The ethical issue of minimizing harm is an important and far-reaching controversy in media work.
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics states that, “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”
With this notion in mind, journalists must:
Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort.
Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage.
Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish.
Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication.
Minimize harm at every decision.
Media is a dominant force in our society. Strategic communicators who use media, like journalists and public relations workers, play a significant role in and influential role on the public. This is particularly true in the digital age that we live in today, where instantaneous communication is publicly available and instant dissemination of information has become a necessity.
In this media and digitally dominated society that we live in, it is vital to keep in mind the ethical issue of minimizing harm.
There will always be a need for information. However, when potential harm or discomfort occurs in the collection, distribution or permanence of this information, then a line has been crossed and we must examine and re-assess the ways in which information is processed in our society.
Our demand for immediate and constant news or information is one of our biggest problems. With such a demand, complemented by the technology to achieve this demand, the issue of minimizing harm is often compromised.
Whether it is a journalist releasing a breaking news story, or a PR worker releasing a news release under deadline, too often focus on being the first person or company to get the information out to the public takes priority over the concern to minimize harm. For a society, this is a dangerous path to follow.
It is indeed crucial for news and information to be released as soon as and as accurately as possible. Although, with more and more instances of harm and discomfort occurring, it is time to step back and to substantially answer the ethical issue of minimizing harm in our media society.