Media Ethics In Professional Journalism: Ethics And Moral Judgment – Essay


Any talk about religion and politics is a secure way to heat up the conversations at any kind of gatherings. Ethics should be included as well on that list. Everybody has his/her stand about non-ethical and immoral actions, and arguments about morality creates more fire than shedding the light on open issues. When somebody discusses ethical issues in the classroom or at media seminars, the conversation usually escalates into the passionate calling on the freedom of the press or sympathies for the victims. Judgments have been brought without any previous detailed process of reasoning. In other words, they do not have moral foundations.


Moral judgment or moral reasoning is a systematic approach to the adoption of ethical decision. It is shaped within the forms of arguments and persuasion.

But, for example, if we try to discuss about the taste in clothing, that attempt would be idle, because about the questions of pure taste or opinion you cannot discuss rationally. But, we can, however, discuss rationally and arguably about moral judgments.

Moral judgment does not only contend with the offering of reasons for our convictions, intents and acts. Moral judgment is aa structural process, and intellectual way to defend our ethical judgments from other people’s criticisms. Two different moral agents with related reasoning can come up to different, but equally conceivable conclusions about the best solution. The beauty of a moral judgment lies on the road towards the goal, and not just in the goal itself.

If the moral judgment is such a conscious process – after all, to think and to analyze takes time – how we can expect from professional journalists, who are working under the pressure of deadlines, to apply moral judgment?

The answer is that iI can be done through the learning of the techniques of moral judgment. However, no one approach to moral reazoning, regardless how much it is structured or detailed, is a guarantee of success in all circumstances.

The adoption of moral judgments and the solving of moral dilemmas requests a balance of the very often badly defined opposite claims, usually under circumstances that are not black and white.

The process of moral judgment can be conducted if the participants have knowledge and skills from the three areas:

Moral Context

The context of moral judgment should be understood with the context with which dilemma appears … Before our power for judgment can function on an optimal level, we have to understand questions, facts, values, principles and moral obligations related to the case. To make it simple – the context consists of all factors that can have an influence on the individual to solve moral dilemmas.

For example, when spokespersons of the White House (USA) consciously gives disinformation to the press to protect delicate foreign affairs negotiations, they have to know not just the facts that can justify that kind of deception, but also have to be aware of social punishment for lying, and to be ready to justify their behaviors with some higher moral justification.

Context Of Ethical Dilemma

The context of ethical dilemma can allude to the making a decision about our personal or professional behavior. To lie to a friend is not the same when you lie to get some information … The system of the values in companies and code of conducts cannot be ignored during the adoption of moral judgments. For example, before he/she promises to his source that he will not disclose his identity, the journalist first has to be guided by the Book of Rules of the Editorial Board about that issue, as well on the stances, standards and advice of his/her colleagues.

At the same time, the Editorial Board must consider certain pressure from the competition and economical pressure that are common for all media institutions – all factors which are unique for some dilemma makes context of ethical case.

Critical Thinking (Media Literacy)

Connected with dilemma there must also exist critical thinking. It is an engine that starts the machinery of moral judgment and takes us far away from reactions made in a hurry and leads towards a rational approach of decision making.

Critical thinking is a skill and can be learned to become a media literate person. Critical thinking starts when the subject of analyses is known. For professional journalists that are involved within the process of moral judgment that means that they have to know the facts and context related to or connected with a concrete event, know the principles and practice within their profession, as well as moral theories which might be in use within the process of making of ethical decision.

Also, those “critical thinkers” must be capable to identify problems (or recognize ethical questions), as well as to gather, analyze and synthesize all relevant information connected with the problem.

In the end critical thinking also requests that alternatives should be taken into the consideration and based on that decisions can be made. In a way, that is the most difficult part of critical thinking, because it requests from us to make choices, the choices which might be heavily criticized by somebody else. But as the old merchant once said – even the best technique of negotiations does not mean anything if you do not sell your good. The same thing is for critical thinking – you can analyze some issue as longer you would like to do, but at the end of day decision must be made.

A component of critical thinking within the moral judgment encircles process of three phases: a) – acquirement of knowledge and understanding of the context of ethical dilemmas; b) critical analyses of that knowledge and consideration of ethical alternatives and c) decisions based on available alternatives.

Philosophical Basis Of Moral Theory: From Ancient Greece To Rise Of Relativism

Classical philosophy has a direct importance for the adopting of ethical decisions within the contemporary life and the following ethical theories had the biggest influence on philosophy of morality within the Western civilization: 1. Greek connection; 2. Judeo – Christian ethics and Ethics in Islam; 3. Kant and moral duty; 4. Allurement of utilitarianism ; Ethics of egalitarism; 6. Rise of relativism

Socrates believed that virtues can be identified and exercises. His student, Plato, claimed that the justice can be achieved with wisdom, calmness and with courage. That would practical mean: moral behavior should be based on the experience and knowing of the world.

Plato believed that “good” is a value that is independent of the standards of behaviors that are in given moment dominant in the society. Who mentioned contemporary World?

