In the Legal and Ethical issues of Communication class young journalism students are given the opportunity to witness an in depth discussion on media ethics by working journalists as well as community members and professors. The "You Be the Editor" panel covers several situations that could, or have, happened in the world of professional journalism that raise ethical issues for media companies as well as individual journalists.
The panel is set up in order to give students and idea of how journalistic ethics are actually applied in the working world, while challenging students to think about their own positions on ethical dilemmas.
"Ethics is local, ethics is you, ethics is local media, ethics is local politics. . . This is the applied side of our course," Dr. Lyombe Eko, the professor of the course, said.
This semester the moderator, Professor Jeffrey Stein of Wartburg College (B.A. 1985), kicked off the discussion by presenting a situation where local law enforcement asked a media outlet for their video and photos of an event that turned into a small riot. In this situation, the police were asking for the images in order to aid an ongoing investigation into who had started the riot and who was responsible for various property damages that occurred during the event.
The discussion among the panelists quickly picked up. All three journalistic professionals, from radio, print and television, agreed that they would not hand over any footage or film until they saw a subpoena, and even then they would probably take the matter to court.
"It's a matter of principal with journalism. If I essentially become an agent of the law by what I do out there reporting, then what makes people trust me when they tell me things? What makes me an unbiased source?" Erin Jordan of The Des Moines Register asked.
The community members, on the other hand, were not as sure. Ross Wilburn, Iowa City Mayor, expressed a hope that members of the media would want to help their community, and in turn the police, enough to cooperate when possible. However, he also expressed his respect for the media, their privileges and the First Amendment.
The panel went on to discuss whether or not The Los Angeles Times acted fairly when they reassigned two employees from covering a same-sex marriage story because the writer photographer team was among the thousands or people who had obtained marriage licenses. Again the panel was torn.
Professor Marshal Poe, of the UI history department, said there was absolutely no reason to pull the reporters. Jordan, on the other hand, thought that although there may not have been a direct conflict, there could have been the appearance of one. She said The Times was within its' right to pull the reporters, especially if there were equally able reporters available to cover the story.
The discussion was summed up nicely by Stein, who pointed out that there are many times when we realize situations were not well thought out after we go back and examine them.
"The goal of all these discussions, whether it's in a news room or it's in a class room, is so that you have thought it out a little bit ahead of time so when it really does happen it's not totally new," Stein said.
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