Media Ethics (Section 09)

About this class

Studies suggest that the average Canadian spends 31 hours online and 14 hours watching TV every week.  Many of us also listen to the radio while driving, read the newspaper in the metro, and are bombarded with advertising everywhere we go. It is therefore hard to deny that the media plays a major role in our lives. But the media is hardly ethically neutral and it presents us with moral conundrums on a daily basis. Journalists struggle to balance the need for privacy with the public interest when reporting a story; Hollywood Blockbusters have raised questions about the place of sexism and consumerism in popular culture; and communities struggle with the issue of universalism versus particularism in an increasingly global era.

This course is designed to engage with these and other issues. Conceptually, it is organized into 4 sections: 1) An Introduction to Ethics, 2) The Media and its role in Creating Normative Values, 3) Ethics and the Media in the Global Era, 4) and The Media, Democracy, and a Just Society. Assignments include a reflection paper, program-related posts to be made on an educational networking site called newsactivist.com, and a position paper and formal debate about WikiLeaks.

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by Emma Raven on April 7, 2015
After years of activism, women are no longer expected to stay home raising families, nor to limit their career aspirations to secretary, nurse or teacher. Theoretically, all Canadians are free to study whatever, and however much, they would like. However, while a slight majority of university graduates are female (Hango), some fields remain predominantly female and others overwhelmingly male. The media’s representation of the division is neither accurate nor ethical.

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by lina340 on April 7, 2015
In March of 2014, the outbreak of the virus, Ebola that came from West Africa, has caused many to worry about their health in the United States, primarily. Not only did Americans worry about their health, they also feared for it. Symptoms include fever, nausea and vomiting, bleeding and bruising, headaches etc., which can result to death if not treated immediately. By informing the public about the symptoms of this deadly disease, journalists caused an outbreak of panic and fear.

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by proudlithuanian on April 7, 2015
               Psychology is one of the recent sciences in the field of Social Sciences. It started in the late 19th century; Wilhelm Wundt and William James settled the basis of this new discipline1. As this science progressed, it supported theories that would now be considered foolish. For example, psychologists once thought that the shape of the head could predict if someone was a criminal or not2. Fortunately for us, psychological theories are now backed by solid scientist proofs even it is still a science in evolution.

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by snowflake26 on April 7, 2015
Are the representations of marketing advertisements in the media ethical?

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by studentuser1 on April 6, 2015
           Spring break 2010, an open bar, and wild beach nights. Some seemingly harmless pictures are uploaded onto Facebook. Fast forward to the present, after graduation and on the job hunt. The interview was successful, but you don’t get the job due to those party-hard pictures that make them question your professionalism. This situation is a reality for many recent graduates, whose digital footprints from the past are resurfacing with real-world repercussions.

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by Layfon on April 6, 2015
Space exploration peaked in the 1960s because of its fierce competition in the cold war between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. However, NASA’s funding from the federal government is at its all-time low at only 0.5% of the American federal budget (US Government). The reason is simple: after the Soviet Union dissolved, the United States of America sees no benefit in funding space exploration. Therefore, they are allocating less and less of their percentage federal budget to NASA. It could, however, be argued that this allocation of the federal budget is unethical.

