I’ve written before about guidelines for student media, starting out with media law, and other forms of ethics surrounding journalism. With at least 55 journalists having been arrested for unlawful behaviour surrounding bribery to police, phone hacking and perverting the course of justice, should we be preparing trainee journalists in ethics earlier?
I don’t know how to hack a phone, and even if I did, I would consider it unethical to engage in such behaviour as a student journalist. Equally, I would consider it necessary to keep to Press Complaints Commission guidelines, National Union of Journalists’ Code of Conduct and OFCOM codes surrounding behaviours, but not all students are knowledgeable about what they can and can’t publish, and the behaviours it would be immoral, if not illegal, to engage in.
I believe that, in many cases, the idea of acting ethically as a journalist is just taken as a given. It is not, for example, given in much student media training. It could also come across as a bit patronising, teaching students about respect, consent, privacy and other morally right behaviour to engage in as a journalist.
Despite this, it’s clear that ethical training is needed from the very beginning. It should be involved when students first start writing or broadcasting, incorporated into society constitutions and mentioned in handover documents. Regardless of whether these students go into professional journalism, these basic conducts can be useful in all walks of life. Without this, student journalists could risk entering a profession where they are not adequately prepared in the form of ethics, and this could impact negatively on their work, and the industry, for future journalists.
Like with media law, if students are not directly studying ethics, this can be difficult to implement in training. I imagine that a lack of knowledge of ethics is not uncommon at many student media outlets, unless they are students of philosophy or have had prior experience in this area before. Student journalists must take the initiative to engage in this, and inform the next generation about correct ethical procedures. In the after math of Leveson, this is especially important.
In addition, the lack of training for students could be due to the fact that it is not expected that student journalists will engage in unethical behaviour, and even if they did, they would be prevented from doing so by union and university guidelines, and punished accordingly.
In order to prevent the lack of knowledge and awareness about media ethics, more training and education needs to be introduced when learning the trade. For many of these, this includes at a student media level. Without this, we risk underestimating student journalists, and leaving them ill-prepared for careers and further training later.
Were you taught ethics during your time in student media? Do you think ethical training is adequate? Let us know @wannabehacks.