Ethics and Morality in Web or Online Journalism

Discuss the ethics and morality in web journalism.

What Is Ethic?

In order to be able to understand the place and importance of the concepts of reliability and credibility

in the online journalism which are frequently discussed nowadays, one should mention the concept of

“ethic”.

 Ethic was derived from the word “ethike” and that word was derived from the adjective

“ethikos” in Greek. And the origin of this adjective is the word “ethos”. The first meaning of ethos is a

place where animals or human beings live, a settlement; and its second meaning is custom, tradition.

When it is used in plural form, customs, good manners; and its third meaning is the disposition of a

person or when it is used in plural, his specific characteristics or, to force the meaning a little, his

“character”. In some cases, it may be used to mean the “outlook”, and in plural form, “disposition” of a

person (Girgin, A., 2003, p.145).

 In this context, the word “ethos” has the meaning “tradition” or “custom”, “an overweighing

attitude in one’s life”. It is “ethics” in English. Most of the Turkish philosophers use the term “ethics”

to escape from the term “morals”. The said terms specify a “given” set of values and orders, the

established values of a society and a whole index of “to-do/not-to-do” “orders/restrictions” in general

use (Girgin, A., 2003, p.28).

 In philosophical terms, the area of coverage of “ethics”, to highly generalise, is the capability of

making a choice between the bad and good ideas in decision-making. However, ethics is

encyclopaedically defined as “the branch of philosophy which researches into the qualifications and

bases of the good or bad, true or false ones of the ethical values existing among human beings” (Demir,

M., 2010, p.118).

 The subject of ethics is comprised of those actions which accommodate the ethical values, i.e.

which are ethical. Ethics questions the qualifications which make such actions ethical and tries to reach

grounded results. Ethics may be considered just like a law. In cases where it is a party just like a law, it

tries to identify the proper and improper actions. In other words, ethics acts in the assumption of “one

should reckon that an option is good against numberless bad options in each case in life” (Bauman, Z.,

1998, p.21).

 Ethics and morals are such concepts which complete each other. The ethical values used in the

sense of morals in every day life are not imposed by an authority, but emerge from the experiences of

the human relations and human mind within a certain process. A set of professional ethics or

professional rules may only be effective if it is a common practice of the executives of such profession,

but cannot be externally imposed. This is also valid for the profession of journalism which we will

speak of (Demir, M., 2010, p.118).

 Another goal of ethics is to establish a code of conduct related with a certain profession. In

doing this, sensitivities concerning the respect for private life, freedom, fair treatment and public

benefit are developed. Ethics substantially defines the duties of an individual towards his own self and

towards other people and is a personal responsibility. Therefore, it is impossible to judge those people

who are not responsible for their own behaviours comply with the ethical values or not to comply with

them.

 Ethics has chosen as a field of operation the actions taken without pressure. If a journalist is not

entitled to control the decisions he makes and the actions he takes, it is meaningless to mention ethics

in such a case.

 If the goal of ethics is the freedom in the sense of ethical freedom, then such goal may not be

achieved simply by making the conceptual analysis of freedom and re-establishing the formation of the

concept in a theoretical way. The concept of freedom is re-established at the level of the theory of

ethics.

 Place of the Concepts of Reliability and Credibility in Online Journalism

 The issue of ethics has moved out of the area of interest of philosophy in the present time and entered

the other areas of every day life as well. As required by the nature of the profession, journalism has

been one of the most questioned professions in ethical terms in recent years. The ethical issues

experienced in the field of internet which is too hard and even impossible to control have gained a

more destructive nature in journalism. At present, the legal aspect of the said condition is discussed and

new laws are passed not only in Turkey but all over the world. The concept of ethics may vary from

one society to another. It is therefore hard to gather the internet world under a roof which consists of

the same ethical values.

 Although the oldest one is the journalistic ethic, ethics of public relations and advertising have

also been mentioned in line with the development of the industries in recent years. In all these

professions, ethic is associated with what professionals must do and what they must not do. The ethic

of communication covers both the rules which those who work in this field must comply with and the

study of the codes of conduct related with the professions of communication (Uzun, R., 2007, p.262).

