Australia is currently witnessing an unparalleled demand for greater accountability in all sectors of public and professional life. Perhaps this in part is explained by the loss of public confidence in such institutions as politics, police, banking, and business. As one of the most powerful and influential institutions in the country, the media too are under increasing pressure from individuals, pressure groups and government agencies to implement structural changes in response to criticisms of media practices.
The problem of credibility confronting the media is exemplified in the annual Bulletin Morgan Gallup Poll on ethics and honesty in the professions which has consistently placed journalists towards the bottom of the 21 categories surveyed. In the 1991 survey, only eight percent of respondents rated newspaper journalists as "high" or "very high" for ethics and honesty. Television journalists scored seven percentage points higher, but a long way behind the next category, lawyers, who scored 38 per cent. (The Bulletin, 28 May 1991) That the public would appear to have such little confidence in the professional standards of journalists is paradoxical in two respects. First, journalists traditionally have put enormous store on their public service role, best summed up in the preamble of the code of ethics of the Australian Journalists' Association (AJA): "Truth and the public's right to information are overriding principles for all journalists. " It is curious, however, that journalists, and the news media collectively, have been slow to respond to community concern over certain media practices.
And second, for most of this century journalists have considered what Sparrow (1960:131) called "a prescription for proper conduct" as an essential element of their professional activities. While Lloyd (1985:227) records that the NSW Country Press Association adopted a code of ethics as early as 1927, it was in 1944 that the AJA incorporated a uniform code of ethics into its constitution and rules. In 1984, the AJA adopted its current, revised code (see Appendix A).
While the Dilemmas in Media Ethics videotapes are not exhaustive in their analysis of ethical issues, they do focus on a range of stories that have caused controversy and that can be used as discussion starters and as a mechanism to identify relevant ethical principles. Stories and is sues discussed include coverage of violence, accidents and disaster scenes; taste; intrusion into personal grief and privacy; relations with police and government; conflicts of interest; fair and honest methods; undercover journalism; and the journalists' code of ethics.
The overall content of each program is described and discussed, with the addition of other material where relevant. Discussion and study questions also have been suggested and can be found in the workbook at the end of each program. Some of these questions may lendthemselves to further individual or group research and may be suitable for as signments or essays. References for further reading also are listed.
Both the programs themselves and the workbook tend to focus on case studies and current issues, with the aim that they will identify, and give rise to further discussion concerning, underlying matters of principle. However, it is not the intention of this resource that it deal with normative ethics per se. A useful text to explore this more normative approach to media ethic s and ethical systems is Media Ethics by Clifford J. Christians, Kim B. Rotzoll and Mark Fackler (listed in the bibliography) which offers a description and analysis of traditional ethical systems and suggests a mechanism for resolving ethical dilemmas in journalism.