Mass Communication Law and Ethics

By Roy L. Moore | Go to book overview

PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION

One of the hot topics of discussion in the Law Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication when I served as Division Head during 1996-1997 was whether law and ethics should be combined or taught separately in the journalism and mass communication curriculum. The debate is still raging, but I remain convinced that even when law and ethics are taught in separate courses, the law course should include a liberal dose of ethics. There are simply too many legal situations that demand the application of ethical principles and probably just as many ethical dilemmas that intersect with the law to make splitting the two practical or beneficial.

In 1995, The Freedom Forum commissioned the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut to survey 446 journalism educators. According to the results reported a year later in Betty Medsger's study entitled "Winds of Change: Challenges Confronting Journalism Education," more than 9 out of 10 accredited journalism programs require a course in journalism law, compared with slightly more than 4 out of 10 accredited programs that require a course in journalism ethics. One of the recommendations of Medsger's report was that journalism students be "exposed to a wide range of academic subjects, including the law and ethics."

Many journalism and mass communication programs now include "ethics" in the title for the media law course -- a recognition that their graduates must be grounded in ethics and that a combined course is the most feasible and effective way of accomplishing this goal. Sadly, most students complete their degrees with limited, if any, understanding of the symbiotic relationship between media law and ethics. Each chapter in this book includes a discussion of the ethical dimensions of that specific legal topic to demonstrate where the law ends and ethics begins. For example, although the First Amendment protects a reporter who publishes a rape victim's name from a public record, such disclosure is unethical in the eyes of many journalists. Appropriating another writer's ideas in a story is not copyright infringement so long as only ideas but not expressions are used, but is such conduct ethical? Snapping photos of a severely injured child being pulled from an automobile accident is generally

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