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by totti10 on April 6, 2015
The possibility of the financial sector to influence the media for its own personal gain is greatly debated. Enforceable evidence is difficult to find but sound reasoning allows for certain assumptions to be made. The documentary “Inside Job” directed by Charles Ferguson investigates the causes of the 2008 financial crash and his discoveries have displayed the over-arching reach of the financial sector by uncovering all the previously undisclosed fields in which it has power. These fields include rating agencies, the U.S government and Ivey League universities. Each of these sectors can in turn use their power in the media to influence the public. The documentary explains the workings of collateralized debt obligations or CDO’s. Lenders were selling the rights of their loans and mortgages to investment banks who compiled and grouped these loans together in complex derivatives known as collateralized debt obligations. These investment banks then sold these CDO’s to investors. The issue is that lenders now gave no importance to whether the loan’s they issued had to be paid off or not since they were selling them off to these big investment banks. This made loans accessible to people who previously would never have be approved for loans before. Continuing down the chain, the investment banks now paid off rating agencies to give safe ratings to this compiled debt even though it could not be paid off. Where does the influence over the media come in? It is present throughout the entire chain. Lenders were advertising a cheap loan knowing very well that these people would default on them. This treated consumers with a general lack of respect they were never meant to pay back the loan from the beginning. Moreover, rating agencies were purposefully misleading their customers with the false ratings they were sending out which breaks the most important point in advertising’s five point test: truthfulness. Consequently, they are purposefully misleading consumers demonstrating how they influence the media in unethical ways. The U.S government has unparalleled influence over the population regardless of whether it reaches traditional media outlets or not. The government’s act of supporting legislation provides confidence to the public in these banking institutions. In other words, when lobbyists managed to increase the amount of leverage available to the investment banks through deregulation, the government portrayed confidence in these banks. Henceforth, the greater the trust the government held for these banks, the public’s perception of trust in these banks also increased. The issue is not that of government placing trust in these investment banks, the problem arises in who was influencing the government and pushing for deregulation. In 2006, Henry Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs was appointed to be the secretary of the treasury. Of the CDO’s sold by Goldman Sachs in the last couple months of Paulson’s time as CEO, a third of them defaulted. Investment banks such as Goldman Sachs took this a step further. Not only were they continuously selling these sub-prime mortgages at ratings equivalent to government securities, they were then betting against them for when these loans would fail. These actions demonstrate that the person in charge of economic counselling and policy making for the government’s financial interests, that is the secretary of the treasury, had an adverse interest to his clients. His teleological form of ethics was purely Machiavellian in nature and it is this type of ethical attitude that is advising the president of the United States. During the beginning of the financial crash, Paulson insisted that the economy was still growing despite numerous signs to the contrary. He pushed against regulation and by doing so; indirectly mislead the public through his power at the White House. In other words, the financial sector once again abused their power to influence the media according to its own agenda. The last sector in which the financial sector influences the media in unethical ways is through their connections in highly ranked universities. Academia has played a major role in support of deregulation since the 1980’s. Moreover, academic economists have helped shape current economic policy. Business school professors have done very well financially by consulting part-time with very powerful corporations and argued for deregulation on behalf of these companies to political parties. Larry Summers is the treasury secretary and played a critical role in the deregulation of derivatives, he became the president of Harvard in 2001. He made millions of dollars from speaking fees all sponsored by major investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. In addition to this, Martin Feldstein, a Harvard economics professor, was the chief economic advisor during the Regan Administration and was a major proponent to deregulation. He was on the board of AIG, a major insurance firm who played a pivotal role in derivatives and helped investment banks bet against the CDO’s. The issue arises with the notion of conflict of interest. Seeing as how these two major officials in a prestigious university are receiving huge compensations from the financial sector, they will most likely preach for the benefit of these firms. By doing so, students and members of the public who attend these speaking engagements will abide to what they are encouraging in the speeches, without the knowledge of where their true intentions lay. Harvard is not the only university to have similar problems with conflict of interest. Columbia University and Brown University all have similar problems. Glenn Hubbard is the dean at Columbia University and has several consulting clients all which he does not disclose and Ruth Simmons, the president of Brown University, sits on the board of Goldman Sachs. A conflict of interest is present in all cases in that each authority figure uses his/her own power to influence people in an unethical way based on compensation from investment banks. In conclusion, the financial sector uses its power to influence the media in an unethical way based on self-interest. Investment banks have used their power over rating agencies to deceive the public in order to sell more CDO’s. Furthermore, investment banks used contacts in high ranking government positons to promote deregulation so that they can continue on with activities that have an adverse interest to their customers. Lastly, investment banks have compensated academic authorities in top universities to promote their viewpoints on the masses and in government. All Information was taken from the documentary "Inside Job" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1645089/

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by ad.nauseam on April 6, 2015
Canada and the United States have certainly made strides forward with respect to gender equality. More and more women are entering the workforce and earning salaries that approach or equal what men earn. However, before we proudly pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, it is critical to understand the nasty aftermath of overt gender discrimination. What were once concerted efforts to keep women out of the world of business have now become nuances in language that are designed to force women to conform to gender roles.

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by guru on April 6, 2015
    In the wake of (allegedly) racially-motivated instances of police brutality in Ferguson, Mississippi and New York City the hashtag #blacklivesmatter took Facebook and especially Twitter[1] by storm. Its popularity grew to the point that recording artist Prince made reference to it in a Grammy presentation[2]. The hashtag speaks to growing concerns about a racially-motivated American judicial system, specifically with regards to on-the-ground police officers.

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by nicholaspeters on April 6, 2015
A significant moral dilemma faced by the Canadian medical community today surrounds the issue of doctor-assisted suicide. Earlier this year, in a ruling which has significant moral and ethical implications on society and on the medical community in particular, The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously struck down existing Canadian laws which banned doctor-assisted suicide. The Court said that the existing law should now be amended to allow doctors to assist in specific situations.

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by clc55 on April 6, 2015
Does Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s promise of placing his Québecor shares in a blind trust influence the media in ethically troubling ways?  

