Wouldn’t it be easy if there were a manual for life?
Ethics codes are probably as close as we’re going to get to having one.
They provide a professional way to solve moral and ethical dilemmas for problems that may not have a clear answer. Even though morals and ethics change from person to person, they are documents that try to unite us in the way we think about what’s right and what’s wrong.
What a wonderful thing, right?
As a journalist working in the industry for a little more than five years, I struggle to see how an ethics code can be relied upon in my industry.
Sure, we have the Society of Professional Journalist’s code and specifically in Canada, we have the Canadian Association of Journalists who have a less formal document known as their Ethics Guildelines but the real problem is not determining where to look when in an ethical dilemma, but more so, who is considered a “journalist” these days.
With the internet, anyone can be published (and use a variety of platforms to do so). So how do we define who should be abiding by these codes?
Screenshot from: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
If we use the definition from Meriam-Webster, as pictured above, “a writer who aims at a mass audience” is everyone who posts anything on the internet. That includes Facebook posts, tweets and LinkedIn messages. But realistically, are people thinking about any ethical codes before pressing publish? I don’t think so.
I think formal ethics codes work well in certain industries but not others.
American Psychological Association. (2010, June 1). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct: Including 2010 amendments. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/ (Links to an external site.)
American Medical Association. (2000). Code of medical ethics. Retrieved from http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics.page (Links to an external site.)
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2016). Definition for “journalist.” Retrieved from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/journalist
Society for Professional Journalists (2014). SPJ Code of Ethics. Retrieved from: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp
The Canadian Association of Journalists (2011). Ethics guidelines. Retrieved from: http://www.caj.ca/ethics-guidelines/