 The new communication technologies which rapidly progress and change in the present day

have extended the fields of “ethics”, and rapid entry of the new communication technologies including

internet into our lives has given rise to new ethical problems.

 The development of new communication technologies has required one to encounter moral

problems and to generate solutions as it has been in all the technological developments so far.

 In the present day, realisation and management of the new communication technologies and, in

particular, the online journalism may not be isolated from the ethical issues. Because such issues as the

design of the communication technologies and online newspapers and the determination of by whom,

how and how often the online newspapers shall be used cover the making of moral choices.

 Ethic in online journalism contains diverse ethical codes such as computer software, e-mail

communication, rules to be considered in web pages, etc.

 Such issues as privacy, computer offence, intellectual property right, copyright, trademark,

patent, free talk, information and communication right, fight against declaration of hate, racism and

sectarianism, pornographic, illegal, unreliable or harmful material, etc. are concentrated upon (Uzun,

R., 2007, p.265).

 According to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ruhdan Uzun, while some considers the virtual space to be a

brand new field which does not include traditional rules and adopt a liberal view, some others argue

that the virtual space creates unforeseen opportunities for criminal activities and must be controlled.

Among those who argue that the virtual space needs a public policy are also those who discuss

different self-regulation methods instead of strict legal regulation frameworks. Respect for human

rights is a principle which is emphasised both in the texts related with the journalistic ethic and in the

texts related with the public relations and advertising ethic. Application of this principle to the virtual

space constitutes a guiding framework of discussion in the formation of the virtual space ethic.

 Thomas W. Cooper (1998: 72-87) states that it is inevitable that the introduction to and use by

the society of each new technology will bring about a series of ethical issues and that they should be

carefully studied. The author opines that those issues which the new communication technologies may

cause in terms of journalistic ethic should be handled more specifically. Because such technologies

much more rapidly than earlier technologies and enter some countries for the first time. Cooper states

that it is important to understand the relationship of the new communication technologies and/or the

practices that have become possible through them with companies, individuals and societies so that the

problems thereof may be understood as well. Basing upon Cooper, Mark Deuze and Daphna Yeshua

(2001: 276—278) identify 7 separate problems which the journalists encounter due to new

communication technologies. Accordingly, trade pressure, link usage, accuracy/reliability, resources,

privacy, arrangement and news gathering methods are such problems which (may) emerge in the field

of journalism through new communication technologies and the authors opine that it is not possible to

find a definite and single solution to them. John V. Pavlik (2001: 82) states that those journalistic

practices carried out by the use of digital technologies in the present period bring about various

problems for both the journalists and the society.

 Pavlik, who studied such problems under the topics of ethical standards of news gathering and

news generation using digital technologies, ethical limits of the contents of news and broader issues

awaiting the journalists within the news system which gradually becomes interactive and global, states

that such problems are different from those which are experienced in the traditional journalism.

 Internet has created a fourth type of journalism beside radio, television and printed press. While

the speed and anonymity introduced by the internet in the present day distort the press ethic, the

internet has hardly attracted attention by the journalists and journalistic researchers earlier. However,

the online journalism which has stepped in more and more through entertainment, personal

communication and pornography over time needed to be bound by an ethical code just when the

confidence of readers and viewers in journalism declined.

 In an environment where any one having an internet modem can be a journalist, speed and

sensualism are now considered important beyond accuracy. In a world where w emay not speak of an

ethical Standard which shall be valid throughout, it is hard to speak of ethic in the internet where every

one is a journalist, publisher, columnist, speaker or media critic. On the other hand, a great many

researchers and journalists do not think it right to qualify the internet as a scapegoat. Because, just as

with the printed or visual media, the internet may also be used in an irresponsible manner or under

ethical rules.

 The new types of journalism require new approaches for ethics as well. While the continuity of

most of the ethical issues discussed is still maintained, new ones have been added to them. Internet has

brought diversity to the receivers and the senders by causing damage in the linear paradigm. A change

has occurred in the broadcasting agenda setup. The control of the contents and quality of the news

seems to have been slipped out of the hands of the editors.

