Project Overview: Media Ethics Case Study
For my media ethics course during the fall 2015 semester I completed a case study as part of a final project for the class. My analysis is as follows:
A local news agency has quite a challenging story on its hands. Amid corruption allegations of the local police force, an anonymous individual tips the news station off on an officer who intimidated several teenage boys into engaging in sexual contact with him years before. Allegedly, he pulled them over then offered to let them go in exchange for sex.
The officer was forced to resign, but the chief of police, out of embarrassment, did not refer the case to the district attorney. The news station got in contact with two victims, one of which agreed to an interview, though he later wished to remain anonymous. A reporter tracked down the officer, who had moved quite a distance away from the town. The man not only confessed to the acts, but also threatened to kill himself if the story aired. The reporter talked the former officer out of it for an hour before calling the man’s minister, who agreed to see him immediately.
First of all, the tip came from an anonymous source, which can be problematic; however, the officer confessed, albeit off the record. Moving along, we know that the chief of police did not refer the case to the district attorney, amplifying the potential for fallout in this story. On the topic, a victim granted an interview, despite later wishing to be anonymous. Upon the former officer’s great despair at the topic, a reporter spent a whole hour assisting him before calling the officer’s minister. Lastly, there are the possible consequences for the station itself to consider.
The station certainly honors the victims in this scenario—the young men assaulted by the officer. Previous stories on sexual assault had kept victims anonymous, thus this could be the case here as well. Furthermore, the officer confessed to his misdoings in private, not on-the-record, so it could be problematic having sources to confirm this.
There’s also the important consideration of pain—both to the officer and victims. Both could feel despair at seeing this story aired, though there’s also the potential on the victims’ side that more victims will come forward after learning that they’re not alone.
Nevertheless, the station does not want to be the cause of the former officer’s suicide, and not just because people dislike emotional detachment by the media. To get around this, the man’s grief could be included in the report.
This approach is simple—it seeks the greatest good for the greatest number of people. In the larger picture, running this story would benefit the town—it would restore victims’ faith in the police force as well as weed out corruption in the town’s law enforcement. Numerically, the town’s citizens outnumber those at the police station who’d be impacted by the story, and this story has the potential to improve the police’s standing in the future. Thus, this approach seems to favor running the story.
This approach focuses on respecting moral rights, keeping promises, expressing gratitude, and avoiding harm. In this view, then, it would be less preferable to run the story. This would hurt the officer, could embarrass the victims who might be trying to forget their assaults—there’s a chance they didn’t bring the crimes up for fear of greater harm. At the same time, though, they could feel isolated and scared in this kind of suffering, and they might still want justice.
This method encourages adherents to treat equals equally, implying a class system, which doesn’t resonate well in the U.S. The offender enjoyed special powers as an officer, but he abused these and broke the law, which even public officials are subject to. This approach favors seems to favor the story airing.
Under this mindset, the accepted good in life is community life, which all members should work to maintain. A corrupt police force is unfriendly to any community even on a fundamental level. Additionally, the news has an obligation to help the community by reporting on issues that challenge and compromise it. Especially amid new allegations, this approach tells us to run the story.
This approach states that ideal virtues allow individuals to live to their highest potential, and emphasizes thought before action, self-control, and prudence. The reporter on the scene showed great care for the former officer, and his confirmation of the crimes make it a lot less likely that the victim interviewed was lying. This mindset tells us to run the story.
A central factor here is the overall payoff of the story. The benefits of running it include the eradication of corruption and fulfillment of the news agency’s responsibilities. Both the police and news need to be loyal to the community; however, the police have had a major breach in this—the situation could even get worse if not addressed as soon as possible.
I say run the story, with the victim anonymous and reasonable respect given to the town’s officers, new and old. This has long-term benefits for the community even if spelling out big trouble for the police in the short-term. As part of being respectful, the news agency is allowing the constituents of the police to know about breaches in trust, which is essential in a healthy democracy.