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Media Ethics- Should the media practice restraint?

Media in all its form, print or electronic, is a mirror of the times and society we live in. It connects us to the world and the world to us. We know about the people and happenings of other places and countries, as they know about us through the picture created by the media. Media can make or mar one’s image. It inspired and ignited the freedom struggle and it inspired and coaxed the citizens to come out and vote. It brought out the barbaric tradition of honor killings from the quiet villages to the national limelight and also brought shame to many a celebrity!

“An unfettered press without ethical concerns can be a threat to a free society and to its very independence.”(N. Bhaskar Rao, Media Ethics Getting Complex, The Tribune, Dec. 9, 2005)

Media is an integral part of our life. In today’s world, where one’s social circle is mostly just work related, based on some or the other selfish motive, we tend to believe and depend more on the media for every type of information. Media thus has tremendous impact on the way a society conducts itself in the present, as well as the shape it would take in the future. It influences people of all age group. In such a scenario the social responsibility of media becomes very important. It has the power to change the society and therefore ‘ethics’ becomes very important. It has to rise above TRPs and monetary benefits and be a true guide for the society.

Media Ethics is an important subject taught in mass communication. What do we mean by ethics? The dictionary meaning is ‘moral principles’. Who sets these moral principles? No one else but we ourselves! Ethics is an open concept, which is to be beheld voluntarily, based on one’s moral values. Ethics is something that is applied voluntarily. Our constitution has given the right of freedom of speech. It therefore depends on the conscience of the media persons to maintain the general ethics. There are two major theories in media ethics –

1. Authoritarian theory- According to this theory, the press was seen as a very powerful tool, and those in power used it to convey only those information that they wanted the public to know. The rulers controlled the press.

2. Social responsibility theory- Authoritarian theory went into history with the decline of monarchy. Withthespread of modern day democracy, the Social Reponsibility theory of media ethics has become the norm now. This theory inspires self-control by the media, for the good of the society. In terms of this theory the media should-

  • Accept responsibility towards society by providing information in a truthful, objective and balanced form, while respecting privacy and importance of secrecy of issues related to national security.
  • Avoid publishing information that could lead to violence or social disruptions.
  • Expect societal intervention if the media fails to meet the professional standards
  • Collectively reflect a diversity of content. (Ref.- Media Ethics,

How should media practice self-restraint?

There are certain major areas where the press and the media should essentially practice self-restraint. Broadly these areas are-

Details of crime- Crime reports form an essential part of media reporting. Certainly we need to know what kinds of crimes are being committed in the society. These reports alert us. But the media should restrain from giving away too much detail of how the crime was committed. Such reports may inspire many more criminals in the society, particularly the vulnerable youth in need of quick money and adventure. Just a few days back I read an article on drug abuse. I didn’t know much about drugs, but after reading this article I can tell many drug names! What is the effect on the young people? They now know which drug is in fashion, which relieves stress and which gives a greater high than the previous one. Isn’t such detail dangerous?

Police investigation- Police investigation is a step by step process, one clue leading to another. If every action of the police is continuously reported, it will alert the criminals and make the work of the police difficult. The media should help maintain secrecy till the investigation is complete. In any way, the criminals should not know the ways of the police.

Objectivity- The media has to be neutral in certain cases and maintain a balanced approach. This holds true for cases like Kashmir and Naxal problems. If the media backs the armed forces or state, it may anger the people of these areas. While if it backs the people, the armed forces may get demoralized. It’s a tight rope walk. This should be reported in a way that it highlights only the facts, that does not ignite further violence, but at the same time bring out the grievances of both sides.

Sensationalism- This is the biggest drawback of today’s media, to gain TRP. A relatively insignificant news is presented again and again highlighting not much what actually happened, but what all could happen. Every channel is trying to capitalize on the fear factor or the mere gossip material. The Doomsday prophecy should have been ideally, just a brief news. But our news channels went on hankering about it so much that people started complaining of anxiety and depression. Then the Batuknath case! An old married professor marrying his young student and his first wife shouting abuses! Is it news or entertainment? Was it news at all? News items like burning some religious books should be played down so as not to disturb peace in the society.

Role model- Mobs pelting stones, burning vehicles, parliamentarians shouting and throwing chairs on each other…..! What are we supposed to teach our kids? It’s okay to do so when you are adult???

Privacy- Celebrities are greatly affected by media reports. The paparazzi killed Princess Diana and it has led to many a broken relationships. Agreed that private lives of celebrities interest people, but celebrities are human beings too and their privacy should be respected.

Country’s Image- What can be a better example of this case than the common wealth games in New Delhi! The media should certainly point out and bring to light the drawbacks of the project implementation. It’s an eye-opener and an alarm bell for many concerned. But certainly it should not be projected in such a magnitude that the entire country’s image is tarnished. We are shouting out our own weaknesses by reporting them daily as front page headlines, for the whole world to see. The situation is such now, that we have lost all enthusiasm for this big event and its difficult to find any positives in it.

Advertisements/commercials- Commercials are a big source of income. But here too the media should accept onlygenuine, decent advertisements for publication. It should avoid misleading and obscene ads. Whether its politics, crime, business, fashion, education or parenting, media guides us and sets trends. It is not just a profitable business endeavor, but its an enterprise which carries a huge moral responsibility on its shoulders. This field thus demands honesty, moral courage, high moral values, discipline and a truly educated and enlightened background. It should guide us towards truth and from darkness towards light.

“Asato maa sad gamaya, tamaso maa jyotir gamaya.”


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4 Responses

  1. i really like this page because it helped me a lot in my study as i m studyng mass communication. So i really want to say thank you.

  2. Thanks Pavani! Really the 24 hour news channels are nothing more than time-pass these days. The daily soaps and the (staged) reality shows are all out in full force to make us dumb forever!!!!!! Better grab a book and read some real meaningful content.

  3. very well said and expressed. Wish this message reaches all those TV channels and newspapers, which are purely surviving on TRP ratings and circulation numbers.