According to Philip Paterson and Lee Wilkins, co-authors of Media Ethics: Issues & Cases, “Ethics, it is argued, is something you have, not something you do,” (Patterson & Wilkins, 2011). Any current or rising professional in the communications field should have at least a basic knowledge of ethics. However, in order to become a successful individual in public relations, journalism or broadcasting, one must have a solid foundation of knowledge on this particular subject. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to take a media ethics class this semester — particularly since I only possessed a vague idea of what having “ethics” meant. Initially, I thought “ethics” was interchangeable with “morals,” but I quickly learned I was mistaken. Ethics and morals are actually two separate entities: ethics is a rational process based on certain agreed upon principles while morals is a system influenced by religion (Patterson & Wilkins, 2011). Also, ethics has been shaped around various philosophical premises.
Right now, you may be asking yourself, “When do I use ethics?” Well, you utilize this process when you find yourself faced with a dilemma where there really is no right or wrong answer. In these situations, you must choose the “best answer” according to your ethical principles. So, now you’re asking, “What are ethical principles?” and that is where philosophy comes into play. Philosophical theories such as Aristotle’s Golden Mean (virtue lies between extremes,) Kant’s Categorical Imperative (act as if your choices are universal law and treat others as an end, not a means) and Utilitarianism (the rightness of your act is determined by its contribution to a desirable end) are typically consulted during the decision making process (Patterson & Wilkins, 2011). Using such philosophical principles will help you to figure out the “best answer” to your dilemma. However, each individual may choose a different principle to abide by, since each depend on the practitioner’s personal moral and ethical values. Using these philosophical principles will help you to figure out the “best answer” to your dilemma.
So, why is it important to study ethics? Well, studying this topic helps your decision-making process by providing you with the tools and skills necessary to choose the best solution for a problem. Also, you have a better chance at living a life founded on important values such as integrity which enhance your credibility as a communications professional, or in my case specifically, a public relations practitioner.
Patterson, P., & Wilkins, L. (2011). Media ethics: Issues & cases. (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.