ETHICAL CHALLENGES IN BAHAMIAN JOURNALISM

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ETHICAL CHALLENGES IN BAHAMIAN JOURNALISM
ETHICAL CHALLENGES IN BAHAMIAN JOURNALISM:
THE CASE FOR A CODE OF ETHICS
A Thesis presented to
The Faculty of the School of Communication of
Point Park University
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Arts
by
Deandra Kayla Williamson
November, 2015
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© 2015
Deandra Kayla Williamson
All Rights Reserved
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Acknowledgements
Completing this research was not an easy task, and it would have been impossible without
a support team that provided assistance and encouragement whenever needed. First, I must thank
God for giving me the patience to handle the circumstances that preceded the completion of this
project.
To my parents, Eugene and Kate Williamson, I appreciate your support and
encouragement in my effort to complete this project, which seemed unending.
They both
demonstrated selfless love in obtaining information for this project. My dad went to the National
Archives in Nassau, Bahamas and paid for all of the researched information that I requested and,
along with my mother, they shipped the information to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for me.
I also owe my deepest gratitude to my thesis committee members, who provided me with
the assistance and guidance to design this research. I had two committees and even though the
first committee fell apart, I am appreciative of their hard work and the efforts they made that paved
the way for final draft of this project. The first committee members include Dr. Aimee Dorsten,
Dr. Steve Hallock, and Bill Moushey. But I must salute my second committee members who
stepped in at a moment’s notice and agreed to help refine this project for completion. The second
committee members include Dr. Tim Hudson, Dr. Robin Cecala and Dr. Heather Star Fiedler.
It is also an honor for me to thank College of The Bahamas professor Paola Alvino and all
of the media companies in The Bahamas that provided a wealth of information for this project,
particularly Jones Communications Network and the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas.
Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to the local Bahamian journalists and journalism
students at the College of The Bahamas. Without their participation and cooperation, this project
would have been impossible.
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Ethical Challenges in Bahamian Journalism:
The Case for a Code of Ethics
by
Deandra Williamson
Point Park University, 2015
ABSTRACT
For the past ten years journalists and media organizations in The Bahamas and the Caribbean have
been under increasing criticism for their lack of professionalism. With the growth of media in The
Bahamas, there are indications that media ethics should be made a priority, especially for
journalists. Many incidents were recorded regarding a lack of professional ethical standards in the
national media industry. Therefore, this study explores the ethical challenges of Bahamian
journalists and presents the case for a code of ethics. The primary findings, taken from a survey
and a series of interviews, discovered that there is not a nation-specific code of ethics for Bahamian
journalists and some journalists would prefer a “ready-made” code of ethics from another country.
Some journalists also revealed that they adopted an internationally accepted code of ethics as their
professional standard. Most of the journalists who participated in this study agreed that a code of
ethics, which addresses the specific political and cultural milieu of The Bahamas, would be
appropriate for Bahamian journalists. Apart from a code of ethics, the study also suggests ways
to improve the ethical standards of Bahamian journalists through a framework.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1
Introduction
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Background Information
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Ethical Theories
59
Case Studies at Work
91
The Potter Box Model of Reasoning
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Application of Ethical Theories
102
Literature Review
111
Chapter 2
Method
179
Research Questions
180
Chapter 3
Results
188
Chapter 4
Discussion & Conclusion
205
References
218
Appendices
230
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Chapter 1
Introduction
On October 30, 2013 popular radio More 94.9 FM talk show host Ortland H. Bodie Jr.
announced on his show, Real Talk Live, that there was a shooting at the Meridian School
at Unicorn Village. Parents rushed to the school fearing the worst after they heard the
report that the school’s security guard was shot. According to the school’s principal, Lisa
McCartney, this report made by the talk show host was not true and it was a rumor. There
was never a shooting at the school. Police were called in to investigate the break-in of a
teacher’s car. The principal was offended by the talk show host’s reckless and irresponsible
reporting. After checking his facts, Bodie then apologized on the show.
(Sources: The Bahama Journal & The Tribune – October 31, 2013)
In this case study, Bodie was faced with an ethical dilemma when he reported false
information claiming that there was a shooting at the Meridian School at Unicorn Village. But
this case study is only an example of one of Bodie’s ethical dilemmas. Like Bodie, other Bahamian
media practitioners and journalists are faced with ethical dilemmas and after examining the local
Bahamian media, the author discovered many incidences involving media ethics. Some of the
author’s discoveries included ethical dilemmas involving false reporting, the lack of fact-checking,
violation of privacy, the lack of protection of victims involved in sex crimes, and conflict of
interest. As a result of the ethical dilemmas faced by some Bahamian journalists, a person can
become curious and wonder whether The Bahamas has a nation-specific code of ethics for
journalists or whether journalists adhere to an internationally recognized code of ethics. Therefore,
the goal of this project is to discover which code of ethics Bahamian journalists use, whether it be
a nation-specific code of ethics, a regional code of ethics, or an international code of ethics. It is
presumed that there may not be a nation-specific code of ethics and Bahamian journalists may not
adhere to any code of ethics at all. In addition, the analysis of case studies presented throughout
this study makes it clear that Bahamian journalists would benefit from a code of ethics.
