Media Ethics (Winter 2017, section 18)

About this class

Studies suggest that the average Canadian spends 19 hours online and 28 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.

Media Ethics does not aim to provide simple answers to difficult ethical questions. Instead, it is designed to introduce you to ethical questions surrounding the media and to provide you with the skills necessary to begin to find your own answers. Although the teacher will not attempt to hide her perpective, no particular position will be deemed “correct” in this class, and students are encouraged to put forward any opinion that is backed by evidence and critical thought.

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3 années 1 mois ago

I find this is an interesting subject and in your summary you make some good points, however I do not agree with everything you said. Firstly, I completely understand the censorship of songs with overtly racist lyrics, however, I ask the question; should these songs be playing on the radio anyways? My answer is no. I do not believe that songs on the radio should be censored when mentioning sexual acts nor violence. I believe that this censorship ruins the feeling and the sound the artist tries to create through the use of these carefully chosen words. Secondly, I believe that it is up to the listener (except in the case of children) to interpret these words as they wish, however; the offence taken by one listener should not lead to the censorship of the song. When it comes to the case of children, I believe that some censorship is required but complete censorship is useless for a couple reasons. Firstly, if a child does not know a word, it will sound like all the other words and secondly, if a child does know and recognize the word than they already know the word then censorship would achieve nothing.

3 années 1 mois ago

Firstly, I just want to say that I completely agree with your point on the misconception of women’s rights being far more progressive than they are in the West and the false portrayal of the “’never-ending’ oppression” women face in the developing world. Although the law is seemingly more equitable towards women in the West, their relationship with the law (as you mentioned) is often not. The need for feminism and the notion of sexism even existing in modern Western liberal democracies is something that is still contested and its denial is immoral under a number of ethical frameworks.

From a deontological perspective, individuals simply shouldn’t treat others in ways they wouldn’t want to be treated themselves. Therefore, it would be immoral to apply the law differently to different groups of people, such as in the case of the missing Indigenous women, whose families continue to be deprived of the justice they rightfully deserve.

From the point of a view of virtue ethics and teleology, denying sexism in the West is both not virtuous and has harmful implications. Under the framework of virtue ethics, believing that we have achieved gender equality could lead to moral licensing, whereby people ignore the micro and macro-aggressions women continue to face in society because under the law, their status is seemingly equal to that of men. Moral licensing is not acceptable under virtue ethics because moral agents should continually seek to be virtuous. Similarly, according to consequence-based ethics, believing that the justice system is “flawless” leads to detrimental outcomes. Since the society feels as though they’ve already done enough, women’s issues tend to be ignored, which not only lacks a solution to the specific problem at hand, but also stifles the improvement of women’s rights.

I think the utilitarian perspective is the most convincing way to frame this argument. Although virtue ethics works in solving this dilemma, it only looks at the problem from an individual level, whereas utilitarianism considers how the entire society ought to behave in order to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest amount of people. This is far more impactful when advocating for long-term social change. Deontology could also work, but insofar as we live in a society where different groups of people are perceived differently due to their gender, ethnicity, or otherwise, and consequently, are subject to different implicit standards on how they ought be treated, the practicality of deontology and applying these absolute maxims on moral behaviour is difficult.

3 années 1 mois ago

I found your post to be extremely relevant to the media content regarding mass shooters in North America. It is indeed flagrant that race and gender are rarely mentioned in the characterization of the perpetuators of such crimes.
It seems that you have hinted at a potential solution to this issue by targeting white males and screening them in particular for isolation or mental disorders. In this way you have approached the subject using utilitarianism to justify discrimination. A deontological perspective would condemn such an action completely since it treats others in a way that you wouldn't want to be treated. However, in the case of the prevention of violent actions we can't evaluate our decisions based only on the present but also on the outcome. If we can target a group that is more likely to be problematic, our efforts would be put to better use and would have more impact in getting help to individuals at risk. While we can’t exactly predict the outcome, your research has shown that the white male demographic represents 64% of mass shootings so in my opinion it would be unethical to not study their behavior more closely in order to save lives in the future. Thus, giving up an inkling of equality is necessary for the greater good.

