In May 2011, CIME launched a web-based survey to find out how media ethics works in different parts of the world. The questionnaire aimed to get a general concept about how media professionals themselves see their position at work and the ethical standards of media in their country. The analysis reflects how media ethics is represented in other parts of the world. Besides revealing the differences between regions of the world in terms of their respect for media ethics, the survey will also tackle the needs for the improvement of ethical standards among journalists and media professionals.
127 journalists from 46 countries worldwide submitted their answers.
The study revealed that most of the respondents have faced ethical dilemmas at work and have behaved unethically. They tended to blame this on internal or external pressure from their editors, employers, concerned stakeholders and oftentimes the government. Financial constraints and the economic situation were mentioned as a reason for ignoring ethics, with some respondents saying that in order to survive, news agencies need to produce high sales figures. Underpaid reporters lack the motivation, the time or the resources to invest energy in accurate reporting. This seems to be a tendency all over the world.
One of the sources of this unethical behavior is the lack of a commonly accepted and widely used code of journalism ethics in the countries or regions of the respondents. It is also a common deficiency that the employers of journalists do not have an ethics code or the journalists are simply not aware of it. This results in a lack of knowledge about ethical rules and creates ignorance among media professionals about better practices that could be followed. Unfortunately, many journalists do not consider it important to keep the media ethical and they simply do not pay enough attention to ethical rules when publishing or broadcasting. The risk of losing one’s job due to strictly following ethics regulations is also a big concern, as sales figures after sensational or scandalous news are higher, and therefore journalists are encouraged to write these types of stories.
Sixty-one percent of the survey participants agreed that the media’s ethical standards could be improved by providing more and better journalism ethics training for media professionals. In total, 46 percent of all respondents have already taken media ethics training, either as part of their journalism studies or through the initiatives of local NGOs. However, many of them said they would take another training course. A large majority in Europe, America, Africa and Asia considered further education to be definitely useful.
Being able to differentiate between good and bad practices is also considered a key factor in improving media ethics by 46 percent of the participating journalists. Approximately one in three journalists see a need for a common code of ethics which they could follow and refer to at work. One in three respondents see a solution in punishing those who behave unethically. However, this was the least popular solution for the problem.
Nevertheless, the analysis reveals that journalists want to perform ethically but often lack the motivation, support and convenient circumstances to do so. In order to improve the standards of journalism all over the world, there is a need for a commonly acknowledged code of journalism ethics that journalists can adapt to their regional and cultural differencies while keeping to a universal general standard. Raising awareness among media workers is a crucial point in reaching media and gaining higher ethical integrity. This can be done through training, workshops and publications educating journalists and editors, both the lower and higher levels of media hierarchy. Journalists might want to report ethically but if their articles do not get through the decision makers, ethical journalism cannot succeed.