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by S__K on April 4, 2015
    Due to heavy reliance on technology, media is the general population’s primary source for information on societal and global happenings. As a result of this, media distributors are able to greatly influence the public’s opinion on many topics depending on which aspects of the story they choose to focus on.  

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by barackobama on February 12, 2015
Just last week, four adults and two children were diagnosed with measles in Toronto. This has many people wondering who is still getting measles in 2015. The answer is very straightforward. The 20 percent of Ontarians who have decided against vaccinating their children are the ones susceptible to measles, and unsurprisingly, are the only ones infected. The scientific proof proving the effectiveness and necessity for vaccinations is undeniable. However, there is still a large percentage of people that opt against vaccinating their children.   

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by s.tar on February 11, 2015
As medicine is progressing, newer technologies and processes are being considered. It is some of those progressions in medicine that are being the cause of moral dilemmas. A big example of dilemma that can be taken a look at is organ donation in which of course, a beneficial organ of an individual is removed (with the individual’s consent) and transplanted into a patient having that same organ damaged. Certainly, this method can save and allow hope to new lives but morally speaking, can we consent to it without even having to doubt once?

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by pinkarizona on February 11, 2015
Abortion is an issue that causes controversy and frustration among many people. There are many different groups of people that have their own opinions. More religious people tend to be against abortion whereas non-religious people tend to be pro-abortion. Although this topic is discussed often, the general population has a hard time agreeing its morality. As a pure and applied student, I have the chance to apply into the medical field so I think it is important to discuss the ethical implications of such a procedure.

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by Cuirassier on February 10, 2015
In the increasingly expanding and evolving industry of video games, many fresh developers and new independent gaming studios seek commercial success and professional attention from lead publishers. Thus, initial critiques on their first released games are extremely important and can often decide whether a new blockbuster franchise is born or whether the newly created game will remain forever largely unknown and overlooked.

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by ad.nauseam on February 10, 2015
Just the words “money manager” or “investment bank” bring to mind images of liars, cheaters, and connivers. Perhaps the greatest depiction of this utter lack of morality came in the winter of 2007, when the Great Recession began. This marked the beginning of the most severe global economic meltdown since the Depression. While the causes of the 2008 financial crisis are exceedingly complex, one of the key contributors was subprime lending. Without delving into the specifics of the crash, it came down to banks providing loans to individuals with poor credit (Denning).

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by David Zhang on February 10, 2015
The Morality of Placebo-Controlled Trials (PCTs)

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by Caskett on February 10, 2015
We've all heard of the influenza virus. We've all probably even heard of the H5N1 virus (i.e. the bird flu virus). Not only are they highly contagious and dangerous, but they caused, and can still cause, widespread epidemics. They are scary. Indeed, they’re the reason people line up to get vaccinated as soon as rumors of a flu outbreak start. They’re also why people instinctively take a step back when someone nearby starts coughing.

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by Lyonne16 on February 10, 2015
  114.4 million viewers. Solely in the United States did this exorbitant number watch the Super Bowl on February 2015, an audience that surpassed any show in the country’s history, including the previous Super Bowl games (Bieler). Yet, football is only part of the entertainment. Indeed, the renowned singer Katy Perry diverted the spectators through extravagant representations of her hit-songs during the half-time show, accompanied by Lenny Kravitz and rapper Missy Elliot. However, the show does not cease during the commercials.

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5 years 7 months ago

I would first like to commend you for writing such a thought provoking article, on an issue that is currently plaguing Canadian ethics. Furthermore, I completely respect your opinion on the fact that unless an individual is actually causing harm, they should be allowed to say what they want, when they want. And according to our current legal system, this is allowed. However, I have a problem with this ethically. Although people are entitled to their own opinions, expression of said opinions from a position of authority, such as the religious leaders you mentioned, is unmoral. From a utilitarian ethical perspective, an action is deemed ethical if it fulfills the greatest good for humanity. In this case, preaching beliefs which lack respect for other Canadians does not achieve the greatest good. It is firstly disrespectful to other religious, ethnic, or varying demographic groups and it can additionally evoke negative sentiments among the people it is being preached too. Although what they are doing is not illegal, I think that these religious leaders should look at what the message they are spreading from this ethical framework. Our countries reputation as tolerant and fair will only continue if ALL of the individuals presiding in it are willing to work together in a way that will foster respect.

