Professionals in every field have a responsibility to be ethical. This always has been and always will be true. Ethics guide us in the decision-making process along with personal interests, company interests and societal norms. Essentially, “ethics is the study of what we ought to do,” (Merrill).
The need for more ethical thinking in media and business is obvious because of the countless examples in which professionals did not act ethically. One of the most well-known examples is the Enron fallout in the early 2000s.
Professionals represent themselves, their employers and their families. They must also consider organizational, societal and legal constraints along with codes of ethics and their audience members when making decisions. Below are some reasons why professionals in the media and business world must be ethical and holds their colleagues and competition to the same standard.
“Trust, after all, results in increased business, stronger customer loyalty, better employee morale, reduced turnover, and higher profit margins,” (Sonnenberg).
The majority of workers believe that management should uphold ethical standards, but unfortunately only 39% believe that it does (Industry Week). In 2005, more than half of 3,000 U.S. workers surveys said they witnessed some type of misconduct by management (Industry Week). In order for a business or a media outlet to be successful, their publics must trust them. The management must trust the staff and vice versa. In order to gain trust, the organization and its individuals must act ethically. This means always tell the whole truth, be open, uphold integrity, be consistent and treat everyone equally.
Maintaining the public’s trust is an ongoing effort because it can be shattered quickly with one bad decision. For example, NBC’s Brian Williams has lost any trust that viewers had for him after exaggerating his part in an Iraq war news story. His credibility is shot and he will no longer be viewed as a successful and trusted news anchor. His life is most likely in disarray all because he did not tell the whole truth.
Reputation and Credibility
An organization’s reputation and credibility usually parallels the trust the public has for it. According to the trust barometer survey from Global PR firm Edelman, the majority of consumers avoid doing business with an organization they do not trust (ERC). Reputations can be affected by crises, public trust and general everyday ethical decisions. It is built over time and can be ruined, like trust, very quickly.
A great example of a company’s reputation being ruined because of the unethical handling of a crisis is the BP oil spill in 2010. The CEO at the time made remarks like “there’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I’d like my life back.” And in 2012, the company pleaded guilty to environmental crimes, lying to Congress and manslaughter from its actions connected with the oil spill. BP’s reputation today is still suffering from the crisis. The company’s lack of ethical decisions and actions by leaders and engineers ruined its reputation.
Objectivity and Fairness
“Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair,” (SPJ).
Although journalism is beginning to lean more toward advocacy journalism, objectivity and fairness should not be thrown out the window. Technically, journalists are supposed to discuss both sides of a conflict or story in their reporting.
So is advocacy journalism unethical? According to the SPJ code of ethics, it is. The code also states that journalists should label advocacy. Aside from editorials, journalists and media entities do not always abide. Of course, ethics are not always black and white and independent media companies can decide what code of ethics to follow.
Fox News has the reputation advocating the conservative side of political news. Its reporters also have the reputation for advocating their personal beliefs that coincide with Fox executives’ views.
Networks that are not completely objective reveal the need for a more concrete and parallel ethical standards.
The Bottom Line and Quotas
“Organizations that institutionalize the value and the importance of lifelong customer relationships over immediate sales know that winning the immediate sale is not as important as exceeding customer expectations over time” (Sonnenberg).
All businesses have quotas to reach and a bottom line to speak to. But violating ethics to get there is wrong. Just as Sonnenberg states, ethical organizations know that long-term relationships are more important than short-term profits.
“Social responsibility is an ethical theory, in which individuals are accountable for fulfilling their civic duty; the actions of an individual must benefit the whole of society,” (Pachamama).
Every organization has at least one social responsibility to consider when making decisions, creating products or implementing new ideas. For example, because BP was drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, it had environmental health considerations. Coca-Cola has human health considerations because it produces products for consumption. But the Coca-Cola Company goes deeper and even considers energy consumption, climate protection, water management and sustainable packaging.
Ethics applies in every situation that individuals face. Every individual has their own beliefs, religion, loyalties, morals and values that they want to follow. And what is legal is not always ethical. This is why it’s so difficult to create one code of ethics that applies to every business and every professional.
Now with the increased use of social media by media and businesses and the instant accessibility of news, there are even more ethical dilemmas and questions to face. Because everyone can access the Internet and nothing ever truly disappears online, the precision and meaning of articles, comments, videos, photos and anything else posted online is of the utmost importance. Individuals and organizations must be very careful about actions and comments they make because of the 24/7 news cycle. This is why following a reliable, personal or written code of ethics is so important.