We all know that the media's first loyalty is to its citizens. The media should always tell the truth in order to inform Americans about important and substansive issues. But sometimes professional values conflict with personal values. What happens then?
I'll take the case of the Westboro Baptist Church picketing as an example. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Westboro Baptist Church is an independent, controversial church that is not affiliated with any known Baptist associations and is led by a man named Fred Phelps. Listed as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Westboro Baptist Church is known for preaching the condemnation of gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people as well as Jews, Muslims, and Roman Catholics The organization is well-known for picketing gay funerals and gay pride events—along with funerals of soldiers who have fallen in Iraq, victims of the VT shootings and victims of 9/11.Though the Westboro Baptist Church is able to protest, picket, and say such hateful things because of their freedom of speech, they also receive attention from major media organizations. An ethical question is whether the news media should cover the story of the Westboro Baptist Church...
I won't go into the whole potter box to figure out a loyalty, but I do want to talk about the personal and professional values involved. First, the professional. Truth telling. The media is responsible for covering local and nation stories, and withholding or concealing information about an even from the public is untruthful. Another professional value consists of generating profit through sales. Whether it be through the number of copies of a newspaper sold, or the ratings of a news broadcast on television, the media has a responsibility to make a profit, and covering the radical behavoir of the Westboro Baptist Church provides the media with a newsworthy and interesting subject. The media also has a duty to itself to maintain its journalistic credibility and independence.
Now, the personal. The media has a responsibility to respect the public. Many of the signs and slogans that the Westboro Baptist Church may be inappropriate for certain audiences, and once they are broadcasted by the news media or printed in a newspaper, there is no guarantee that inappropriate messages will not reach the wrong audience. There is also a need to find a balance between the public's need to know and having respect for an individual's right to privacy.
How important is revealing the information to the public? Does the public need to know or just want to know? And perhaps most importantly, how much damage will be done by revealing the information?
I know some of you might not be familier with the potter box of reasoning or the principles of Aristotle, Mills, Kant and Rawl, but after reading about the different values you should be able to see where the conflict lies?
So where do your loyalties lie?