence of digital information systems, and the consolidation of free trade in communications products and services under the aegis of the World Trade Organization. For our purposes here, we take note of Many Voices, One World's recommendations for establishing quality journalism education in every country of the developing world. Against the backdrop of MacBride, the International Organization of Journalists produced a document called "International Principles of Professional Ethics in Journalism" at meetings in Prague and Paris in 1983 emphasizing the people's right to timely information "Mass communication ethics in terms of issues, participation, and setting-both professional and academic-had passed the international watershed" (Christians, 2000, pp. 29-32).

The signature event in the United States in 1980 for media ethics revolved around the Hastings Center of New York. From 1978 to 1980, it carried out the most extensive study ever done of the status, problems, and possibilities for teaching professional ethics in American higher education. Funded by the Carnegie Foundation, the results were published in 1980 in a series of volumes and monographs that have defined the field of applied and professional ethics ever since (for journalism ethics, see Christians and Covert, 1980). Recognizing the power of communications technology in today's global world, occupations in the media were included along with such professions as medicine, law, business, and engineering under the purview of applied ethics. The Hastings Project included empirical analyses and teaching strategies. It made recommendations about course goals, evaluation, indoctrination, and teacher preparation (e.g., Callahan and Bok, 1980). It established for the teaching of journalism ethics, the baseline statistical measures that we continue to use today.

The exponential growth in media ethics did not occur until it began rising in parallel during the 1980s with the growth of professional ethics as whole. In line with other professional fields, more monographs and books on media ethics were produced during the decade of the 1980s than had been published in total since the beginning of the 20th century. In a critical period, between 1983 and 1993, the number of free-standing media ethics courses increased by 86% (Lambeth, 2006, p. 3). In 1984, the most influential contribution to media ethics education, directed by Edmund Lambeth, began its 20-year career-the Gannett-sponsored National Workshop on the Teaching of Ethics in Journalism and Mass Communications. …

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