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Quill: Stories About Journalism Ethics
– Journalism’s complicated relationship with transparency
– Sinclair’s ‘teachable moment’ raises even more questions
– Sinclair’s mandates threaten independent, local journalism

Ethics Committee
This committee's purpose is to encourage the use of the Society's Code of Ethics, which promotes the highest professional standards for journalists of all disciplines. Public concerns are often answered by this committee. It also acts as a spotter for reporting trends in the nation, accumulating case studies of jobs well done under trying circumstances.

Ethics Committee chair

Andrew Seaman
Email
@andrewmseaman
Bio (click to expand) Andrew is a news editor at LinkedIn. Before joining LinkedIn, he worked for seven years as a senior medical journalist at Reuters Health. Prior to that, he was a Kaiser Media Fellow at Reuters’s Washington, D.C. bureau, where he covered the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

In 2011, Andrew graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied investigative journalism as a Stabile Fellow and was named “Student of the Year.” Andrew also graduated with his B.A. from Wilkes University in 2011.

He’s won numerous awards throughout his short career, including being named a 2010 Tom Bigler Scholar for ethical standards in journalism, the 2009 Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award, the 2009 and the Arthur H. Barlow National Student Journalist of the Year Award.


Lynn Walsh, vice chair
Project Manager
Trusting News Project
E-mail
@LWalsh
Bio (click to expand) Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has been working in investigative journalism at the national level as well as locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. Currently she leads the KNSD investigative team at the NBC TV station in San Diego, California, where she is the Investigative Executive Producer.

Most recently, she was working as data producer and investigative reporter for the E.W. Scripps National Desk producing stories for the 30+ Scripps news organizations across the country. Before moving to the national desk, she worked as the Investigative Producer at WPTV, NewsChannel 5, the Scripps owned TV station in West Palm Beach, Florida. She has won state and local awards as well as multiple Emmy’s for her stories. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information.

Her passion lies in telling multimedia stories that deliver hard hitting facts across multiple platforms. She describes herself as a "data-viz nerd" who is obsessed with new online tools to share information on the web and mobile applications.

She is a contributor to the Radio Television Digital News Association blog and serves as Secretary-Treasurer for SPJ and is a member of SPJ’s FOI, Generation J and Ethics committees.

Lynn is always interested in new projects surrounding FOI, public information access, mobile reporting tools, social media and interactive journalism. She is a proud Bobcat Alumna and graduated from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.


SPJ Ethics
Committee Members


Lauren Bartlett
E-mail

David Cohn

Elizabeth Donald
E-mail

Mike Farrell
E-mail

Carole Feldman

Paul Fletcher
E-mail

Fred Brown
E-mail

Hagit Limor
E-mail

Dana Neuts
E-mail


Chris Roberts

Alex Veeneman
E-mail

Home > Ethics > Ethics Case Studies > Offensive Images

Ethics Case Studies
Offensive Images

WHAT: The situation. Caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad didn’t cause much of a stir when they were first published in September 2005. But when they were republished in early 2006, after Muslim leaders called attention to the 12 images, it set off rioting throughout the Islamic world. Embassies were burned; people were killed.

The cartoons originated with a conservative Danish daily newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. After learning that the author of a children’s book on Muhammad couldn’t find an illustrator who wasn’t afraid of retribution, the newspaper sponsored a contest soliciting depictions of the prophet.
It was time to stop being cowed by Islamist fundamentalists, the Danes said; time to confront European media’s timid self-censorship. If we don’t, as the saying goes, the terrorists will have won.

After the rioting and killing started, it was difficult to ignore the cartoons. Some media elected merely to describe the cartoons, not to print them. Yet every time a major protest broke out, the more likely it was that the cartoons would be published. The violent reaction made it difficult for news media in the Western world not to show their audiences what all the fuss was about. Predictably, perhaps, each publication set off a new wave of protests.

Question: Do we publish the cartoons or not?

WHO: The principals. The decision-maker, in this case, most likely would be at least at the managing editor level at a newspaper; perhaps the news director at a television station.

The stakeholders include the local Islamic community, Muslims around the world, people at sites that might be targeted by riots, your newspaper or TV station and its reputation for truth-telling and fairness, and readers and viewers — who have an interest in seeing what is driving such outrage. You may be able to think of others whose interest in the outcome of your decision should be considered.

WHAT: There are several principles at issue here. Is it freedom of expression? Or is it unnecessary provocation? Is there an acceptable middle ground between showing the blunt truth and minimizing the harm of insult?
Some critics said Western media trivialized the cause and exaggerated the reaction. Only a few thousand of the billion or so Muslims worldwide rioted. And this was only the latest manifestation of a long history of bullying, humiliation and marginalization of Muslims by Europe and the United States.

Or did the manipulation come from the Islamist side? Things were comparatively calm until a few leaders decided to use the cartoons to provoke cultural differences between Islam and non-believers. Some say it’s blasphemy to depict any image of Muhammad, although Islamic scholars disagree on whether that’s the right interpretation.

It could be argued that deciding not to publish the cartoons is not cowardly self-censorship but considered good judgment. After all, they were readily available on the Internet. A responsible journalist’s intent should be to inform, not to offend.

There are several options for you, the media outlet. You could publish all 12 cartoons on the front page, or show them in connection with riot scenes on your newscast. That’s rather extreme. At the other extreme, you could simply describe one or two of them. Many newspapers and broadcasters made reference to one picture of Muhammad wearing a bomb in his turban. Or you could provide a link to a website where they could be viewed.

HOW: Whatever you decide, it’s important to have a serious discussion and a good reason for your decision. It shouldn’t be simply reacting to a dare with a taunt. And you should consider explaining your rationale to your readers and viewers.

(An anecdote: One group of mass communication ethics students, when presented with this scenario, was ready to decide not to reprint the offending images, just describe them. Then one student located the caricatures on the Internet and called them up on her computer. The class, after looking at the images, changed its mind 180 degrees. The cartoons, they explained, weren’t as offensive as they had imagined they were. Lame, perhaps, and not very funny, but hardly anything to get exercised about.)


Ethics
Ethics Home
SPJ Code of Ethics
News/Articles
Journalism Ethics Book
Case Studies
Committee Position Papers
Ethics Answers
Ethics Hotline
Resources
Ethics Committee

Quill: Stories About Journalism Ethics
– Journalism’s complicated relationship with transparency
– Sinclair’s ‘teachable moment’ raises even more questions
– Sinclair’s mandates threaten independent, local journalism

Ethics Committee
This committee's purpose is to encourage the use of the Society's Code of Ethics, which promotes the highest professional standards for journalists of all disciplines. Public concerns are often answered by this committee. It also acts as a spotter for reporting trends in the nation, accumulating case studies of jobs well done under trying circumstances.

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