Paper Sample on Journalistic Ethics

Published: 2024-01-11
Paper Sample on Journalistic Ethics
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Philosophy Ethics Media
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1657 words
14 min read


Ethics usually guides journalism regarding how communication of information should be presented. In that case, sometimes journalists are forced to make critical decisions regarding what to reveal to the public. In any event, they are supposed to borrow insights from various guidelines, including those that support lies (SPJ, n.d). While it is prudent for a journalist to tell the truth about an incident, they are sometimes obligated to lie, as long as their intentions are meant for society's greater good. Some codes may allow them to lie, while others would let them; in that case, it is upon the journalist to select the best case scenario with society.

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SPJ Codes

SPJ codes are based on three declarations: seeking the truth and reporting it, acting independently, being accountable, and minimizing harm. The four subsections of the SPJ codes are not to be treated singularly but should be applied concurrently, where possible. In the case of a journalist preparing a story that involves ethnicity, they are advised to use the four subsections together while minding the likelihood of harm. Thus, SPJ codes allow the concealing of information because of the damage it's likely to cause (SPJ, n.d). The journalist would have to weigh between changing the context by concealing important information and instilling negative emotions into the populace by reporting the dead victims emanated from the same ethnic group. It is worth noting that hiding the killed victim's ethnicity would only reduce the density of truth. Still, the critical information is that people have been killed, which would illuminate the violence's temperatures.

St Augustine Ethics

St. Augustine advocated for staunch Christian-based morals. He posited that love was the supreme aspect of morality. In that regard, he claimed that humans should not insist on keeping moral law by fearing the repercussions of punishment. According to St. Augustine, suppression is not an essential factor insofar as attaining morality was concerned (Krasemann, 1999). In other words, his thinking allowed for revealing of the ethnicities of killed persons because, according to him, keeping quiet on such a matter would be tantamount to suppressing immorality through fear of punishment. Besides, St. Augustine opined that one should always fix their mind on life after death, which demands that humans should behave with purity to avoid tribulations in the afterlife. In that regard, a journalist is not supposed to conceal information at hand as long as it is the truth because they would negatively influence where they go afterlife.

Kant's Philosophy

In the perspective of Immanuel Kant, ethics is not about what people think the consequences of their actions should be; according to him, one should act morally upright regardless of the results of their efforts. In other words, as long as one knows the truth about a situation, they should reveal it because it the right thing to do at that particular time. In that case, a journalist who knows the ethnicity of killed persons is morally obligated to report such information because it is the right thing (BBC, n.d). In essence, telling lies is an objection to Kant's philosophy. Given that while writing, the journalist may have to answer a question regarding the ethnicity of the killed people, they would lie about high chances, thus going against duty ethics. In other words, someone who follows Kant's philosophy should do the right thing even if it causes more harm than good.


Compared to Kant's ethical codes, utilitarianism is the direct opposite in that it requires one to consider the consequences of their actions before delving into the act. The utilitarianism theory states that the greatest good for all should take precedence in any particular kind of choice (Westacott, 2019). In other words, one should only do that which will benefit the greater populace. They should not consider what is right or wrong based on their varying moral beliefs but should instead consider the consequences of their actions for the greater good. Suppose a journalist is pondering whether to reveal the ethnicity of killed persons with the idea that their actions might cause more deaths. In that case, the utilitarianism theory advises them not to disclose such information because it would be more damaging. In that regard, utilitarianism agrees with the idea of not publishing the ethnicity of killed persons.

