New Harmony by F. Bate View of a Community as proposed by Robert Owen printed 1838New Harmony by F. Bate View of a Community as proposed by Robert Owen printed 1838BY STEPHEN J. A. WARD

Here, I argue that skepticism about the project of creating a global media ethics is understandable given our parochial and divided world. Yet a global ethic—norms for the guidance of responsible global journalism—can be developed and put into practice to a significant degree across the world.

The full text of this talk begins with a definition of global media ethics, and a review of trends that may help or hinder the construction of such an ethic. The next part of the talk notes some practical ways to advance the project. The talk concludes by examining the idea that a global ethic is realizable in light of what has been said earlier.

Global media ethics is defined as “the norms that should guide journalism where it has global impact,” e.g., wars, humanitarian relief, and climate change. The journalist adopts a global mindset that makes global values, such as human rights, the basis of her practice. Where nationalistic or parochial values conflict with global values, the latter have priority. The talk argues that adopting this mindset would not only redefine basic concepts of journalism ethics, such as objectivity, but it would alter how journalists cover global issues.

Under negative trends—trends that are obstacles to the emergence of a global perspective—I note that the responsible global journalist is only one voice in an expanding media universe and in a corrupt public sphere where facts are manipulated and partisan attitudes prevail. Other factors include the idea that human beings are by nature parochial, not global, in their values; and that the economic and other interests of daily journalism are local, not global.

Positive trends include global partnerships among journalists, new global journalism on non-traditional Websites, new codes for covering difficult issues such as global immigration and terrorism, and the rise of the study and teaching of global media ethics.

Among the things we can do, practically, is to organize journalism education, and journalism ethics, around global principles and the informed coverage of complex global issues.

The full paper concludes by returning to the idea of realization. It defines the goal of the project not as global consensus—persuading all journalists around the world to embrace one fixed code of ethics. Rather the goal is to develop, through cross-border dialogue, a set of flexible general principles that are realized in different ways in different media cultures. The hope is that a substantial number of leading news agencies and journalists would help to construct and to endorse these new principles and practices. In this manner global journalism ethics would become a dominant approach to media ethics.

At present, we are at the first of three stages in completing the project—the effort to simply inject the contentious ideas of global ethics into the public discourse of citizens and journalists. This stage includes the emergence of scholarship around global media ethics and the development of global ethics courses in schools of media. The next stage would require a more explicit codification, through open-ended dialogue, of the best forms of global norms and practices.

A final third stage would be the “completion” of the project where, academically and in practice, global media norms are a dominant force, influencing how media cover global issues.

  • Stephen J. A. Ward is the Distinguished Lecturer on Ethics, University of British Columbia; and Founding Director of the Center for Journalism Ethics in the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..