Media ethics, issues and controversiesDocument Transcript
FACULTY of COMMUNICATION & MEDIA STUDIES
MEDIA LAW, REGULATIONS AND ETHICS
NOR AWAINA ARBEE BT AHMAD REJAL ARBEE
According to Stefan Gammel (2009), the distinction between the terms ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’ is
not always clear. Even in philosophical texts both are used synonymously. Historically, the term
‘ethics’ came from the Greek ethos which means customs, habits and the mores of people. Ethics
is the philosophical reflection upon the rules and ways of living together, the customs and
habits of individuals, groups or mankind as such.
Borden (2003) suggest that in defining ethics, the reasoning is an analytically epistemic activity
that is difficult to capture adequately with most of the mapping techniques that have been used to
represent sense making in various discipline.
Models for ethical decision-making are best illustrated through case studies. Most journalists do
not grapple with major ethical issues every day. But all journalists have to grapple with them
sometimes, and most journalists have at least one ethical question a week — even if relatively
small. Many of the issues relate to trying to square two conflicting imperatives — to tell the
truth, and to avoid stories that cause harm to innocent people. Journalists grapple with issues
such as, is it ever justified to with hold a true story on the grounds that people will get hurt
Journalists have their own system of checks and balances through so-called “self-regulation”
This self -regulation is found in numerous codes of ethics or practices that journalists have to
accept as a part of their own professional guidelines (De Nelson, 2007).
Some of the codes´ important features are truthfulness, honesty, accuracy of information;
correction of errors; prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race/ethnicity/religion; respect
for privacy; fair means in information collection, etc. Nevertheless, norms of accuracy, honesty
or truthfulness are not perceived equally by all persons (De Nelson, 2007).
According to Adam Moore (2008), the definitions of privacy can be couched in descriptive or
normative terms whereby we can view privacy as a condition or as a moral claim on others to
refrain from certain activities.
The definition of the word privacy can be stated as: ‘The ability of an individual or group to stop
information about themselves from becoming known to people other than those they choose to
give the information to’ (Green, 2010).
Privacy has been defined in many ways over the last few hundred years. Warren and Brandeis,
following Judge Thomas Cooley, called it “the right to be let alone.” Pound and Freund have
defined privacy in terms of an extension personality or personhood (Moore, 2008).
Definitions on the nature of privacy and what should be private can vary as well. Some
individuals believe privacy means a right to control information while others believe it is a right
to prevent access to information (Whitehouse, 2010).
CODE OF ETHICS
Malaysian Press Institute Code of Ethics under Proposed Malaysia Media
Council (Revised version by Inisiatif Wartawan)
The fundamental objective of journalism is to serve the public in all its manifestations with news,
views, information and ideas founded on the belief of public enlightenment and civic tolerance.
In this respect, it is also important that the individual is protected from unwarranted suffering
from publicity and violation of privacy.
The Malaysian media therefore has the responsibility to further the said ends and is expected to
conduct itself by abiding by norms of universally recognised professionalism. The media is
expected to improve and maintain professional integrity.
In doing so, the media subscribes to the norms of fairness in the communication of news and
views with due discernment in view of national security, universal values and professional
Since professional integrity rests upon journalistic credibility, it is imperative that the fraternity
shares a dedication to ethical behaviour at all circumstances, founded on voluntary and
Rules of Reporting
1. The primary responsibility of the media is to report correctly and to respect the public right to
fair, accurate, truthful and timely news
2. The media is to be critical of news sources by way of checking facts and other pieces of
information in ensuring accuracy. Facts are to be checked as carefully as possible even if they
have been published earlier.
3. All reporting shall strictly distinguished from comment. Analysis, commentary and other
opinion pieces shall be labelled and not misrepresent fact or context. As a norm, no personal
opinion pieces shall be reflected in reportage without byline. The reader is to be able to
distinguish between statement of fact and statement of comment.
4. All unconfirmed report shall be accompanied by remarks to the effect to ensure that reportage
is not misleading and misrepresented.
5. The media shall eschew the publication of inaccurate, baseless, misleading or distorted
6. Rumours and unconfirmed sources may be reported but without exaggeration or elaboration;
where such reportage shall be accompanied by remarks to that effect.
7. False and incorrect reportage deemed factual errors are to be corrected. Anyone wishing to
rebut a statement shall be given the opportunity to do so. Corrections and rebuttals shall be
published promptly in appropriate form, in such a way that they will come to the attention of
those who received the original information. A rebuttal does not always call for editorial
Concerns on Privacy
1. The media shall not intrude, or report, or comment upon an individual's privacy, except in the
interest of the public good. However, once a matter becomes a matter of public interest, the right
to privacy no longer exists.
