My Personal Code of Ethics – From the View of Social Sciences

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Try to find a balance between walking toward one’s goals and the code of ethics. Photo credit to Hanna Irßlinger Fotografie,

As a psychology major who takes journalism courses, I ponder on the differences between a social scientist and a journalist. When it comes to a personal code of ethics, I think of the methodology courses I have taken. Because most of psychological studies involve human subjects, the professor of the required course, Methods of Psychological Experiments, placed a lot of emphasis on possible ethical issues and spent time discussing the five general ethical principles proposed by the American Psychology Association (APA) in class. Therefore, I would like to introduce the five principles and how the do’s and don’ts might be similar or different in the field of journalism in this blog. In this way, I hope I can draw my code of ethics from previous knowledge and also provide you a different perspective.

  1. Beneficence and Nonmaleficence
    In ideal situations, psychologists hope their studies can benefit the participants. If there is not any foreseeable benefit, the basic requirement is that the researchers should not let the participant experience “more than minimal harm.” In the case of Journalism, I still follow this standard but in a slightly different way. I believe when creating a good report, it should speak to public interest even if it may be at some expense of people with power.
  2. Fidelity and Responsibility
    The act of responsibility for journalists can be seen in the use of real names and clarifying mistakes when misrepresenting information. Like psychologists, journalists should also be aware of their responsibilities toward society and their subjects. In some situations, the interest of society and the subject might oppose each other, and journalists need to make tough decisions according to this. No matter the situation, journalists should always bear in mind that writing a report serves far more than themselves. They must bear in mind the responsibility to serve the readers, subjects, or society ethically.
  3. Integrity
    I will not write a fake or unbalanced report based on personal interest. When it comes to using deception, I should evaluate the situation carefully and think about possible harm as thoroughly as I can. For example, Jürgen Hinzpeter, a German reporter, hid his identity as a journalist to cover the South Korean government’s violent act during the democratic movement in 1980, and his brave action has also been adapted into a movie called A Taxi Driver (2017). This is an example of good deception. It was used to help the greater good. A bad example that violated the standard of integrity can be seen in the online information about the mass shooting in Las Vegas. The reporter at Gizmodo, Melanie Ehrenkranz points out that Google put misinformation about the murderer in the Top Stories section and helped boost the news. Although Google did not write the news, the act could cause significant harm to the misidentified person.
  4. Justice
    For psychologists, this standard means that in experiments the benefits and potential harms which participants and nonparticipants receive should be almost equal. Even though broader society can benefit a lot from the results, it is still not allowable to cause unproportioned harm to the participants. For journalists, I think a similar struggle might appear when it comes to protecting the source of information. Journalists often feel the pressure of publishing. However, if we reveal the news without careful investigation and protective measures, we might put our source in danger.
  5. Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity
    APA claims that “Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination.” This means that researchers should respect their subject’s decision, even it is rejecting to participate in the study. As for a journalist, one should respect possible interviewees’ refusal to give information. Nevertheless, I support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so I might still insist on reporting certain topics like refugees, political prisoners or gender inequality even though the things I report oppose the cultural values in some regions.

Indeed, the general standards mentioned above provide me a frame to reflect on my code of ethics. However, an important note is that we should always recognize the complexity and unexpectedness in the real world because things are changing rapidly in the era of globalization. Further, we must keep increasing our knowledge about different cultural contexts to avoid misunderstanding others. Lastly, we must be ready to adjust our acts based on the unique situation we face. Those general standards proposed by the APA might be something we can take as a reference, but I believe we should not view them as “absolute standards” since interactions in the real-world are not as rigid or standardized.