New media has revolutionized the way and manner information used to be available and shared. Even in the creation of media content, it used to be a tedious process where there must be an established office, machines, staff and other related resources before one could produce and publish news items. Today, information communication technology has shrunk the requirements and placed the power to create news from just a small gadget in the hands of any individual. The ease in sharing media content by individuals other than trained media practitioners, is as a result of the presence of new media and communication technology.
Valentini (n.d.), defined new media as those (media) that are simultaneously integrated and interactive and that also use digital code. Inherent therefore in this definition, is integration, interactivity, and digitalization which must be present to qualify a medium as part of the new media. The ‘New’ in new media also defines novel applications as well as the technologies that allow original, innovative ways of performing new tasks. Friedman & Friedman (2008) asserts that it could appear logical to define the phrase in a temporal context given that the word “new” is used to imply a time element. But this, they note, is a never-ending endeavour as there will always be “new” things coming. To make the use of new media friendly and easy, the Internet and digital technologies provide us the power in creating, sharing and diffusing ideas, opinions and interests. However, they create new consequences for us as human beings.
In the view of Novak (2019), Communication technology is the transfer of messages (information) among people and/or machines through the use of technology. In other words, this refers to all equipment and programs that are used to process and communicate information. It therefore refer to all communication technologies, including the internet, wireless networks, cell phones, computers, software, middleware, video-conferencing, social networking, and other media applications and services enabling users to access, retrieve, store, transmit, and manipulate information in a digital form.
The proliferation of information technology in the hands of ordinary citizens as well as the easy of access of the internet which facilitates the sharing of such information, have given rise to what is termed citizens journalism. People who produce and share content, but do not do so as a representative of a legacy news organization are often referred to as citizen journalists (Miller, 2019).
This category of journalism, has come in competition with professional journalism. The distinguishing element among these two categories of practitioners, however, is the ethics that they are bound by. While the professional journalist who is attached to a media outlet is bound by ethical standards, the citizen journalist has no such obligations.
Journalism, the profession for media practitioners, is operated with ethics in place that guide the conduct of practitioners. The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 of the United States defines journalism to involve “gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concern local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest, for dissemination. The phenomenon of journalists and non-journalists having access to create media and news content raises issues of the need for new ethics that guide new media.
Khadka (n.d.) notes that the advent of digital technologies has brought about both simplicity and complexity. With reference to simplicity, he notes, is the creation of a suitable environment for news collection, information dissemination, immediacy and interactivity. For the complexity it brought about, he notes that it raises new and more moral issues. Further, the advent of blogging has increased the possibility of people who have received no training in journalism creating and publishing news.
Some ethical concerns
The ethical issues that arise from the arrival of new/digital media are specially related to intellectual property, the news gathering process, contrasting sources and digital manipulation. The advancement of communication technology can be assessed through the whole communication process (that is; collection, production, presentation, dissemination, reaction). This is expected to be corrected or checked through self-regulation to minimize ethical errors on the part of digital journalists.
Zion and Craig (2015) postulated that given the circumstances within which the media operate today, even established journalists must be concerned about the fact that traditional codes often lag behind media practices, especially when content is produced outside of the institutional norms, processes, and structures of traditional media.
It is important to present a short evaluation of the communication process in this era and context of new media. Whereas the process of processing information may remain the same, the process is fast-tracked. For instance, information collection has become easy due to easy access to tools in information gathering. The production process is made easier due to the availability of various software for proofreading and editing audio, videos and photos. In the area of presentation, satellite and internet makes it easy to disseminate information to the whole world in a very short period of time. Consequently, this makes reaction to news content faster as the internet makes it easy to increase interaction with audience. This therefore makes it easy to get information to become viral within a short period of time.