Generating Benefits

At some point, it is usually better to prevent harm, where one can see it impending. Even though the right thing to do is at the fingertips, it is typically a decent thing to save a life, even if it means telling some lies. Instead of revealing the ethnicity of killed people and cause more tension, it would be better to conceal such information to prevent such pernicious occurrences. In any event, a lie that prevents harm is more likely to be acceptable than that which is geared towards amassing benefits (Sissela, l978). While telling the truth is the best choice, in this case, revealing the ethnicity of the killed persons, one should apply their human aspect of altruism. In that regard, they should endeavor to benefit others more than themselves. Telling a lie would disadvantage their part of honesty, but in the end, society benefits more. Even though telling the truth would be the best thing for the journalist to do, they would save more pain in the community by hiding the killed persons' identities. Given that the general social benefits more than the journalist's aspirations, the generated use of preventing more deaths is a justifiable reason to lie about their knowledge concerning killed persons' identities.

Avoiding Harm

Like in the medical fraternity, a lie told to a patient to prevent heat collapse is excusable; telling a lie to save a life in any part of life is excusable. Telling a lie in life-saving circumstances is comparable to self-defense, where one is excused from protecting themselves to the best of their knowledge. Besides, lies that prevent harm are more excusable and easily believed than the rest. It is human nature to avoid life-threatening damage in all circumstances (Sissela, l978). Thus, the police forces all over the world. The intention of having security systems instilled in a place is that the hosts would like to protect others from harm. In the journalist's case, their only way of beefing security is by telling lies to prevent more damage. If telling the truth is likely to cause more harm than good, why insist on dispatching it to the populace?


In some instances, a person is excusable to tell a lie to maintain a level ground. During such cases, one needs to choose justice for the greater good than personal fulfilments. In that regard, a journalist would be deemed to be fair if they prevent more people from dying by concealing information about their ethnicity than otherwise. According to the fairness rules, one is allowed to lie if they manage to avoid unfair advantage. Given that justice would be defined by preventing more deaths than instilling negative emotions, the rules of fairness dictate that fair distribution of justice should always prevail (Sissela, l978). Even though fairness is anchored on an individual's belief in what is right, it's an allowable intrigue, despite instances of biases. It is worth noting that right may never be perfect because it is based on personal ideals. In other words, what one person may regard as fair may not be the same as another person. Though people of the same ethnicity as the killed citizenry may claim it's fair for them to hear the identities, their knowledge concerning those identities could cause them to aspire for revenge. In that case, fairness would dictate that natural justice prevail and protect more people from dying. The above claim is anchored that even if the killed persons' identities were to be revealed and the opposite side decided to avenge, chances are high, those who would die never participated in the destructive act. Thus, to be fair to them, concealing the killed persons' ethnicity would save their lives.


Veracity is an excuse to lying dictates that a person may lie for them to protect the truth. In the case of a journalist hiding ethnic identities of killed persons to prevent more crashes, the truth is that people have been killed, and they belong to the same ethnicity. In other words, the losses that were incurred in the subject event only involved injuries to one side. While the above truth may be required for the construction of the right impression of the incidence, concealing the whole truth would tilt the impression positively (Sissela, l978). It would undo the false impression that only one side is being affected by the constant crashes. Given that the blame would trickle down to the publisher, it would be prudent for them to partake in the actions that are likely to produce the best interest for all. Telling lies to protect the truth that only people from the same ethnicity were killed would defend the other conflicting party from incurring deaths in the aftermath. In this case, the fact is less important than society.


Journalists operate under guidelines that direct them on what to do in instances of critical decision making. While those guidelines are well thought, they should be utilized holistically. They should also borrow philosophies concerning ethics from such personalities as Kant. Even though some of the guidelines and philosophies may contradict each other, the journalist is always advised to consider the common good rather than their gains. In that case, they can decide to lie as long as society is saved from damaging consequences.


BBC. (n.d). Ethics guide: Duty-based ethics.

Krasemann, K.W. (1999). St. Augustine on journalistic ethics. Chicago Tribune.

Sissela, B. (l978). Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. Pantheon Books, Vintage paperback editions, l979, 1989, 1999.

SPJ. (n.d). Society of professional journalists: Code of ethics.

Westacott, E. (2019, July). Three basic principles of utilitarianism briefly explained. ThoughtCo.

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