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Moral minefields: legal and ethical dilemma

July 8, 2011

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, <>


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