 Lack of editorial audits and pre-printing manipulation of an electronic copy may be listed

among the reliability concerns. Graphical manipulation, posters used as banners in the online

newspaper sites, combination of the contents of advertisement with the publications are only a few of a

great many ethical problems mentioned on the part of the new media, i.e. online publishing.

 Another problem which emerges with the online journalism is the fact that the limits between

the contents of the news and the advertisement have been removed. The fact that the spaces allocated

for the news contents and the advertisement are not clearly separated from each other and that the

readers are routed to the advertisements in the other pages by adding links to the news pages reduces

and questions the reliability. This situation also called a guerrilla advertising tactic, which goes by

making a great number of participants members of the group in a short while and then is used for

purposes other than the major one by changing the content of the group is among the ways especially

pursued by social networking sites in the present day.

 While a great number of news organisations which established a web site first targeted to be

effective in the internet world which rapidly spread and grew, they now seek for ways to be able to use

such sites in a commercial way. While the internet viewers/readers expect the contents to be free of

charge, some news organisations have started the membership or access fee practice. The leading

newspapers of England “The Times” and “Sunday Times” lead this current in the world. Despite this

fact, one may observe that the number of advertisements in such sites increase in line with the growth

of the internet advertising industry. The contents of advertising and editorship have also intermingled.

Hyper links are also considered among the ethical issues. Such as the discussion on the fairness of a

web site’s introduction of the links as owned by another web site. ..

 In the United States where hundreds of virtual newspaper pump news to the public sphere every

day, only 10 percent of the information circulating in the internet media is deemed to be reliable. Nora

Paul of the prestigious journalistic training institution Poynter Institute explains the cause of such lack

of confidence as follows: “Everything is introduced to the reader at so great a speed and without

inspection in the online journalism; and in this case the reader is burdened with such a responsibility

as proving the reality of a myriad of information which he encounters or measuring the

newsworthiness. The reader undertakes the function of a journalist and, in my opinion, this is the

greatest problem in the internet. Ifyou log on to an online news site for the first time, seek the ‘Who

Are We?’ section. When we look into the online journalism as performed in Turkey, the news source of

almost all the news sites appear to be the web sites of the news agencies and newspapers.

Furthermore, they do not even take the trouble of indicating their sources many times. This is both

unethical and shakes the confidence on the news. On the other hand, each press organisation which we

call traditional media has an editorial stafif news centre, economy service, foreign news service,

culture-arts service, news research service, archiving service, etc. And a great number of press

labourers are employed in such services. The news portals do not have such an organisation. They do

not have any reporters who will pursue any news on site. Many try to survive with a few editors.

Therefore, the work performed does not go beyond compilation. No one is after generating some

alternative things. Every one takes the easiest way out. What is wanted to do is to be able to be clicked

more, thereby increasing the advertising revenues. And this rapidly shifts the online journalism

towards the tabloid culture”(Akoz, E., 2005, www.haberturk.comb.

 A research carried out by UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) has revealed that

those who are not internet users deem the information on the internet to be more suspicious compared

to continuous users. While more than half of the internet users (54%) deem a great majority or all of

the information on the internet to be reliable and accurate, only one third of the non-users agree to this

opinion.

 The fact that information is freely used and uncontrollably circulated on the internet enhances

the potential for errors and exploitation, and such information reaches the reader or viewer without

going under a certain inspection and verification process as in books, newspapers, radio and television.

As it is a medium where publication by non-professionals is also carried out, no one may be sure of the

accuracy of the events reported or of the reliability of the reporter in the online journalism.

 According to Pavlik (200l:86-87), image manipulation which may be described as modification

and re-arrangement of a digitally recorded picture/image by using proper software in computer

environment makes the principle of verification of information by reference to more than one reliable

source which is one of the traditional rules more important than in the past. Because the image

improvement techniques have now become usable by any one thanks to computer programmes.

 In the internet environment where speed prevails, the fact that question marks are formed as to

the delivery of the news in a complete manner without deteriorating its newsworthiness including the

“accuracy” thereof and that speed facilitates convenience and causes errors as well as the reliability

problem of the reporter reveals another ethical problem in the online journalism. Publication of

“imperfect/incomplete” news which is also called “premature” in some places results from the

“delivery of the first news” which comes from the traditional journalism. It is thought that such war of

speed which gradually increases in the online journalism shall spread over to the whole news media. It

is thought that the journalists in the printed and visual media shall encounter the pressure of publishing

the news without completely reviewing it, worrying that some others shall publish the news via the

“internet” before him.