2. The media shall exercise great caution in reporting criminal cases with the assumption that the
accused is innocent until convicted by a court of law. This should include refraining from taking
and publishing or broadcasting visuals of those remanded or charged with an offence. The
identity of a person in remand shall not be revealed in any form.
3. In conditions concerning suicide and attempted suicide; as well as crime involving rape,
abduction or sexual assault involving women and children, or outraging the modesty, personal
character and privacy of women, the names, photographs of such victims, or other particulars
leading to their identity shall not be published.
4. The journalist also has to exercise great caution in the reportage of such crimes and abuse out
of consideration for feelings of relatives and other affected individuals.
5. The names of juvenile suspects, as well as their photographs, shall not be published.
Malaysian Personal Data Protection (PDP) Act 2010
Scope of PDP
From an overview by the newsletter from Legal Taps by Tay & Partners (2010, August), it
explains the PDP primarily aims to regulate the collection, holding, processing and use of
personal data in commercial transactions and also to prevent malicious use of personal
The law is however only concerned with data relating to a living individual and does not concern
a subject who is already dead. A data processor is a person, who on behalf of the data user,
processes the data.
The law applies only if the data or information processed is “personal data”. This personal data
must relate directly or indirectly to a data subject, who is identified or identifiable from that
information or from that and other information in the possession of a data user. Personal data
also includes the expression of opinion about the data subject
Data Protection Principles
At the core of the PDP law are the 7 personal data protection principles which must be complied
with by all data users as follows:-
a) General Principle: The Act does not allow a data user to process any personal data unless the
data subject has given his consent to the processing of the personal data. The law also provides
that any personal data shall not be processed unless the data is processed for a lawful purpose
directly related to the activity of the data user. The processing of the data must be necessary for
or directly related to that purpose and the data must not be excessive in relation to the purpose.
b) Notice and Choice Principle: A data user is duty bound to inform the data subject by way of
a written notice, about the processing of his personal data. Such notice must be given to the data
subject as soon as practicable by the data user.
c) Disclosure Principle: In the absence of consent by the data subject, PDP prohibits the data
user from disclosing the personal data. The data user can only disclose the personal data to a
third party or a class of third parties, whose existence is made aware to the data subject and the
data subject’s consent had been obtained before the personal data can be processed by the third
d) Security Principle: The data user is required to protect the personal data of the data subject
by taking practical steps to implement security measures. The data user must protect the personal
data from any loss, misuse, modification, unauthorised or accidental access or disclosure,
alteration or destruction.
e) Retention Principle: The personal data shall not be kept for longer than is necessary.
However, the PDP does not stipulate the time frame allowed for storage of the personal data but
leaves it to the discretion of the data user. Once the data is no longer required for the purpose for
which it was processed, it must be destroyed or permanently deleted.
f) Data Integrity Principle: The integrity of a data is a crucial element in the law. A data user
shall take reasonable steps to ensure that the personal data is accurate, complete, not misleading
and kept up to date.
g) Access Principle: A data subject must be given access to his personal data held by the data
user and can request for the data to be corrected if the data is inaccurate, incomplete, or
Examples of Privacy Misused
Elizabeth Wong Nude Photos 2009
Photos that were leaked on the internet as well as the cover page of The Malay Mail during when
the issue was ongoing.
A website named Elizabeth Wong PKR nude photos was set up for the purpose of this incident.
A cut out of the posting that was published by a known blogger called Papagomo on his website
regarding the issue.
i. Borden, L.S (2003). Mapping ethical arguments in journalism: An exploratory study.
Mass Communication & Society, 10(3), 275-297.
ii. De Nelson, A. S. (2007). Press Freedom Under Siege. Effects of Market Forces,
Government Controls and Journalism Practices, 3, 173-194.
iii. Gammel, S. (2009). The Ethics Portfolio - Technical University Darmstadt for NanoCap.
Ethics and Morality: Basic Ethical Concepts.
iv. Green, V. (2010). The Issue of Privacy in the World Today. Retrieved May 18, 2014
v. Moore, A. (2008). Journal Compilation. Journal of Social Philosophy, 39, 411-428.
vi. The Malaysian Personal Data Protection Act 2010: A Brief Overview. (2010, August).
Tay & Partners Legal Taps Newsletter. Retrieved from:
vii. White, A. (2008) To Tell You The Truth. Belgium: International Federation of
viii. Whitehouse, G. (2010). Journal of Mass Media Ethics. Newsgathering and Privacy:
Expanding Ethics Codes to Reflect Change in the Digital Media Age, 25, 310-327.