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Moral minefields: legal and ethical dilemma

Whoa- it’s almost the end already. My classmates & I will be completing this course… As they say it, time flies.

So this week’s seminar was presented by Cindy Charisma & Indah Purnamasari, on legal and ethical dilemmas faced by journalists.

What’s the difference between legal and ethical dilemmas?

Legal means to be bounded or related to laws.

Ethics (*Fun fact: comes from the word “ethikos” in Greek), on the other hand,is based on principles of conduct that governs people. It differs from one individual to another as it is affected by upbringing. As an example, non-journalism related, take abortion. You can either be “pro-life” or “pro-choice”. Abortion is killing,while others may say no. So you decide whether you are pro-life or pro-choice.

With that said, I think it’s relatively easier to be in a dilemma, ethically-speaking. If you asked why, read on… :o)

Legally, if its wrong, it’s wrong because it’s stated in the law. Say for example, as journalists, we are told to report news as it is, we don’t make up false reports to defame a person as it is not allowed. It’s pretty straight forward, in a sense, the law tells us what’s right and what’s wrong, so there’s no “grey area”.

Ethicallly, however, say for example – when doing research for a news story or feature, should we be unscrupulous in our methods of gathering information? Like the recent case of News of The World, a tabloid owned by News Corp. The case was that the reporters actually hacked or tapped into phone lines to eavesdrop on conversations of the rich and famous (Lawless & Barr 2011). Is this form of newsgathering permissible? Isn’t is intrusion of someone’s privacy? Of course you may argue that being rich and famous has it’s “package” where what they do privately is of public interest. But is it ethically correct? There’s a ‘grey area’ here, where as journalists, we think if we don’t gather information, that would not make the story complete and that would even be considered as denying the public’s right to know. But when we go to extreme measures to gather information, that would mean intrusion of privacy. So there’s this constant of going back and forth with decisions in this way, that causes the dilemma.  

Looking at what I just ‘rambled’ about, I remembered sometime ago, once a lecturer shared with me; that as journalists, we have the “authoritative” voice in the public as we say or write. We are the voice of the people, and we function as role models too. Like that cliche saying, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Whatever we intend to convey to people through our news stories, we can influence their lives to a certain extent. So it’s always about ‘responsible reporting’.

Then again, the question lies, what do you mean by ‘responsible reporting’? What do you think?

Till then,



Lawless, J & Barr, R 2011, ‘Amid scandal, Murdoch kills off News of the World’, Associated Press, accessed 8 July 2011, <>


Truth & objectivity: post modern casualties or victims of PR piracy?

This week’s topic mentions about journalists getting their stories from Public Relations (PR) releases. PR releases, in my opinion, are usually angled to give the organisation who issues it, to be put in a good light. I mean, why would you want to publish something bad about yourself? If you use the PR release as the basis of your story, what truth and objectivity is it? Truth maybe in what the organisation in launching or initiating – for example.

So technically, almost anything can be made into news. As long as it’s important, it’s news, right?

I’ve heard stories from my Aunt who’s a journalist – she says each day her desk is pretty much filled with PR releases; from launch of a new product or event. Everybody wants to be heard.  The role of a journalist, here, we “vow” to keep the public informed, educated and entertained -Essentially be an agent of information for the people and they act like a sieve or strainer – to strain information (Cave 1998 cited in Tapsall & Varley 2001).

Keeping people informed means that there is a need to be truthful and objective- do we really? How do we explain why some news make it in the news and some don’t? Like in the earlier part, almost anything can be news. So, functioning like a sieve or strainer; doesn’t that mean we filter out information? Putting in what we deem to be newsworthy. What’s so truthful and objective about that?

And I thought the point that the presenting group made was really interesting – that a journalist’s job now becomes like an “office job”, where journalists can sit in their office and click away on their computers to churn out news. Like in the case of basing a story on a news release. Piracy of a PR release- you think? Where it’s pretty much paraphrasing the entire PR release and out it goes; not much research done, probably a few phone calls and that’s pretty much it.

Dr. Steve McIlwaine who taught us previously once told me (on a personal note at least) that as writers, we should be “drafters”, where the final copy of the story, isn’t really always final- I guess it makes sense as chapter 7 pointed out that “good journalism required ongoing investigation” (p. 103). So I guess before we ever publish a story, we really need to make sure that all facts are correct and, ALWAYS ASK when you’re not entirely sure.

That’s so much from me… Before I sign off; I’d like to share some pointers to remember when reporting (with truth and objectivity) through the readings and they are:

  1. Never to believe and use what we see and hear until the most “expert” source confirms it
  2. There are many sides to a story as many as people want to tell them
  3. Always know that there’s someone who knows more & better about an issue more than you

To conclude, I guess there’s no really absolute truth and objectivity when it comes to reporting. At the end of the day, some news don’t make it into news because there’s no “news value” in it.

Till the next,



Tapsall, S & Varley, C (eds) 2001, Journalism Theory in Practice, Oxford University Press, Australia.