The ease of reach and the need to meet readers/audiences/customers at their point of presence, has compelled mainstream ‘traditional’ media to adopt means of being available on new media platforms. The likes of Daily Graphic which existed for many years, has found space on social media or new media platforms to be able to reach its audiences who are technologically savvy. The New York Times which was founded in the year 1851 equally found space on new media channels in order to keep up with modern trends, just to reference a few.
Some countries adopting new ethics
Diaz-Campo and Sagedo-Boj (2015), indicated that out of 99 codes of ethics analyzed, only 9 countries have included reference to the Internet, digital technologies or digital media. These countries were Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Hungray, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and the United Kingdom. This was done in order to maintain codified frameworks to maintain professionalism in journalism irrespective of the medium being used.
The sophisticated nature of the gadgets in the hands of practitioners and non-practitioners alike, makes it easy to ascertain information that are personal to individuals, publications of which would invade the privacy of the parties involved. In line with these new threats of using unconventional means, some jurisdictions have taken steps to ensure that these phenomena are contained even on the midst of the power of new media and advanced communication technologies.
The Canadian Association of Journalists’ Ethics guidelines of 2011 states that “ethical practice does not change with the medium”. The revised ethical codes of the Association suggests further the need not to compromise with accuracy, balance and credibility to be news-breaker stating that “the need for speed should never compromise accuracy, credibility, or fairness. Online content should be reported as carefully as print content, and when possible, subjected to full editing”.
The United Kingdom Editor’s Code of Practice of 2016 states that “it is the responsibility of editors and publishers to apply the Code to editorial both in printed and online versions of publications”. The updated code of the UK reminds that it is immoral to obtain digitally held information using different advanced technologies. It clearly defines “the press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorized removal of document or photographs; or by accessing digitally held information without consent”.
The Netherlands Press Council of 2015 even goes further to establish a higher responsibility through its codes. The codes contains that “if a response to an article on the website contains a serious accusation or a defamatory expression towards one or more known individuals, the editorial office, on the request of the person(s) involved, must investigate whether there are actual grounds for the accusation or allegation and, if this is not the case, remove the response”.
The Netherlands Press Council codes recognises the rights of individuals about whom stories are published. They recognise the need for publishers to be cautious of the reputations of their ‘subjects’. To this end, the codes did not just end at the publication, but extends that responsibility to monitoring and regulating the very comments that followers make in order to delete those that it cannot authenticate.
The Press Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina of 2011 went a little further to request the inclusion of the address of the publisher in each publication by stating that “every issue of each publication shall contain in an appropriate place the name, address, telephone, and if available, fax number and internet/email address of the publisher and editor responsible to whom complaints can be addressed”. This requirement further makes it easier for ‘subjects’ of publications to be able to reach and complain to publishers. Looking further into it, it makes easier for the publishers to be reached in times of legal actions. This requirement has long been applicable to newspaper publishers where the names and addresses and contacts of the editors are expressly stated for easy accessibility.
This then raises the question: should online and new media news publications therefore close the comment section to their numerous readers mindful of the enormity of the task that may arise should the ‘subjects’ of publications begin demanding for investigations of independent allegations that ordinary commentators post as comments, failure of which may result in legal implications? This therefore strikes at the core of new media which has as one of its distinguishing features being interactive and immediate in terms of opportunity for feedback.
Some ethical issues in new media
•Plagiarism. This refers to the picking and using of information created by others as one’s own. Today, it has become easy for individuals to pick/copy news items generated by others and share same as though they created it by themselves. The advent of new media, also makes it easy for such ‘stolen’ contents to be spotted.
•Altering images or videos. This refers to the editing of photographs and videos. The availability of software and motion picture technologies, has made it possible for images and videos of people to be altered in order to create something that does not exist just so a particular narrative can be assigned. This phenomenon continues to raise ethical issues on how manipulations have become prominent in the news production and dissemination process.
