Videojournalist make ethical decisions based on three different principles:
The Golden Rule, the Greater Good Rule, and the Absolute Right and Wrong Rule. Sometimes following these principles can lead to the same conclusion: at other times, they point to very different courses of action.
The Golden Rule
In the videojournalism profession, the National Press Photographers Association
(NPPA) provides a code of ethics that might be considered the Ten Commandments of visual journalism. The code's Absolutist prin- WAWAI ciples are listed on NPPA's website.
"The Ethics of Reciprocity:" of Greek origin, is also known as "the Golden Rule:' It says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you:'
Ethicists have interpreted this rule to mean that we should treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated in the same situation. We must understand the implications and impact that our choices will make on the lives of others. Translated to videojournalism, that rule would state, "Take other peoples' pictures in the same way you would want your picture to be taken:' If you were severely injured in a car accident, how would you feel about a videojournalist photographing you bleeding and injured, and then showing the footage on the evening news?
The Greater Good
The Utilitarian concept of the greater good, which can be traced to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, was popularized by British jurist Jeremy Bentham and English philosopher James Mill in the 1800s. The principle holds that within the potential rules of action, one should act only based on what the outcome will be, and that one's choice should be determined by which outcome will do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Journalism generally operates on the Utilitarian principle of making decisions in which the end result does the greatest possible good for the greatest number of people. For instance, you might be photographing a car accident. The very act of shooting pictures of victims might bring temporary emotional harm to the injured, but it might also save hundreds of lives if seeing the final footage serves to make viewers more cautious in the future.
The Ten Commandments serve as an example of an absolutist set of rules. For instance, "Thou shall not kill" is a fixed notion, with no leeway whatsoever. Regardless of the benefits to society (the greater good) such as killing during war or in self-defense, all killing is viewed as unjust. From the Absolutist point of view, killing isalways forbidden—regardless of any possible benefit to society.
When Principles Collide
You will often hear that "people have a right to their privacy:' How does that notion work in conjunction with the idea of journalism serving a greater goad? A video clip depicts family members in the throes of horrible grief, reacting to the drowning of a child. Those operating on the idea of a greater good might believe that broadcasting this scene will make people think more carefully about swimming safety and accident prevention; those who adhere to the Absolutist principle of privacy would oppose publishing the picture. The absolutists would argue that regardless of any possible social benefit, the family's right to privacy might now trump the possible social gain. "Privacy" means exactly that—not having one's personal space in any way violated. Privacy is private. The Golden Rule would lead you to ask, "If this were my child who died, would I want a video camera recording my grief and would I want millions of people to see me breaking down?" Obviously, different videojournalists would have different reactions to the Golden Rule in this situation. Ironically, any of the choices might be ethical, depending on who you are and which underlying principles you choose to apply in this each case.