Privacy: Where Do You Get It?

Studying to be a journalist makes me wonder all the time, if what I will do next time invades other peoples’ privacy? Of course, as journalists, we are trained to write our news stories with truth and objectivity. But what if say for example a celebrity having an affair – it’s true, but it invades the personality’s privacy, yes? I mean; a celebrity is out to entertain us with his or her talents, be it singing or acting; so what does his or her personal life got to do with the public? Does it affect us as the audience or the quality of his or her work that’s presented to us?

The session was on Privacy. According to Merriam Webster, privacy is freedom from illegitimate intrusion. Much of the session is on privacy and celebrities. I on this side, would like to ask; what about politicians?

Take a look at Malaysia, it often seems like a politician’s sex life (apologies for the language) is everyone’s business. Really, is it necessary for the public to know? Take Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim or Datuk Dr. Chua Soi Lek as an example. If you asked me, as long as they do their jobs right, making sure that the public’s interest, the duties or ministry portfolio that he or she is in charge is taken care of, I really wouldn’t care what he or she does in bed. That’s my two-cents worth about the political journalism desk in Malaysia.

I guess as the presenting team’s final question to all present at the seminar remains; What private information should we make public – how do we distinguish among what the public:

  • has the right to know?
  • needs to know?
  • wants to know?

I think the right to know and the need to know is distinguished by the information that will affect the public such as national policies, the change in cabinet of ministers or if the prime minister is retiring and that sort. The “want to know”, would be those “juicy” stuff that makes news more interesting.

What do you think?

Till the next,


Week 6: Journalism & its Negotiation of Online, the blogosphere and social media

Two words for this slightly late post: Mental block.

Been thinking about this topic since 3 weeks ago. You might be thinking why such advanced thinking. Well, primarily, this week, it’s my team doing the presentation. My team; Eva Berlin, Nadia Ingrida and myself did a presentation about online journalism. Well, it’s more of the general stuff, specifically, we spoke about technological determinism theories; that are: technological utopianism and technological dystopianism.

  • Technological utopianism: This theory supports technology for journalism in which says that with technology, it creates impetus for creativity and innovation, brings about more jobs of higher intellectual level and most importantly, in our busy world, we can get real-time updates of news.
  • Technological dystopianism: On the other hand, this theory discusses the negative impacts technology has on journalism. As with technology, the world becomes a place without barriers. Therefore cultures, value can be lost with the spreading of Western culture becoming so prevalent, thus almost everything becomes homogeneous. At the same time, the standard of journalism dips as everyone and anyone can create content and post it online.

Let’s take a closer look at bloggers. According to Curley (2004), they (bloggers) are producing much more content than journalists. Individuals such as Seth Godin and Tim Harford have something to blog about each day; looking at the world in their “specialised”  point of view. By “specialised”, I imply by their academic training. Tim Harford is a economist and a columnist for The Financial Times while Seth Godin is a marketing guru, entrepreneur and the creator of Squidoo. So should we consider them as journalists?

My group’s stand? We conclude that they shouldn’t be considered as journalists. Wilson, Bruns & Saunders (2011) say that technology and online news should be considered as complementary sources. It should not be the primary source.

Another question is; what do you think of journalists who are bloggers themselves? Would you still look at them as journalists in their blogs and trust what they write in there, counting them as your primary source?


Till the next,




Curley, T 2004, Personal observation at keynote address to Online News Association’s annual conference, 12 November, Los Angeles.

Wilson,  J, Bruns, A &Saunders, B 2011, Who’s afraid of the MSM?, accessed 5 June 2011, <;.

Week 5: Globalisation v Localisation

This week’s topic was on Globalisation. Not something new. The topic affects almost every other aspect or field.

Laura & Vanessa spoke about the effects of globalisation as well as its positive and negative impacts specifically with regards to journalism.

I personally feel that I could connect to a few positive points that the two brought up during the seminar.

Globalisation is said to bring about some impacts to journalism. They are:

  1. Availability of alternative media

– The invention of the Internet that brings about low cost in maintenance, where websites can be created and hosted either without any charge (despite some limitations that the site imposes on the user) or a minimal subscription fee. Thus, alternative or independent media can afford to post up their information at the same time offering a “check & balance” to the mainstream media. Alternative media sites include: The Huffington Post, Temasek Review, Malaysia Kini, and many others, that claim themselves to offering truth and objectivity in their news reports.

2.   Audiences becoming more “content-smart”

– With alternative/independent media available, audiences today now have also learnt to be more skeptical of the information that they receive. The audience can be selective with the information they have- They can choose what they want to hear and see.

3.   Brings freedom of speech & citizen journalism

– I suppose the nature of the Internet that allows anonymity (Turkle 1995) makes people more willing to voice out their opinions. To be heard  is a basic want in our life. But perhaps, our background, especially in Asian context, voicing out one’s opinion is not a encouraged. With the Internet, Turkle (1995) suggests that people are more willing to try out new things.

