Ethical Responsibility in News Reporting

Ethically responsible is a theory that goes with the premise that equality should prevail in society and that society should respect each other’s human rights and in return will preserve the dignity and respect of each other and other members of society. Objectivity in reporting also adds to the theory of ethics because objective reporting is a concept that journalists should report without bias and should remain neutral in all circumstances. This way, they are able to bring the actual truth about the condition of society to the forefront of the public’s awareness, and expose potential problems of social injustice and initiating actions that would start the process of solving the problems.

News reporting does have an objective reporting side to it initially however ethical agendas often vary. For example, reporters during the Vietnam war made it part of their reporting activities to expose the lies of the Pentagon to the public through their writings and pictorials. Another example would be the activities of the news reporters during the civil rights movement. However with the increasing commercialization of news agencies and the “profit motive” driving the media into becoming an entity, it would not report against the government with the fear of lock down on operations (David).

Deception in news reporting is only excused as acceptable when it protects national security efforts, assists in the confidentiality of intelligence agendas or used as the most ethical means to inform society in an extreme situation without causing a mass panic. “In 1938, Orson Welles caused a nationwide panic with his broadcast of “War of the Worlds”-a realistic radio dramatization of a Martian invasion of Earth. Welles and his Mercury Theater company decided to update H.G. Wells’ 19th-century science fiction novel War of the Worlds for national radio. The show began on Sunday, October 30, at 8 p.m. A voice announced: “The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the air in ‘War of the Worlds’ by H.G. Wells” (, 2012).

“Sunday evening in 1938 was prime time in the golden age of radio, and millions of Americans had their radios turned on. However, most of these Americans were listening to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy “Charlie McCarthy” on NBC and only turned to CBS at 8:12 p.m. after the comedy sketch ended and a little-known singer went on. By then, the story of the Martian invasion was well underway.

Soon, an announcer was at the crash site describing a Martian emerging from a large metallic cylinder. “Good heavens,” he declared, “something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now here is another and another one and another one. They look like tentacles to me …” (, 2012).

“Perhaps as many as a million radio listeners believed that a real Martian invasion was underway. Panic broke out across the country. The Federal Communications Commission investigated the program but found no law was broken. Networks did agree to be more cautious in their programming in the future” (, 2012).

Looking back on news journalist’s reports that aired on September 11, 2001 gives an example of both responsible and irresponsible ethics in news reporting. When reporters got accurate and precise information to the public in a timely matter, the public was then able to inform their loved ones calling from cell phones on one of the hijacked planes that was still up in the air, and unaware of the other planes that had already crashed. This gave the passengers on the hijacked Pennsylvania flight the opportunity to take action against the terrorists, which prevented their aircraft from crashing into its intended target, possibly saving hundreds or thousands of lives (Ondix, 2012).

“Within in minutes of this triumph in journalism, reporters provided the terrorists with a new target. In their rush to scoop rivals and to keep their audience’s attention, reporters broadcasted the president’s flight plans and locations. Without clear knowledge that the attacks were over, the media may have placed the president in danger. The American people did long to know that President Bush was safe, but the details of his whereabouts were not necessary.” (Ondix, 2012)

The right to privacy is only respected during times when the information being protected is not against the interests of society. The concepts of whistle blowing also follow the same guidelines so that when an employee believes that the company’s daily practices and/or current operations are harming the public interest, they then have a legal responsibility of disclosing the information.

If they do not disclose, any employee who has been proven to have knowledge of the unethical business policies takes the chance of being charged with a criminal case on the employee. Also in the same manner, reporting is done for the interest of society and if there is some information that has negative consequences for society as a whole then it should be disclosed.

“Examples from history can be quoted such as the exposure of the profit making activities of the funeral business by Jessica Mitford; another example is William Lloyd Garrison who was a rebel and stood up for the ban on slavery in America. In the process, he was hunted down, imprisoned and tortured; however, he did not budge from his duties” (Terry, 2012).

In conclusion, one of the most important components for ethical reporting is undoubtedly a non-biased and open mind. Every issue has several points of view as well as facts, which may or may not support the reporter’s opinion, but stills needs to be exposed to the public. “Whenever controlled media are used, issues of objectivity and fairness may be raised if no opposing views are heard” (Christians, Fackler, Mckee & Woods, 2009. Pg 225).

Objectivity requires a full view on an issue without personal judgment clouding the research. This means that all the facts are on the table even the facts that are uncomfortable to discuss or against one’s own personal morals. Considering the fact that our world is overflowing with opinions seeking facts to support them, unbiased objectivity seems, so far, to be unattainable. However, the most ethical reporting requires as many true facts and information as possible.


David, B. (n.d.). Journalists Can Be Fighters for Social Justice: Interviewwith Linda Foley, President of The Newspaper Guild, CWA. Retrieved on February 27th, 2012 from, _Welles Scares the Nation_. Retrieved August 15th, 2012 from

Terry, M. (n.d.). JUSTICE JOURNALISM: JOURNALIST AS AGENT OF SOCIAL CHANGE. Retrieved on August 13th, 2012 from

Christians, C. G., Fackler M., McKee, K.B., & Woods, R.H., Jr. (2009). Media ethics: Cases and moral reasoning, Retrieved August 13th, 2012 from