5 years 7 months ago

Great topic! You have raised very important questions and have looked at both sides of the debate. You have pointed out that our society has not come to a universal agreement concerning the morality of abortion. A moral framework that could help address this ethical dilemma is deontology. With this approach, it can be said that it is a universal rule for a woman to have the right of free choice regarding abortion. Regardless of what the outcome may be, whether a woman decides to abort or not, it is essential to give her the right to free choice. With free choice comes the idea of access. How can the universal right of free choice be fulfilled with limited access to abortion centers? Governments should grant more access to those who wish to abort. By doing this, they are not promoting the idea of abortion, although they are allowing a woman to choose what is best for her and for her life. Having a child could change a woman’s life forever and if she do not believe that she is not emotionally or financially ready for this big of a commitment, she should be able to make this decision for herself.

5 years 7 months ago

Firstly, I would like to thank you for writing about this particular subject, which has become increasingly important in the past few years. I liked that you used counter-arguments to support your opinion. You seem to be writing from a utilitarian perspective since you invoke national security and thus emphasize the axiom: “the greatest good for the greatest number.” I would like to show that even a deontological approach could validate anti-terrorist surveillance in France most particularly (the bill was voted today, 438 for and 86 against) (Randoux). Indeed, the article XVII of The French Declaration of Man and of the Citizen from 1789 states: “Property being an inviolable and sacred right, no one can be deprived of private usage, if it is not when the public necessity, legally noted, evidently requires it, and under the condition of a just and prior indemnity” (Wikipedia). Consequently, it is in the public’s interest to be protected against potential terrorist threats. Extreme measures must then be taken in order to fight this underground war that usually passes through Internet communications. Moreover, Article XI also distresses the importance of freedom of expression (as long as it does not harm other individuals) (Wikipedia). However, this liberty is impeded by if journalists, illustrators, or anyone with a writing tool live in constant fear of expressing their opinions or thoughts. As a result, those that criticize anti-terrorist surveillance must understand what is truly at stake and which liberties have greater value: to be able to speak freely or practice one’s religion in peace or to keep one’s privacy while paradoxically posting pictures on social media and indicating one’s whereabouts.

Works Cited

Randoux, Fabrice. “Les députés français adoptent une loi controversée sur le renseignement." La Presse 5 May 2015. Web. 5 May. 2015.

Wikipedia contributors. Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2 May. 2015. Web. 5 May. 2015.

5 years 7 months ago

First off, you've detailed the base information of the issue very well. I'd like to add some ethical backing to your argument. Your post shows the ineffectiveness of racial profiling combined with its social harm. Above all else, we should not forget that the practice is equally reprehensible on moral grounds. For the Kantian, racial profiling uses people as a means to an end (reduced crime) instead of as the end. This is ethically impermissible. Kant's universal maxim applies to everyone, in any situation, regardless of race. A utilitarian might counter by saying that the practice is justified by moral calculation, in that a general reduction in crime from racial profiling justifies it. However, your post outlines the actual ineffectiveness of racial profiling as a crime-fighting tool. The utilitarian approach ignores justice.

5 years 7 months ago

First off, you've detailed the base information of the issue very well. I'd like to add some ethical backing to your argument. Your post shows the ineffectiveness of racial profiling combined with its social harm. Above all else, we should not forget that the practice is equally reprehensible on moral grounds. For the Kantian, racial profiling uses people as a means to an end (reduced crime) instead of as the end. This is ethically impermissible. Kant's universal maxim applies to everyone, in any situation, regardless of race. A utilitarian might counter by saying that the practice is justified by moral calculation, in that a general reduction in crime from racial profiling justifies it. However, your post outlines the actual ineffectiveness of racial profiling as a crime-fighting tool. The utilitarian approach ignores justice.

5 years 7 months ago

This post touches upon a very important and very timely topic facing many societies, namely the effect of budgetary pressures on government services, and in particular health services. It sparks an important debate about the priorities that society demands of its government and how various parties can influence government to act on their behalf. Everyone knows that governments face the same dilemma. They are under pressure to either reduce expenses, or be forced to raise taxes. Raising taxes will be unpopular among voters, so politicians are looking at ways to reduce spending. Theoretically, governments should support a utilitarian approach to the dilemma. They should ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of people, which is what Utilitarianism preaches. Ontario’s government (like Quebec’s) believes that by reducing spending in health, education and other services, they can lessen the burden on both today’s taxpayers as well as tomorrow’s generations of taxpayers. Everyone will benefit from this. By contrast, the Ontario Medical Association favours an approach based on ethical rationalism. It insists that the health system should be preserved and even improved at all costs. They believe that it is morally necessary to help patients, regardless of the ultimate costs to taxpayers. In the OMA’s view, the positive benefit of preserving the health budget outweighs the negative impact of increased taxation. The OMA seeks to pressure the government by convincing the general public to support its argument. If they are successful, then the government will be forced to listen to the public, who are the same taxpayers that they are trying to offer the greatest common good to. One way to resolve this dilemma is to involve taxpayers in a process which determines which expenses should be cut first. Ideally they would only agree to cut heath expenses as a last resort, because it is so important to them. Either way, this topic highlights the contrasts in moral systems that can be adopted to solve a dilemma.