Reply to: Popular vs Real
3 années 1 mois ago

I really enjoyed reading your article since it accurately addressed to the issue that nowadays media lies in order to have attention and make more money. It makes us question if the information we receive everyday is a lie. People go crazy and feel good about the fake news vibe simply because it is more attractive and excited than one's everyday boring life. Though the result may seem like a win-win situation, that Facebook and related media are happy because they are making money, people are excited about the news, it is not correct from the teleological point of view. Since the purpose of the medias is to make profit for their own and not considering the lies they bring to society, the motive of them is not beneficial to society. With this being said, their goal is selfish and does not aim at favoring the people and society. Therefor what they are doing is not correct. At the same time, doesn't it make people in society have less trust towards each other once they start to question the truth and discover the lies?

3 années 1 mois ago

First of all, thank you for sharing this interesting piece of information. In the light of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, the term "fake news" became widely spread and that is how I became aware that some of the most influential media outlets were manipulating the news. However, I did not know how standard and common this practice was, so it was very interesting to read about this issue.

I notice that you seem to be adopting a more utilitarian standpoint, which simply promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Indeed, you mention that biased news reports negatively affect millions of people and that transparent news would, in return, benefit them by properly cultivating their minds. I think this is best and most logical reason to believe that media’s distortion of news is wrong. Naturally, we would want the entire population to be well-informed.

Let me introduce to you a different ethical framework that could also help analyze the matter. Virtue ethics determines morality based on the agent; if the agent possesses a virtue, then his/her actions would also be deemed virtuous (right), and vice-versa. In this situation, the agent would be those in power, the media outlets. Since everyone can agree that dishonesty is not virtuous, the virtue ethics framework would argue that media’s manipulation of the news is definitely wrong.

In the end, I agree that what news outlets are doing is absolutely wrong and highly unethical, and this statement is supported by both utilitarianism and virtue ethics.

3 années 1 mois ago

This post effectively describes the faults in our society when it comes to overwhelming abundance of rape culture in the media by bringing up key points such as women being subordinate to men, violence in men and the overall objectification of women.

It seems like you naturally took a utilitarianism approach when analyzing this advertisement as you focused on the consequences of this advertisement on the larger population. Like the definition states, utilitarianism focuses on the outcome of events. Some of the consequences you brought up that result from hyper sexual ads like this one are seeing women as sexual objects, the reinforcement of gender roles, and the unrealistic standards imposed on women. In order for a phenomenon to be ethical under a utilitarian lens, it must bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people. It is evident that this advertisement surely does not meet these standards as women make up fifty-one percent of the world population yet women surely do not appreciate being treated unequal to their male counterparts.

An approach you may not have considered is focusing on the actions of the people accountable for creating these sexists images in the media. This method is known as deontology which focuses on the action itself and not the outcome since it cannot be accurately predicted. Deontology focuses on the fact that there are a set of rules that are inherently applied to society which includes respect towards each other. This objectifying advertisement doesn't give women the respect that they have the fundamental right to. It seems like most advertising firms have a long way to go before becoming ethical under any framework.

3 années 1 mois ago

The topic of your paper is very interesting. Additionally, your summary of the viral video was not only informative but also very intriguing. The discussion surrounding the legality of prostitution is often debated using various ethical frameworks. Firstly, the idea of utilitarianism is concentrated around the premise of the benefit of the majority of the population. Using this framework, one can argue that prostitution should be legal since the benefits affect the majority of society. These benefits include tax revenue from this industry, safer environments for prostitutes and their clients and less STD transmission. These benefits to society outweigh the potential negatives to the minority of prostitutes. Virtue ethics evaluates actions based on the actor employing naturally good virtues and how virtuous people would act in these scenarios. Contrary to the previous argument, a virtue ethics approach would condemn prostitution since paying for a sexual favor, without any aspect of love involved, would not be considered virtuous. Key virtuous figures in society would not remove the prestigious intrinsic value of sex by paying for a random stranger to perform sexual acts for them. The entire aspect of love would be removed from the equation, making sex unethical. Similarly, deontology would also condemn prostitution since the action itself of paying for sex would not be considered good. Personally I believe that the utilitarianism approach is best since all of society would benefit, rather than judging an action based on the virtues embedded in it. In my opinion, ethical actions should be measured by positive benefits to society and not the root of the action.

