Media Ethics In Professional Journalism: Ethics And War Reporting – Essay


A common characteristic of modern armed conflicts and the media is their dependence on communication technologies. Media technologies made possible real time reporting from different places in the war zone, and that has, as a consequence, meant a lack of time for rational thinking and judgment. Journalists, through their reporting, have a crucial influence on the shaping of the public opinion. The perception of the public depends a lot on what media have chosen, dropped down, shaped and interpreted.

Professional ethics of the journalist is in question by the reservation and silence or accentuation, interpretation of the events within the goal of propaganda and similar.

The military makes a huge effort to limit approach to the battlefield, and very often brings professional journalists within the position to just take over the material that has been designated to them. As such, to the public can arrive censored information and photos from the field that does not reflect the real status within the war zone. When this dilemma happens about war intervention than we often have media news about prosecution, loot, arson, civil victims, refugee convoys and similar. That kind of picture will, for sure, have positive influence for getting support by the side of public – for war intervention.

Appearance of CNN effect

The appearance of CNN effect, or 24 hours (around-the-clock) TV reporting about war events during the Gulf War back in 1991 brought new difficulties for the authenticity of war reporting because journalists, very often, do not have time to check information from other sources.

During the war and crises the public is more oriented to the television as the media is reporting in real time. Because of that approach, it often happens that the news about an armed conflict somewhere in the world appears on TV without explanation as to what has caused a conflict. With the appearance of new media, this has mitigated this problem because on Internet news portals and Social Media publish news and commentaries and establish two-way communication. An approach to the place of the event is the key factor because there is no objective and neutral reporting if journalists work is limited. Limiting the approach to the battlefield is justified with the need for secrecy of conducting combative activities and the protection of soldiers and with vulnerability of the life of journalists insofar as they would go on their own (alone) into the field.

An example of this is the media coverage of the war in Afghanistan that was primarily targeting terrorism. The approach was limited and the publishing of the information from the battlefield and the status was presented in a positive light to be able to ensure public support.

According to colleague Professor Howard Tumber, world media is not giving complete picture about the war against terrorism.

Censorship as “security check”

Within the conditions of modern way of warfare, censorship is called a “security check” in the function of the protection of information that is important for the execution of the military operations.

Through the limitation of the access of battlefield, the military conducts supervision over unwanted pictures from the war zone, and that directly has an influence on objective and impartial reporting. By doing this military strategy focused on manipulation of the media is, within its foundation, opposite to the media mission, whose goal is not just to report objectively and impartially, but the media mission is also to be an area for the public discussion and confrontation of the opinions. When there is a dilemma about war intervention then it happens when we see media reporting about prosecution, loot, arson, civil victims, refugee convoys and similar. Those pictures will, for sure, in positive way, have an influence on getting public support for the war intervention.

Professional standards vs. war propaganda (Embedded journalism?)

Journalists, through their reporting, especially during the war and crisis, critically have an influence on the shaping of the public opinion and that is their primary duty towards the public.

It is the obligation of every journalist to comply with media ethics because ethics is the foundation of reliable reporting. According to colleague Professor Dennis McQuail, the importance of media ethics is reflected within the baselines: truth and accuracy; impartiality and honesty; respect of the personality and privacy; independence from interest groups; responsibility towards the society and society goods; respect of the laws and morality, decency and good taste. However, reality that is based on responsible reporting can have as a consequence passivity and failure to conduct adequate steps on the plan of the reporting. Journalistic feeling for civil rights, even for patriotism, can put in question his perception about the issue and how to behave in best way as journalist. Very often, journalists meet those who request to know if they are with them or against them.

Through silencing or accentuation, and the drastic description of the events or “beautifying” the subject, or interpretation of the events with propagandistic goal or similar things, this again brings into the question professional, but also personal ethics of every journalist. Every war reporter should again and again re-question his/her acting and on every example again and again establish his/her ethical criterions.

I have traveled to war zones withthe BH Army during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina back in 1993. I’ve spent weeks at a time visiting BH Army units in the field. As a result, I have seen more combats in Bosnia and Herzegovina then I possibly could have otherwise, and I think the way I represented this news on local TV allowed my spectators to benefit.

But embedding comes at a price. We are observing these wars from just one perspective, not seeing them as a whole. When you see my reports from certain areas, you should not think that I am out among ordinary people, asking questions of all sides. I am usually inside an BH Army military bubble. That vantage point has value, but it is hardly a full picture.

I fear that an embedded media is becoming the norm, and not just when it comes to war. The chroniclers of political and cultural debates increasingly move in a caravan with one side or another, as well. This nonmilitary embedding may have a different rationale, but there’s a similar effect that comes with traveling under the canopy of a particular candidate, party or community. Journalists gain access to information and talkative sources, but also inherit the distortions and biases that come with being “on the bus” or “on the plane.”

The larger troubles of the news business are complicated, but this problem is simple: We can’t understand what we don’t see; we can’t explain a conflict if we hear from only one side.

Embedding arose because journalists requested it — it’s the easy way down the river and the sea of information, avoiding scilase and haribdas. During the Persian Gulf War, many reporters were stuck covering the action from the rear in Dhahran or Riyadh. A few managed to travel with U.S. units into the battle zone, producing vivid reports, such as Molly Moore’s Washington Post dispatches from the forward outpost of the Marine commander. But many of the embedded reports were delayed or clumsily vetted by the military.

After the war, U.S. media outlets pleaded that this sort of access be expanded. And the next time, it was. The Pentagon realized that having journalists witness war from the limited, but exhilarating perspective of a Humvee racing toward Baghdad, was very much in its interest. So as the USA prepared to cover the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, journalists rushed to make arrangements to be embedded with the commands that would see the most action.

Embedded journalism refers to the practice of placing a journalist with a military unit in order to allow that journalist to provide media coverage of military action in the midst of areas of conflict or directly inside a war zone.

One of the major criticisms of embedded reporting is the increased risk of inherent bias that naturally develops when the journalists are spending day and night with a particular military unit. Although it appears that journalists can safely cover news events from deep within the battle theater, they are actually operating from within an umbrella of safety provided by the military unit with whom they are traveling. Feelings of camaraderie naturally flow from risking one’s life on a daily basis with one’s comrades, and this is the same with embedded journalists. There also is the danger of loss of objectivity, as the embedded journalists are witnessing the combat zone from only one side of the military engagement.

Finally, the military can use the media for propaganda purposes. The embedded journalists are restricted to seeing what the military wants them to see: in other words, they may be given access to particular events the military wants to receive media coverage.

Question to think about:

Do journalists presents the real truth during a war crisis?

Next: Media ethics in professional journalism: Human Rights, Terrorism and War reporting

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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