5 years 7 months ago

This is a great example that shows the enormous responsibilities police officers has and the danger they are in in their line of work. However, this particular case is far different from the cases police officers are being scrutinized for in the media. Utilitarianism is a doctrine which seeks the greatest amount of joy for the greatest amount of people and in this case, there were only two people involve. The end result which is what is most significant in this perspective is one person died. Even if the police officer felt his life was in danger and rightfully so because of the claims that the victim had about carrying a weapon, it doesn’t authorize officers to use their gun unless they had no other option left. Taking someone life in this line of work should be the last resort after expending every other resource. I do think five shots were excessive and the police officer could have aim for a non-lethal region. I think officers should carry a non-lethal weapon as well with them to use in situation like this. I do agree that the officer is not to blame, but society should learn from these mistakes and ensure that the likelihood of this reoccurring is minimal.

5 years 7 months ago

I was not really aware that this was an issue but your post has enlightened me! My parents immigrated to Canada from Asia and had to learn French which was difficult for them. Regarding the issue, I do believe that learning the country's language is a necessity to live within it, however, I strongly disagree that it is unethical to not learn the national language.

From a teleological point of view, where the ends justifies the means, if a person manages to reach his or her goal, in this case to have a better lifestyle in a new country, it is ethical no matter how he or she does so. In essence, if one reaches a better lifestyle by any means which includes not learning the national language, then it is ethical. If one is able to attain his or her goal of better living conditions, he or she is free to do so however possible.

It can also be argued from a deontological point of view, where the means justifies the ends. Not learning a language does not violate any moral maxim. Thus, since it respects universal moral maxims, it is ethical simply to not learn the country's' language.

From my family background, I understand the value of learning the nation's language because communication and understanding is key is survival. However, it is always up to the individual. Learning is a choice. Thus, I believe that is it not unethical to not learn the language, but simply that that person will have difficulty in fulfilling his goal.

5 years 7 months ago

Homelessness is a serious issue in Québec, Montréal is specific. Therefore, it must be addressed to the population. This well written article completes that task in an intriguing fashion. However, the issue can not and should not be addressed by an increase of monetary support for the homeless. Unfortunately, funds need to be allocated in more efficient ways such as education. Moreover, an investment in education which will combat homelessness in the long run by creating an incentive for many to stay in school. Furthermore, a more accessible education will benefit lower income families of which the homeless tend to come from. In addition, the Québec government is in a period of austerity meaning that many sectors are receiving a cut from funding. Therefore, homelessness should follow suit and receive a cut from funding since there are better ways for public money to be spent during this period of austerity. Homelessness is a serious issue; however, the cure should depend on volunteers as well as NGOs rather than at the expense of other important public sectors such as education. Such actions will allow the Quebec government to focus on goals which benefit overall more people. The fact that it will help more people in the short and long run is a main reason to put money elsewhere this cash strapped utilitarian society.

5 years 7 months ago

I agree with you and you bring up a lot of important points as to how the portrayal of Disney princesses is unethical. Although Disney has begun to let go of the typical princess that waits around for her true love and is dependent on a man by creating new characters like Princess Merida that you mentioned as well as the two sisters from the movie Frozen that are strong and independent woman, Disney can’t seem to let go of the unrealistic body image ideals that they have been promoting for years to young girls around the world.

The most important thing you mention is that “Disney is putting these criteria on a little girls most conveyed goal; becoming a princess” and this is the ethical dilemma here because young girls look up to these princesses therefore they will conform to these standards. Furthermore, during childhood, a child’s brain learns morals, language, recognizable patterns, and social skills. When a movie is consistent with its physical indication of beauty the physical indication begins to stick with the child watching because their brain has correlated beauty with a thin waist, large breasts and flawless hair and skin. Having young girls look up to these unrealistic characters is why so many of them develop mental and physical problems in the future. This is why it is Disney’s job to change the message they’re sending out to young girls and empower them rather than make them feel like they need to conform to their unrealistic standards to be considered beautiful. Here’s a link that you can look at if you want to learn more about Disney’s history of promoting the beauty ideal with the first six princesses: https://storify.com/sternb13/the-disney-princess-effect-on-young-girls-a...

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