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The media and their responsibilities: An application of ethical theories

The media is a powerful tool, especially in the current complex society. The relationship between the media and social responsibility is quite complicated in the current society. The mass media is made up of magazines, newspapers, radios, televisions, internet outlets among others. Constitutions around the world allow media freedom. The freedom is key to democracy, as well as informing the public. The role of media in advertising, reporting events, and orchestrating important debates, can only be applauded. Informing the public is so important, such that, we basically rely on the media, 100% for our survival. For instance, the weather forecast enables us to plan for the future. Isn’t that amazing? But make no mistake. The road is not as straight as it seems. Many issues surround the media that require ethical consideration. The public as well as the media must be aware of ethical issues surrounding the media. For instance, the role of media in structural oppression and, exploitation, plagiarism, conflict of interest, inversion of privacy, confidentiality, deception, indecency, obscenity, economic temptations and finally sensationalism. This paper supports the relativism theory, which may allow media use its freedom, as long as the ethical considerations are made. This means other’s interests are also considered. Moreover, this paper contrasts the idea of ethical egoism, which purports, one to look for his or her own self interests in what is being done. This completely isolates the interests of others in the society at large. That, morally, all we need is to make ourselves happy, at that’s allS (Jacquette, 2007).

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The ethical issues

This section will be critical about advertisements as well as news coverage. Advertisements persuade people to use certain goods and services. In that connection, advertisers educate, but may use slippery language at times. The question is whether these strategies are ethical. Are these companies obliged to tell the truth, or the bigger aim of improving sales is what matters? During advertising, several ways are used, including, selling a dream or a life style, price comparison, celebrity endorsements, as well as product comparisons. These strategies have different subjectivities. Selling a life style for instance needs building an image, so that selling the image will obviously sell the lifestyle. The image may not be a true representative of the quality of the product or even the price. The customer simply buys the brand. The ethical concern here is whether selling the image of the company is ethical, as opposed to just selling the product. The language of advertising is considered morally wrong because it uses exploitative and manipulative language to entice a customer. Some advertising techniques mimic glamorous settings with superficially glamorous persona. There is also elements of false information, since it is subject to misinterpretation. Principles that govern advertising include truth, dignity and social responsibility. The breach of ethical behavior is clear in advertisings because it typically preys on emotions. There is a realm desire to lure people to use a product. Thus, a fantasy is build, in which the consumer things life will be better with that product (Parhizgar & Parhizgar, 2006).

Another aspect of ethics, in media responsibility is under general release of information. Conflict of interest usually occur in many scenario, during release of news. Media houses have their own self-interest, including building their brand. The source of news will also have self-interests. These interests happened, at the expense of the need for information by the public. For instance, a media house might report a political campaign at the expense of road accidents. Also, the media may be solely focused on the festive period, while it’s obvious not everyone will afford to be happy. Another area is in invasion of privacy. Personal matters of individuals are invaded, including taking photographs of eminent personalities swimming naked or on vacation.

Confidentiality cannot be ignored. It is ethical to keep it a secret the names of people who give the media sensitive information. What if it is a crime? Do they remain silence about those people? The idea of deception is also vital. Reporters can pretend to be a partner in crime so as to uncover a crime. Is it ethical to lie to criminals in bid to capture them? Deceiving the criminal might be unethical since the deceiver is on a professional mission of truth telling. Being part of the scum might not be clear if it is only investigative or they are truly part of the gang. Again, it can be argues that the value of information will guide such operations. Indecency and obscenity are other important ethical issues. The language used and what is showed might not be acceptable, even if in it for mere purposes of information delivery. Economic temptation can overcome the need to air information rationally. The breach of ethics is evident in the above scenario, from the fact that, in all the mentioned cases, the media house is likely to cross the boundary. Covering horrific accidents live, can be seen as informative, but the family members of the victim will not like it (Ward, 2013.


