This past spring, Associate Professor of Journalism Gail B. MacDonald ’81 (CLAS) spent a month as a Fulbright Specialist teaching journalism ethics at Masaryk University in Brno, which she describes as “the Czech Republic’s funky, lively second city.” Here’s her report from the field.
Since I also regularly teach journalism ethics classes at UConn, I asked both my Connecticut and my European students — who hailed from the Czech Republic, Romania, Ukraine, France, and Germany — to share their thoughts about ethical dilemmas facing the media via a discussion blog.
Acceptable behavior on-and off-duty
The greatest number of comments came on a post asking whether it is right for news outlets to extend codes of ethical conduct to reporters’ actions on their personal time. Case in point: an ESPN reporter who was suspended after she was filmed hurling insulting remarks at a clerk at a car-towing business.
There were 23 students who commented and, on both sides of the Atlantic, students concluded that the journalist’s punishment was deserved.
The Euro students were the first to offer some specific details, such as noticing that the video appeared to have breaks in it that could indicate it was doctored, and also saying that if such a hissy fit were thrown by an elected official, any journalist would jump all over it:
“When you become a TV news reporter, you automatically become a public person as well. Therefore, you have to embrace good manners and avoid any disgraceful behavior in public. If this woman was a mayor or a politician, her behavior would become a huge scandal immediately,” wrote a student from the Czech Republic.
On a post about the controversial Rolling Stone cover of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, the question posed was whether students would have published the same photo and whether their personal biases played into the decision.
Almost all American students who commented said they thought the photo insulted the bombing victims and would not have published the photo for this reason, while the Euro students said they thought the photo had value and they would have published it.
Many American students acknowledged their personal biases impacting their decisions here, but claimed that didn’t sway their opinions.
“[American] journalists … want to take benefit of the audience’s vicious curiosity.”