•Anonymous sources. This refers to publishing stories without making the sources public. Journalists are allowed the opportunity to protect their sources of information as a means of ensuring that future publications are not jeopardized. However, this is sometimes abused by individuals who create stories by their own imaginations. Additionally, some of these stories are carried from sources which are not directly known by the immediate publisher for which reason, the source cannot be provided. It therefore requires that the sources of news are clearly ascertained and established by the publishers of a news content.
•Piracy. This is the unauthorized duplication of copyrighted content that is then sold. Piracy is defined as the act of illegally reproducing or distributing copyrighted materials such as computer programs, books, music, and films (Sadiku et al. 2021, p. 797). They note further that piracy occurs when a person copies, distributes or sells a digital product, without the prior permission of the creator of the product.
Types of ethical problems
There are two types of ethical problems. These are errors of commission and errors of omission. Errors of commission are ethical problems occurring by doing or committing some action. Errors of omission on the other hand, are ethical problems occurring by not doing something.
Some errors of commission are: (a) using anonymous sources. This is allowed mostly in investigative journalism to enable sources to reveal vital information of national interest (e.g. the US Watergate Scandal of 1972 that led to Prez. Richard Nixon’s resignation is a typical case). But, lazy journalists as stated earlier, are hiding behind this; (b) Using false bylines by giving the wrong writer’s name to a news item (this violates public trust thereby becoming ethically unacceptable); (c) Digital manipulation of videos or images which are products of editing using software; and (d) Invading a person’s privacy through video recording or images of a person’s sexual or intimate room encounter when the person is not a public figure.
Some errors of omission include: (a) Interviews. Now interviews are conducted in modes other than face-to-face. This takes away mostly the important issue of follow-up questions which could be ascertained through body language. It also brings the issue of interviewees having access to preview quotes before they are published; (b) Fact-checking. The rush to get the story out even faster has put the issue of fact-checking to great test; (c) Issue of reporter’s identity, where the reporter adopts another identity in order to have access to certain vital information; and (d) Corrections. Traditional print has record of the error as well as the corrected version. Some of the questions that arise include: should online just correct the original? Or keep the original and publish a corrected version?
A central question is, to what extent are existing media ethics suitable for today’s and tomorrow’s news media that is immediate, interactive and “always on”. This new mixed news media requires a new mixed media ethics – guidelines that apply to amateurs and professionals whether they blog, Tweet, broadcast or write for newspapers. Media ethics needs to be rethought and reinvented for the media of today, not of yesteryear.
- Diaz-Campo, J., & Segado-Boj, F. (2015). Journalism ethics in a digital environment: How journalistic codes of ethics have been adopted to the Internet and ICT in countries around the world. Telematics and Informatics, 32(4), 735-744.
- Friedman, L. W., & Friedman, H. H. (2008). The New Media Technologies: Overview and Research Framework. SSRN Electronic Journal. Retrieved 02 21, 2023, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228193979_The_New_Media_Technologies_Overview_and_Research_Framework
- Khadka. (n.d.). Do we need a new ethics for digital media? Retrieved 09 30, 2021, from https://www.academia.edu/25191200/Do_we_need_a_new_ethics_for_the_digita_media
- Miller, S. (2019). Citizen Journalism. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.013.786
- Valentini, C. K. (n.d.). New media versus Social Media: A conceptualization of their meaning, uses, and implications for public relations. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/1384760/New_versus_Social_Media_A_Conceptualization_of_their_Meanings_Uses_and_Implications_for_Public_Relations
- Zion, L., & Craig, D. (n.d.). Ethics for Digital Journalism: Emerging Best Practices . Now York: Routledge. https://learn.org/articles/What_is_Communication_Technology.html
- Sadiku, M. N., Ashaolu, T. J., Ajayi-Majebi, A., & Musa, S. M. (2021). Digital Piracy. International Journal of Scientific Advances, 2(5), 797-800. doi:10.51542/ijscia.v2i5.22
12 thoughts on “ETHICAL ISSUES IN NEW MEDIA AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY”
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