In ethics, relativism is the perspective that what is considered moral, is not absolutely true, but it is relative to a particular society, individual, situation, or culture where it happens. Thus, a moral statement is dependent on what those affected believe in. individual relativism means the individual is relative to the statement made. It is like, me and you have two different ethical view, such as marrying in church and marrying in court of law. We are equally correct. Social relativism are subject to a particular society. Indians do not eat pig, while Christians do not eat snakes. For both of them, they are correct but different. Thus, ethical relativism stands tall above the other three theories of egoism and emotivism because it recognizes the diversity of moral views, recognizes the importance of tolerance of different moral views, allows moral uncertainty arguments and situational difference arguments (Gowans, 2011).

Relevance of ethical theory (relativism)

Relativism can truly help people think about what constitute virtuous or ethical behaviors. In certain societies, cultures are very deep rooted. Thus, one cannot be critical of them. The media ought to tolerate. Advertising of sex condoms for instance, is unethical and such matters as sex can only be discussed by married couples and in doctor’s office. The media, especially local FM radio station must consider the society. Situations also matters. Airing in the media, a fight between couples could not be a good idea, even if the journalist believes in information airing. It is better to keep the information and only release it after approval by the victim. Prostitution is legal and illegal in different parts of the world. A journalist who is educated and cultured in the society in which prostitution is legal, must understand that it could be unethical to air without discretion such matters in other areas. Selling of ideas in form of advertisements must be ethical in relation to the target population and purpose of the advert. It also depends on the circumstance. It could be more important to the citizens to air about global events than local politics which are bound to recur each day. (Gowans, 2011).

Contrasting with ethical egoism

In ethical egoism, as long as we look for our own interests, then we are ethically moral. This means we ought to make ourselves as happy always. This permits the media houses to pursue their agendas without caution or consideration of the ethics breach. As such, the companies advertising their products are allowed to lie and create fantasies, as long as it boots sales. Selling of beer, local brew and cigarettes will escalate as there will be no, considerations what so ever, when adverting. Airing of news will be based of commercial potential as well as media bias, something that will breed a crisis in the society. For instant, constantly airing negative news on one part of the country will breed tension and division. At the end of the day, the media has done its role but the society is worse off. As a rule, if ethical egoism is true, then it is morally right for advertisers to maximize their profits through playing with people’s emotions and minds, taking advantage of their ignorance. It will also be right for the media to focus on activities and news which only maximize their economic gain and building their brand (“Ethical Egoism,” n.d.).

However, ethical egoism is not entirely wrong. Some arguments support it, in the sense that, if one person maximizes his or her wellbeing, then the society in total is better off. That, when people act in whatever manner they like, the society will be free from restrictions and will be better off. It is true that egoism is essential for the immediate survival of man. But according to experience, when people are not regulated, systems may not work properly. As human beings, we have a duty to conserve what we have and use it wisely.


Media has a huge responsibility of keeping our largely complex society informed. The information by the media is vital in our daily life choices. While we cannot overlook the huge importance of media in our lives, there are several ethical concerns than cannot go unnoticed. The two areas of considerations are airing of news and advertising. These two areas are subject to unethical acts. Such include false advertising and inconsiderate news reporting. The ethical issues fall into two ethical theories, namely relativism and egoism. Relativism is favored in this paper since it is more inclusive that egoism. Relativism allows one to consider the ethical inclination of the society, situation, individual or group, such that, there is more sensitivity. This allows ethical tolerance, uncertainty, and even differences. It is important as people will be able to exist peacefully. Egoism is not ideal for us.

References: The media and their responsibilities: An application of ethical theories

Ethical Egoism. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Gowans, C. W. (2011). Virtue Ethics and Moral Relativism. A Companion to Relativism, 391-410. doi:10.1002/9781444392494.ch20

In Ward, S. J. (2013). Global media ethics: Problems and perspectives.

Jacquette, D. (2007). Journalistic ethics: Moral responsibility in the media. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Parhizgar, K. D., & Parhizgar, R. (2006). Multicultural business ethics and global managerial moral reasoning. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Österberg, J. (1988). Arguments for Ethical Egoism. Self and Others, 71-79. doi:10.1007/978-94-009-2879-4_5

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