3 années 1 mois ago

First of all, very interesting article; You elaborate on the horrors of honour killings and do not just restrict your criticism to foreign countries, but also to the murder taking place in Canada itself. I also like your proposed solution of increased journalistic transparency. What I think you are expressing more abstractly is an ethical rationalist stance directly opposed to a relativist viewpoint. Indeed, honour killings are one of the most common examples cited against relativist ethics.
Relativism postulates that right and wrong can only be judged within the social mores of the time, place, and culture. Therefore, a relativist stance would refuse to denounce or take action against any honour killings because they belong to the social mores of a particular strain of culture.
By contrast, ethical rationalism clearly denounces honour killings as morally reprehensible. The main postulate of rationalism is that there are objective ethical rules that people can follow and that one must follow an ethical code, called a categorical imperative, to only do what is universally right. Honour killings clearly fail this categorical imperative, since murder in general is a terrible act. Your proposed solution to journalists to increase their transparency is also consistent with rationalist ethics, as people must tell the entire truth in every situation. There truly is no honour in killing.

3 années 1 mois ago

Hi emilyboiteux,

I found your article to be a very insightful and fair treatment of this sensitive subject matter, so kudos to you for the effort! It is a topic which I am familiar with, but I am glad to have been afforded the opportunity to see the situation from another person’s perspective. The plight of the Syrian people is an issue which I am sympathetic towards, and your article very much demonstrates this shared sentiment. I particularly enjoyed how you argumented for the inclusion of Syrian refugees by using a local example, the story of Avo Kazanjia who was able to benefit not only himself, but also the country which gave him sanctuary.

It would be however interesting to take a look at the situation from a utilitarian point of view. Indeed, this philosophical approach which postulates that morality is based on what achieves the greatest good for the greatest number of people. It is a concept which does not discriminate between people, every person is considered as important as the other. So according to this ethical framework, the life of a refugee is as valuable as any other. Therefore, it raises an important ethical issue: does taking in refugees benefit more people than it harms? You seem to already be using this theory and have applied to very well, taking into consideration the pros and cons of the situation. From what I gather, the cons of the danger that some refugees pose to nations is heavily outweighed by the pros of saving their lives and their contribution to society. A very neat application of utilitarianism. Good job!

3 années 1 mois ago

Hi emilyboiteux,

I found your article to be a very insightful and fair treatment of this sensitive subject matter, so kudos to you for the effort! It is a topic which I am familiar with, but I am glad to have been afforded the opportunity to see the situation from another person’s perspective. The plight of the Syrian people is an issue which I am sympathetic towards, and your article very much demonstrates this shared sentiment. I particularly enjoyed how you argumented for the inclusion of Syrian refugees by using a local example, the story of Avo Kazanjia who was able to benefit not only himself, but also the country which gave him sanctuary.

It would be however interesting to take a look at the situation from a utilitarian point of view. Indeed, this philosophical approach which postulates that morality is based on what achieves the greatest good for the greatest number of people. It is a concept which does not discriminate between people, every person is considered as important as the other. So according to this ethical framework, the life of a refugee is as valuable as any other. Therefore, it raises an important ethical issue: does taking in refugees benefit more people than it harms? You seem to already be using this theory and have applied to very well, taking into consideration the pros and cons of the situation. From what I gather, the cons of the danger that some refugees pose to nations is heavily outweighed by the pros of saving their lives and their contribution to society. A very neat application of utilitarianism. Good job!

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