Clifford G. Christians, Kim B. Rotzoll, Mark Fackler, Kathy Brittain McKee & Robert H. Woods, Jr. Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning (7th ed). (Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2005). xviii+318 pp. ISBN 0-205-41845-7. $65.40. Cases, chapter notes, recommended readings, index.
Christians and his co-authors have managed to keep the seventh edition of their standard media ethics textbook both reasonably short and reasonably fresh. Neither criterion is easy to meet.
MEDIA ETHICS (the magazine) has provided its readers with reviews-including a critical essay about the 5th edition by Seth Ashley in the fall of 2003-of several of the more recent editions (it was originally published in 1983) of this book. Media Ethics (the book) continues to demonstrate a rich understanding of the philosophical bases of mass media ethics, and has selected a series of pertinent cases with which to illustrate these principles and their practical consequences.
The strength of this edition is illustrated by the ability of the authors to find new illustrative cases for each section. Of course, the availability of such cases may well reflect the current-and ever-growing-need for initial, remedial, and retrospective consideration of the pitfalls of journalistic and other media practices.
It is always interesting to examine the tables of contents and pages of a multi-edition book. Does it make sense to change the label "business pressures" to "institutional pressures"? Should "persuasion" really be divided into two parts (advertising and public relations), or is this merely a marketing ploy? What does it signify to move a case or example from one chapter to another? Does the change in typeface cause some of the reduction of 15 pages in the new edition? How many of the 30+ new cases (out of a generous 78) reflect a new media and ethical environment, and how many are cosmetic or an often-laudable attempt to be up-to-date, even though the "perfect" example from the past may be more pertinent?
Like the 6th edition, the 7th is divided into four logical parts/sections: news, persuasion in advertising, persuasion and public relations, and entertainment. The four or five chapters in each part generally are logically arranged.
Media Ethics starts with a very useful introduction (Ethical Foundations and Perspectives), which explains how to use the "Potter Box" model, the use of ethical principles, five ethical guidelines (Aristotle and Confucius' golden mean, Kant's categorical imperative, Mill's principle of utility, Rawls' veil of ignorance, and the Judeo-Christian "love thy neighbor as yourself"), a discussion of to whom moral duty is owed, and a further discussion of who ought to decide what to do in light of an ethical question.
Part 1, the "news" section, includes chapters on institutional pressures, truthtelling (from Al Jazeera to Enron and beyond), reporters and sources, social justice, and invasion of privacy. Chapters in the second part, "persuasion in advertising," deals with special audiences, what to advertise, how to say it, and media considerations. The third part, "persuasion and public relations," includes chapters on public communication, telling the truth in organizational settings, conflicting loyalties, and the demands of social responsibility. The final section, "entertainment," has chapters on violence and media scope and depth, in addition to more general chapters on profits, wealth and public trust, and on censorship.
The epilogue-"to students of the third millennium"-provides the student reader with concepts they would do well to remember as they enter the communication profession(s). These three pages need to be emphasized and not overlooked.
The dozen pages of recommended readings provide very useful annotations, and is arranged by the four major "parts" in the text. The index is closer to being exhaustive than is common today.
In other words, although there are competing (and supplementing) textbooks in the field of mass media ethics, Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning (7th edition) should be a strong contender for selection.
The above article was published in Media Ethics , Fall 2004 (16:1), pp. 39-40.