Although through the years he was Plato’s student, Aristotle was more pragmatic than his teacher and he believed that moral virtues can be reached, but within that process some tough decision has to be made. Exercising of the virtues, due to Aristotle, depends on a way how you are doing that. That is why aims do not always justify the means. Aristotle’s philosophy is named as virtues ethics and it is based on the theory of golden mean.

Within the contemporary journalism concepts as the balance and honesty represents golden means. Also, forbidding of advertising of tobacco on TV, as well as printing of the warnings on the boxes of cigarettes, represents golden mean between embargo and do not do anything to decrease deleterious consequences of tobacco.

However, Aristotle admitted that not every actions can be considered as the golden mean: “Just the names of certain things points out on evil-example of defiance, impudence and contempt, as well as actions like adultery, stealing or murder ”_he underlined. In other words, some actions are always wrong, and you cannot ask for golden mean. Aristotlian virtue ethics puts an accent on character. He believed that virtues can be realized through practice…through repetitive moral behavior, the concept of “good” is built in into the valuable system of individual. Because of that moral virtues are becoming a way of thinking and acting.

Judeo-Christian Ethics And Ethics In Islam

“Love your neighbor as yourself” … Judeo-Christian ethics characterization is love towards God and the whole humanity. According to that understanding, all moral decisions should be based on the respect of dignity of the persons as the goal, and not as the mean to come to the goal.

Philosophy of the respecting of the people should be within the foundation of every ethical decision-making process. That advice should for sure be related to the journalists who put under the critics businesses of others and put their works in front of the eyes of the public. In Islam that is reflected in the following: “It is serenity and the smile of the face, doing good and refraining of harassment and no to do evil things and inconveniences to others.”

Kant And Moral Duty

Immanuel Kant introduced ethical thought into the modern age and his theories are based on the term of duty and that issue what he calls categorical imperative. Within the Metaphysics of Morals, he wrote: “I should never act in a way I do not want it to be universal one.” Concretely, moral agents should check principles that lies within the foundations of their acts and to decide if they want that to have universal application. If they want that, those principles become system of public morality that engage all members of the society. Kant’s theories are called moral philosophy based on duty – In other words, we have obligation to tell the truth, even if we can use that to harm another people.

Allurement Of Utilitarianism

Jeremy Bantam and John Stuart Mil have introduced utilitarianism into the modern Western ethical thought. Utilitarianism from Latin word – utilis – useful is the course in the ethics that has starting point from the assumption that to have correct ethical act you have to increase overall happiness in the World, in other words to promote commonly good. Instead, focus must also look at the intention that is behind some act, as it was proposed by Kant, we must seek the best solution for the biggest number of people.

Ethics of egalitarianism

Ethics of egalitarianism is based on the belief that towards all persons should be treated equally in a sense of rights and possibilities. Minority point of views have the same importance as majority ones. The goal is to protect the weakest side within the relationship and to minimize the damage. For example, editor of the TV children show who decided to broadcast program for children without advertisement (children – the weakest side), from the respect to the psychologically vulnerable younger segment of the public.

Rise Of Relativism

Bertrand Russell and John Dewey appeared as a reaction to Kant’s absolutists ideas and accent the virtues of relative values. Very often this philosophy is called also a “progressive” one. Dewey’s followers have convinced state schools in USA (is that a merit of guilt, what do you think?) that they should not weigh them with implanting of moral values into the children minds. Relativism consider that what is correct and good for one person does not need to be good and correct to another parson, and even under similar circumstances.

However, if the mentioned is brought to the ultimate boundaries, relativism can lead towards moral anarchy under which individuals do not need to follow any kind of ethical standards. A less extreme point of view is by those who believe in certain moral principles, as it is to tell the truth, but they are ready for aberrations if the circumstances allows them. This describes the term Situational Ethics as usedin USA.

Question To Think About:

So, if the moral judgment is a conscious process, how we can expect from professional journalists, who are under the pressure of deadlines, to apply moral judgment?

Next: Media ethics and professional journalism: ETHICAL THEORIES WITHIN MORAL JUDGMENT

Prof. Dr. Sabahudin Hadzialic

Prof. Dr. Sabahudin Hadzialic was born in 1960, in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since 1964 he lives in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is a professor (two doctoral degrees), scientist, writer & poet (distinguished artist by state), journalist, and editor. He wrote 26 books (textbooks for the Universities in BiH and abroad, books of poetry, prose, essays as well as) and his art and scientific work is translated in 25 world languages. He published books in BiH, Serbia, France, Switzerland, USA and Italy. He wrote more than 100 scientific papers. He is certified peer-reviewer (his citations appear in books and papers of scientists from all continents) for several European scientific journals. He participates within EU project funds and he is a member of scientific boards of Journals in Poland, India and the USA. He is a member of the Board of directors of IFSPD ( Also, he is a regular columnists & essayist and member of the Editorial board, since 2014, of Eurasia Review, think tank and journal of news & analysis from the USA. Since 2009 he is co-owner and Editor in chief of DIOGEN pro culture - magazine for culture, art, education and science from the USA. He is a member of major associations of writers in BiH, Serbia and Montenegro as well as Foundations (scientific and non-governmental) Associations worldwide. As professor he was/is teaching at the Universities in BiH, Italy, Lithuania, Poland and India. Detailed info:

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