The Norwegian press council (Pressens Faglige Utvalg, PFU) bases most of its rulings on a tradition of “discourse ethics”, writes Svein Brurås, of Volda University College. The author investigated the PFU’s rulings relating to crime journalism from between 1972 and 2006.
According to Brurås, most rulings were interested in violations of boundaries erected to maintain fruitful public discussion – in other words the council relied on a type of “discourse” ethics. All but absent were two other branches of thinking: virtue and proximity ethics.
Taking virtue ethics into account would introduce minimum requirements of journalistic rigour. As of now, journalists are able to avoid trouble by playing safe. “The Council convicts the obtrusive, annoying and foolhardy journalist, but never the reserved, modest, servile and cowardly one”, Brurås writes.
In a different vein, the introduction of proximity ethics would call for a more empathetic touch when dealing with individuals. Many journalists already want and try to take into account the feelings of their interviewees and story subjects, but for now the PFU doesn’t require such sensitivity.
The article “Normative Features of a Successful Press Council” was published by the Journal of Media Ethics. It is available online (abstract free).
Picture: Untitled by aitoff, licence CC0 1.0.