Journalists adhere to a set of ethical standards in their line of duty. Strict codes of ethics and conduct also bind other media professionals (Alia, 2022). In other words, journalists’ decisions appear to be guided by a set of rules. It is helpful to follow the rules, but it is not always simple; it becomes a problem for a broadcaster when they are forced to choose between morals and ethics (Christians et al., 2010). Media and ethics are intertwined and apply in diverse situations where a person’s morals are hardwired into their psyche.
Case Study Description
One example of journalism’s ethical dilemma was the Utah Restaurant Association’s media coverage of roaches at the restaurant. The news appeared on a feature by KVTX media in 1998 exploring roaches’ infestation in major restaurants (Associated Press, 1998). The news also showed the restaurant personnel handling meals in an unhygienic manner. Because of the broadcast, a lawsuit was filed against the station for invasion of privacy in a restaurant.
Values in Conflict
The main values covered within this case include accountability, respect, and carefulness, which is critical because journalists often do not have the same moral compass. Even if one journalist thinks a story is morally repugnant, another is not affected by it (Roberts & Black, 2021). Journalists are careful in their roles and often agree upon a few things because there is a legal aspect to this situation; they are free to do whatever they want, even if the law may not allow for it. After all, they are frequently stumped in these situations because of ethical considerations. Regarding accountability, the management argued that this report violated the restaurant’s privacy, presenting an ethical and legal challenge for the media source. This report created a moral inquest in journalism and ethical concerns for the restaurant as it faced backlash from its clients.
Customers offended by the restaurant’s lack of cleanliness could stop visiting it due to a complaint like this. On the other hand, if the hotel’s restaurant were to close, the reporter would have to consider the ramifications, such as the staff who would be rendered jobless due to the exposure. The restaurant should have utilized some of its earnings after it had been open for a while to uphold hygiene regulations. Concerning respect, most of the workers are usually the main breadwinners of their families; therefore, not airing this report would make sense to many people. They would have preferred the journalist not to air the report and respect their source of livelihood. Thus, the journalist may abandon the story because of these concerns. However, the restaurant would have continued to use unhygienic methods if the journalist had not reported it.
The report provided customers with an informed insight into the health status of their restaurant; they could now choose whether or not to continue visiting it again. Customers and society would have continued to receive subpar cuisine had the story not been aired. This investigation could be useful for those in charge of cleanliness in these locations.
The moral actors include the journalist, the media house, and its counsel. Although the restaurant never authorized the investigation, the management could not bar the journalist from airing it. By airing the report, the journalist made an ethical decision by revealing the unhealthy status of the restaurant and cautioning future clients who visit the restaurant. However, the restaurant’s counsel argued that the journalist violated the facility’s privacy during the investigation making the report inadmissible in court. Nonetheless, the report was aired and the restaurant faced significant public backlash.
The stakeholders involved in this case include restaurant management, staff, and families. The staff’s families will suffer if the restaurant is shut down as their breadwinners become jobless. The customers could stop visiting the hotel based on the investigation and thus end a longtime relationship with it affecting the restaurant management’s reputation and work. On the hand, the restaurant staff are likely to lose their jobs if the restaurant shuts down based on the legal outcomes of the expose. The liberal law expressly alludes that journalists lack the power to publish false and damaging information about an individual’s private life. Consequently, it enables those who have been wronged to bring a lawsuit against the journalist. As long as the journalist’s claims were substantiated by evidence, their case was safe. Based on the evidence captured in the report, the restaurant management could not sue the journalist on the basis of false news or defamation.
Teleology and deontology are two major ethical theories widely used in media ethics. Teleology states that the finest ethical decisions lead to the best outcomes. A political theory of action is neither good nor evil but rather useful in this perspective (Hadzialic, 2019). In the case of illegally recorded talks, the right to know justifies the publication of the recordings (Kvalnes, 2020). Journalists are only allowed to inflict as much damage as necessary to convey a story’s facts accurately. In the current case study, the journalist accessed private areas within the restaurant to gather information regarding the staff’s unhygienic conduct. Although the investigation would harm the restaurant’s image, it was necessary to prevent clients from consuming contaminated foods again. Teleology is more adaptable than theories based on obligations and provides more solutions when things get dicey (Hadzialic, 2019). In the eyes of critics, this theory relies too heavily on unforeseeable effects and moral agents’ abilities.
Teleology theory ignores our moral responsibilities to society as a whole, which may contradict our obligations to individuals or small organizations. The Deontological Theory promotes principle or value-based activities, regardless of the results. Deontological ideas are absolutistic because of their focus on rules and obligations (Hadzialic, 2019). Based on this logic, journalists could not fabricate information to obtain an advantage. The journalist used first-hand information from the restaurant to compile the report, which validated the expose. It is unfair to convict innocent individuals if a journalist refuses to reveal their sources in court, even if those sources could prove the accused’s innocence (Kvalnes, 2020). Two good moral criteria are available to deontologists, but they must choose one (Kvalnes, 2020). The journalist could choose to air the report and save other customers from unhealthy food or bury it and save the restaurant from public backlash. Nonetheless, the news would have a significant impact on either party.
Personal Ethical Position
I am an idealist and I believe the journalist made a good choice by taking this method; I often look forward to nice and healthy meals whenever I visit restaurants. It is possible to learn a lot about the inner workings of a kitchen from good journalism. A failure to do so would allow those with no regard for the social good to take advantage of your clients. What I think should have been done was to inform the restaurant in advance of its need to clean up or face publicizing the report. It would have been a win-win situation for everyone involved, and the restaurant owners would have recognized their errors. The news coverage had an immediate impact; the restaurant owners may have taken legal action against a television station, but they had to enhance their wholesome standards as a result. Essentially, the report provided a wake-up call for the restaurant management. According to the investigation findings, the eatery did not satisfy the required standards of hygiene.
Alia, V. (2022). Media ethics and social change. In Media Ethics and Social Change. Edinburgh University Press.
Associated Press. (1998). Utah restaurant group sues KTVX over videotape spot. Retrieved from https://www.deseret.com/1998/2/10/19362815/utah-restaurant-group-sues-ktvx-over-videotape-spot
Christians, C. G., Glasser, T., McQuail, D., Nordenstreng, K., & White, R. A. (2010). Normative theories of the media: Journalism in democratic societies. University of Illinois Press.
Hadzialic, S. (2019). Media Ethics in Professional Journalism: Ethical Theories Within Moral Judgement – Essay. Eurasia Review. Retrieved from https://www.eurasiareview.com/17062019-media-ethics-in-professional-journalism-ethical-theories-within-moral-judgement-essay/#:~:text=Media%20Ethics%20In%20Professional%20Journalism%3A%20Ethical%20Theories%20Within%20Moral%20Judgement%20%E2%80%93%20Essay,-June%2017%2C%202019&text=Deontological%20theories%20(based%20on%20duties,represented%20by%20Aristotle’s%20golden%20mean.
Kvalnes, Ø. (2020). Ethical Navigation on Social Media. In Digital Dilemmas (pp. 43-64). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
Roberts, C., & Black, J. (2021). Doing ethics in media: Theories and practical applications. Routledge.