Internet offers a news content equal to a myriad of newspapers through web sites, electronic

mail, instant message transmitters, commercial electronic mail management system, discussion groups

or personal constitutions every day. The pressure of delivering the news first or scooping the news

which is available on the journalists at all times is also available in the online journalism. However,

most online journalists who have abandoned the scooped news culture of a hundred years ago spare

less time to check their news as they did in the former media, thus weakening the journalism in a hurry

to put it on the internet. That is to say, access to any information which is newsworthy has provided the

journalists with time-saving and convenience along with new communication technologies. On the

other hand, the fact that new communication technologies cause some pressure for the shortening of

the period of time which may be used to public the news (Capli, 2002274-75) makes it difficult to run

such mechanisms as checking the accuracy of the event which is the subject of the news and carry out

research through different resources. This sometimes causes the delivery of false news and

manipulation in the news. Reliability is something which is hard to find once it has been lost. The fact

that balance and justice are lost due to missing source and incorrect interview shall make it difficult for

the press to fulfil their duties as pursuers.

 The use of the information available on the internet as a news material may cause an ethical

discussion in a context which we may call “use for purposes other than those of generation” as well as

the probability of its being open to manipulation. For instance, journalists quickly became members of

the groups established in the Facebook in order to commemorate those who were killed in the school

raid which took place at the Virginia Tech University in the United States in April 2007 and in which

32 people were killed and to share the pain, and reached first-hand news material. While this may bee

deemed to be ordinary in an argument that the contents in such platforms are open to the public and

they may be used in cases where they are newsworthy on one hand, it may be considered a problem

due to the fact that contents generated for a certain purpose are used for purposes other than the

original one on the other (Hermida, 2007).

 Online journalism shall face a great many legal and ethical challenges in the future. Ethical

standards are a necessity for the continuation of journalistic standards (Palser, 1999). Both the

differences in the form of presentation of news in the new technology and the change in the reader’s

access and receipt of the news have brought about some changes in the function of the editorial office

in the online journalism. Now, the importance of such works as processing and re-writing the news,

bringing the important aspects of the news to the forefront and especially what news shall take place

and to what extent and where it shall take place has reduced. In a sense, some duties of the gatekeepers

in the traditional journalism are now in the hands of the readers. With the internet, each reader has

become the editor of his own newspaper. Because information and news at an amount which is brought

to the editor in a newspaper now directly reach the reader (Karaduman, M., 2002, p. 120).

 This places before us the personal rights and ownership rules as a problem in the internet just

like in the printed and visual media. Some sites use it in a manner which does not leave any traces of

its original and never attempt to give some verifying information for those who have read the previous

erroneous version. Those researchers and some editors who are interested in ethic argue that the

problem is the rapid and unforeseeable change in the online journalism.

 According to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ruhdan Uzun, a danger which is brought about by the extreme

dependence of the journalists upon the internet as a news source is the increase in plagiarism. In the

internet environment, one may receive news and images as owned by other sites with the

cut/copy/paste prompts by accessing hundreds of news sites. This creates an environment in which the

qualitative differences gradually reduce while the news sites increase in quantitative terms and in

which the same news is copied in hundreds of sites on one hand and brings forward the issue of

intellectual property on the other.

 The intellectual property concept whose foundations were laid in France in the late 17th century

and which was developed as a logical outcome of the natural rights theory is widely used in various

countries of the world in the present day, and the scope of the creative products subject to intellectual

property gradually enhances. On the other hand, intellectual property is the right which is most violated

in the field of journalism. Failure of the existing legal situation to bring about new regulations in the

prevention of the intellectual property violations which are facilitated by the rapidly changing new

technologies causes the problems in the field of intellectual property and plagiarism to grow fiirther.

