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Theory of Media Ethics: Critical Analysis

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Basic assumptions and postulations of the social responsibility theory

This theory, considered a western theory incorporates a part of the libertarian principle and introduces some new elements as well. The underlying principle of the social responsibility theory of the press is that the press should be free to perform the functions that the libertarian theory granted it the freedom to perform, but that this freedom should be exercised with responsibility (Okunna & Omenugha, 2012). If the media fail to satisfy their responsibilities to society, the social responsibility theory holds that the govt should encourage the media to comply by way of controlling them. Bittner (1989) has the theory held that a press has the right to criticize government and institutions but also has certain basic responsibilities to maintain the steadiness of society. within the same vein, but from a slightly different angle, Dominick (2009) writes that This approach holds that the press features a right to criticize the government and other institutions, but it also features a responsibility to preserve democracy by properly informing the public and by responding to society`s needs and interests. The press doesn’t have the liberty to try to because it pleases; it’s obligated to reply to society`s requirements.

The Commission on Freedom of the Press which formulated the Social Responsibility theory while noting that the press does not fulfill her basic societal roles of providing information, enlightenment, serving as a watchdog, advertising, entertainment, and self-sufficiency, called on the media to provide a truthful, comprehensive and intelligent account of the day`s event during a context which provides them meaning. Serve as a forum for the exchange of comments and criticism Project a representative picture of the constituent groups in society Be liable for the presentation and clarification of the goals and values of the society. Provide full access to the day`s intelligence. These goals consistent with Peterson and Wilkins (2005) were troublesome to journalists who think that these goals are ambiguous and unattainable at the time. How should the forums operate? Whose values should be presented and clarified? How could they supply intelligent discourse about the day`s events during a nightly newscast of but 23 minutes? And on and on the confusion went. Perhaps this is often one weakness inherent within the theory at the earliest stages. From the foregoing, it is palpable that the fundamental principles of the social responsibility theory might be summarized thus: be self-regulated, practice responsibly, or the govt will control you. In other words, freedom should be exercised with the utmost responsibility to societal interest.

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Social responsibility theory: A theory of media ethics?

Without question, the social responsibility theory of the press bothers on journalistic ethics. Its introduction was what gave rise to professional journalistic associations that have self-formulated codes of ethics and official journalistic standards designed to encourage responsible behavior by their members. As Moemeka (1991) acknowledged this theory places due emphasis on the moral and social responsibilities of persons who, and institutions that, operate the mass media. Let us remember that its 4

provision for self-regulation revolves around the concept of ethics. Ethics generally is the ethics concerned with the standards of excellent and bad conduct, the rightness or wrongness of an action. Toeing this line, Okunna (2003) emphasizes that ethics is self-legislation as opposed to official or government legislation through outside compulsion, which is characteristic of law. McQuail (1987, p. 117) cited in Okunna & Omenugha (2012) gave an inventory of basic tenets guiding this theory and which further drive home this ethical dimension of the social responsibility principle, to incorporate accepting and carrying out certain societal duties; setting high professional standards of truth, accuracy, objectivity, balance, and informativeness; regulating itself in accordance with the law; having media pluralism multiplicity of voices to represent divergent viewpoints; accountability to society, their medium, and others; which people have the proper to expect them to perform creditably. The media are entrusted to discharge certain public-interest functions essential to a democratic society and, by conferring this trust, society is entitled to judge whether it is being honored. In Western liberal democracies, the media enter into an inherent compact with the societies they serve. Under this compact, the media promise that reciprocally for the liberty to publish, they’re going to meet certain core functional obligations: the terms of this compact are embodied within the Social Responsibility theory of the press as earlier argued. they’ll be thought of as ethical or soft obligations, not enforceable by law, as against hard obligations. The soft obligations require attention to be paid to issues that are central to recurring controversies about media performance: bias, invasion of privacy, dishonest or careless presentation of information, violations of standards of public taste, suppression of fabric which it’s not within the publisher`s interest to publish, and incapacity to penetrate public-relations spin. Indeed, there are no other better thanks to then summarize this theory in reference to media ethics, because the argument has shown, than the words of Bittner (1989) which affirm that within the framework of open and free press criticism, codes of ethics or government regulation, and guidelines for responsible action on the part of members of the press, lies the Social Responsibility Theory.

Social responsibility theory today

With the spread of modern-day democracy, the Social Responsibility theory of media ethics has become the norm now. This theory inspires self-control by the media, for the great of society. But the question is: how have the media practitioners and journalists delayed this theory? How ethical have they proven to be, professionally? Recent research I administered on sensationalism, social responsibility, and media ethics, revealed that today, a century later, the media is seen to be reverting back to the bad old days of practicing freedom devoid of responsibility. The in-thing is now what scholars have come to term as market-driven media (Yadav, 2011, Kleemans & 6 Hendricks, 2009, Omenugha & Oji, 2008, Sparks and Tulloch, 2000). This commercial journalism gives priority to trivial news items alongside certain sorts of layout, headline sizes, photo enhancements, flashy colors, and irrelevant and lurid photos that attract mass audiences like entertainment while downplaying information, beating desperate bids to sell. This may be manifestly due to many pressures from various fronts including the competitive media landscape of this age, businesses, and advertisers as well as modern and selfish motives, social and cultural interests. as an example, a review of some major national dailies in Nigeria between January through March 2011, show a shocking dose of sensational major front page headlines. Such headlines, the editors of those newspapers might believe, will sufficiently whet the appetite of the general public to require to try to do the one thing that’s most important: grab a copy! Both print and electronic media are complicit during this, as they’re over-anxious with exhibitionism or obscene pictures even when they are in no way connected with news items published or broadcast.

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Theory of Media Ethics: Critical Analysis. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from
“Theory of Media Ethics: Critical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
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Theory of Media Ethics: Critical Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2023 Jun 6]. Available from:
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