To confess, I too am skeptical of the information that I read in the mainstream media. I would choose to read from the alternative/independent media before reading the mainstream media news, and then evaluate the news thereafter. I would say that globalisation is good in a sense that it gives readers a broader view of an issue.

At the same time, in globalisation with the presence of the internet; social media networks play a part in a journalist’s work. Laura & Vanessa brought up the question that how would social media networks help enhance  a journalist’s work?

I think that social media networks like Facebook & Twitter helps journalists in giving information – like a “tip-off”; as a single person can’t be everywhere to get the best stories for the day. I recalled during the Sarawak State election recently; my Aunt who is a senior editor with The Borneo Post (I quoted her in Week 3’s post- My bad, totally forgot to mention that) was giving a tip-off via Facebook to her colleagues to get a scoop on an opposition party setting up a booth to campaign at a polling station on the day of the election itself. I thought that it was really interesting to see how they work!

What about you? What do you think about globalisation in respect to journalism?  


Turkle, S 1995, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet , Simon and Schuster, New York.

Week 4: Who Will Pay For Journalism? Is It Just All About Money?

Hey hey! It’s Week 4 now.. This week, we’re talking about money! Money when it comes to journalism; that is. :o)

Money is an essential part of life; we need it to survive, and for some, to be happy. I think most of the lucrative industries when it comes to money would be medicine (doctors, pharmacists). I was once told that writing gives good money too. On the side note;  should you need to know- I took up this communication course because I wanted to be a writer,  because of my love for writing; never really thought of the money. And as cliche as it sounds, I wanted to write so I could change the world, that sort of thing. OK- I just want my writing to be of influence to the readers.

I think we should get back to the topic. Who pays for journalism. Here, we are focusing on how important it is for money when it comes to the media industry.

The media; be it in print, radio or television, relies on advertising to a great extent. Just take a closer look at your local paper. You can spot an advertisement on every alternate page, if not on every page.

On top of that, there’s even subliminal advertising in your newspaper. For example, in one of Singapore’s local paper; My Paper–  there was an article on health issues and at the end of the article, there was an indicator that the article was being sponsored by Parkway Health.

Personally, I believe journalism should focus on objective, truthful and credible reporting. However, I still ponder on this part. For countries like the Philippines, when the media industry is very competitive, it’s literally, who gets the news out first, wins the game.

So there is this constant race to rush news out before the other media companies.

As such, I would think of the media company always on the rush to getting the news out, thus credibility might be jeopardised. What do you think?

Signing off;

Suzanne Lau

Week 3: What is the role of the Citizen?

Righty-o… It’s week 3 and blogging begins!

Citizen journalism is a prevalent sight today with blogs and social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

The seminar this week was presented by Siti Raudhah, Pham Hoang Anh & Nur Haryanti on the role of the citizen in terms of journalism.

As much as citizen journalism can help to keep watch on the media by playing the role of a watch dog, another question remains.

Citizens are not properly trained in journalistic theories, as such reporting tends to be one-sided as they would come from their own point of view and not being objective in their reports.

And what about newspapers who take up views from these “journalists” and spun them up into reports just like the Utusan Malaysia, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO – one of the main parties under Malaysia’s ruling coalition; the Barisan Nasional or the National Front) owned publication recently?

The link to the report is here. <;

As the report is in Malay, I shall provide a simple translation.

The report takes on the basis of the two pro-UMNO bloggers; that is <> and <> claims to say that the opposition party (Democratic Action Party or DAP; in this report) has made plans with the Federation of Christian Pastors of Malaysia to make Christianity the official religion of Malaysia and promote a Christian as a Prime Minister.

This report has created a lot of debate online by independent news websites such as <> and <>

There are two points that I would like to make here. They are agenda setting and the usage of blogs in news reports.

Firstly, is agenda-setting. People are what they read. Agenda setting is described as the news media having a large influence on the audience as the editors decide what gets to be published news and be distributed to the people. Would agenda-setting be considered ethical in order to accomplish what our owners want? In the case of the Utusan, the Malaysian 13th General Election is looming around the corner, and it is believed that by stirring such issues on race and religion, they can help to increase votes in the Malay community for the ruling coalition.

Secondly, as Quinn & Lamble (2008) suggests, blogs have the potential to assist reporters with their research when writing their stories. Blogs give a better insight to a certain issue from the citizens’ point of view. Coming back to Utusan’s case; spinning up a news report from baseless bloggers- is it right to do so?

At the end of the day, it all boils down to ethics. I spoke to a senior editor; Stephanie Siaw, for The Borneo Post previously on ethics. According to her; “Ethics is what makes journalism a profession”. Quoting Quinn and Lamble (2008) again; doing research online and going all out to talk to your sources, should be balanced to maintain the quality of journalism.

As for the role of citizens, I believe that their blogs do play a role in a journalist’s work. Journalists can get better insights on a particular issue, thus having a broader view and more options in how they would want to write their stories.
Quinn S & Lamble S 2008, Online Newsgathering: research and reporting for journalism, Focal Press, UK