 In particular, another ethical issues discussed about the online journalism in the recent days is

related with the people as contained in such news. In the period of traditional journalism, news did not

take place in the web pages which had an infinite archive and any unfortunate events experienced

remained in the archives of newspapers, periodicals and televisions. However, at present, the increase

in the service providers and search motors offers the opportunity of accessing the news instantly while

it ensures all the information of the past to come to light again. Recently, the fact that a great number

of people encountered such cases as not being recruited or not being promoted to a higher level in the

course of the development of their careers due to their news and images in the internet has imposed a

further obligation to the journalists. A journalist must now publish any image he has taken or any

article he has written, thinking that they may confront the said people during their life. When it is

revealed that any change or error has been made, this must be absolutely added to the news;

professional ethic requires it. As seen, the ethical values and ethical limits to which journalists must

pay attention have extended as the internet has become a myth of controlling, observing and capturing

the most intimate, most confidential and most secret issues of people over time.

 Bradley Manning, who is one of the three million people of the US Army and the US

Department of State who have the opportunity of accessing the documents of “confidential” nature of

the United States of America, the web site Wikileaks to which he has leaked the documents have

brought into the agenda the requirement of reliability and enforcement of ethical rules in the online

journalism due to the fact that the latter published documents related with a great many countries and

caused a chaos.

 As seen, while a medical doctor who prescribes medicine without examining his patient, an

accountant who wrongly states the financial condition of his company although he knows it well, an

attorney who misleads his client and fails to defend him are punished and lose their opportunity to

work because they have violated both the ethical and legal rules, a journalist who accepts and publishes

stolen documentation or who secretly records telephone conversations may come to the fore in the

agenda of the world.

 Conclusion

 We hear about the waiver presumptions from principal media manifests whenever a more complex and

new type emerges in the last century of the mass media. One of the reliability and ethic theories

coming with such presumptions is that the reporters’ role which is like a network gatekeeper seems to

be expressly threatened by an environment in which the users may have access to almost any

information at any time.

 The electronic press may be reliable, and the advantages of speed and audio-visual progress

speed up the journalists, but the reading mass usually look into the instant news pieces instead of

detailed information in this environment. Web access has directly made each and every citizen a

reporter. Those who start their own web sites and those who instantly view an event by cell phones and

publish them on the internet are gradually increasing as the time elapses. We have to consider

journalism which we do not know whether to go better or worse in the future to be a profession which

has now been adopted by every one.

 While the developing environment of the internet offers fresh communication and research

ways for the journalists, any one who posts information on the internet on worldwide basis is a

publisher in legal terms. Those people who create information are journalists each. They have the same

privileges and obligations as the traditional journalists regardless of their education and experience.

Internet offers a new and bold world in the field of journalism. It is required to adhere to the ordinary

ethic and reliability, to guarantee success and to be able to look into the new communication

technology in a more reliable manner.

 According to White (1999:168), the key to success in the online information business shall be

the provision of information of high quality. That is to say, there is an urgent need for the identification

of the training standards of those journalists who shall respect the industry-wide rules, reliability,

precision and professional contents.

 Emphasising that the media may play an important role in the fiiture if they establish a proper

balance between the society and the market, White (1999, 172-173) lists what must be done under laws

and regulations as follows:

 to protect the public interest in pluralism by regulating the conditional login systems and

setting up fair, reasonable and non-discriminative login standards for those who provide

information to all the publishers and distribution systems;

  • to provide a framework in order to protect the social and employment rights of those

remote employees and those employees who are engaged by central production and

business centres but work in such places which are geographically far away;

 

  • to maintain the protection of the authors’ rights in terms of the circulation of information

and to apply strict ownership rules to all the service providers, whether via satellite, cable

or territorial transmission;

 

  • to impose certain publishing conditions upon any one who owns a web which may offer

multi-channel service and to guarantee free transmission of all the television channels and

services which satisfy the definition of a public service.

All the problems which we have mentioned such concerns related with the accuracy and

reliability of the news other than a great number of possibilities such as fast and easy access,

interactivity of the reader, etc. which exist in conventional journalism also exist in the online

journalism. It is suggested to comply with the principles of journalistic ethic and to make news under

the norms of journalism agreed upon as a solution to such problems.

Refrence: European Journal ofSocial Sciences — Volume 24, Number 4(20II)

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