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To assist with research on this project, the author contacted several Bahamian journalists
and media practitioners, who she thought would be interested in her research and she gathered
their views concerning media ethics in The Bahamas. The journalists and media practitioners were
contacted before the research began and they gave the author the assurance that this research was
worthwhile and significant to the development of journalism in The Bahamas. However, after
brainstorming several topics and revising the research, the topic ‘Ethical Challenges in Bahamian
Journalism: The Case for a Code of Ethics’ was chosen for this project because the author believes
there is a need for a nation-specific code of ethics for Bahamian journalists. Before this research
began, the author was uncertain whether The Bahamas had a nation-specific code of ethics because
some Bahamian journalists would argue that their newsrooms have codes of ethics, but there are
other newsrooms in the country without a code of ethics. However, the author’s curiosity grew
because she constantly monitors Bahamian news via newspaper, television and radio and would
observe a lot of inconsistent practices among journalists concerning media ethics. The author
would read about incidents where journalists reported false information and were reprimanded and
forced to make apologies for their actions. She also observed other incidents where journalists
revealed the names of minors involved in sexual cases. Because of the author’s observations and
her experience working as a journalist, she believes there is a potential for a prospective of ethics
for Bahamian journalists and through this research she would determine if the country has a nationspecific code of ethics.
To gather additional information for this project, the author chose two research methods,
which include interviews with veteran journalists and journalism students and a survey among
professional journalists. Data collected from the interviews and survey allowed the author to
obtain various views from Bahamian journalists about the state of media ethics in the country and
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the potential for a nation-specific code of ethics. The data also provided feedback for additional
measures, apart from a code of ethics, which can be used to assist Bahamian journalists with their
ethical behavior. The survey was conducted from February 28 to April 4, 2014. The interviews
with the veteran journalists began in December 2013 and ended in November 2014. The student
interviews began in February 2014 and ended in March that same year. This project also presents
a variety of case studies demonstrating the ethical dilemmas of Bahamian journalists, which
presents the case for a code of ethics in The Bahamas. The series of real-life case studies presented
throughout this research include topics on the invasion of privacy, false reporting, government
control of the media, anonymous sources, and sexual cases involving minors. In addition, the case
studies provide further analysis of the need for a code of ethics. The case studies were collected
between August 2013 and March 2014.
Ultimately, this study explores whether a nation-specific code of ethics exists for
journalists in The Bahamas. A nation-specific code of ethics for journalists is a standard designed
to guide the ethical decision-making process of journalists within a country based on the political
and cultural values of the society. A nation-specific code of ethics based on the political and
cultural values of a society allow journalists to act in accordance to the values and principles
accepted by society. In addition, this study will determine the causes that contribute to the
unethical practices of some journalists. If a nation-specific code of ethics does not exist, the study
will suggest ways to improve media ethics in The Bahamas. Overall, this study will explore other
possible, currently existing ethical frameworks that may enhance the professional discipline of
journalists.
Journalists have a duty to society and a social responsibility to report the truth without fear
or hindrance because they are the “watchdogs” in society. According to Cohen and Elliott (1997),
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in democratic countries the press serve as the “eyes and ears” and the “watchdog” of citizens (p.
5). In other words they said, the press provides information required for self-governance, which
is vital for the effective operation of a democracy. The citizens are dependent on the press as a
source for information about a coming storm, the school budget, and the results of a campaign, the
authors added. Thus, the social responsibility of news organizations and journalists is to fulfill
this unique role as the society’s “watchdog”, by providing information for citizens (Cohen &
Elliott, 1997). However, while fulfilling this role, journalists can be faced with ethical situations,
but they can rely on a process for decision-making. Some journalists are not aware that ethical
frameworks exist to help them make difficult journalistic decisions, such as revealing an
anonymous source. Ethical frameworks also exist to help journalists explain their decision to
others, such as public figures for example, police officers. Therefore, this project will discover
how journalists make their decisions, which can be based on their experiences and the training
they had as a journalist. The journalists that will be referred to in this research are print and
broadcast journalists from The Bahamas and other democratic nations, unless indicated otherwise.
The term “media” is used throughout this research, and it will refer to radio, television, and
newspaper, which are responsible for the dissemination of news throughout The Bahamas and the
Caribbean region. The need for a code of ethics for Bahamian and Caribbean journalists and the
case studies presented in this research, makes this topic important to the field of journalism because
journalists in The Bahamas and the Caribbean have struggled for many years to professionalize
the industry and implement a code of ethics for journalists across the region.
Case Studies Demonstrating the Ethical Dilemmas of Bahamian Journalists
Like many other Caribbean countries, researched case studies indicate that many incidents
have occurred in The Bahamas with regards to the ethical conduct of journalists. As illustrated in
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the case studies throughout this research, some Bahamian journalists experienced incidences of
media ethics involving false reporting, protecting sources, publishing the names of minors
involved in sex cases, and being disrespected because of a lack of professionalism. Therefore, a
code of ethics can be used as a professionalizing strategy for Bahamian journalists. Chadwick
(2001) explains that a relationship to a code of ethics gives journalism its professional status.
Journalism’s aims and achievements are judged according to ethical ideas such as truthfulness,
accuracy, and objectivity. If Bahamian journalists adhere to a code of ethics, it would help to
enhance the professionalism of journalists in the country, and they would gain more respect from
the public, public figures, and public officials. In some case studies, print and broadcast journalists
were criticized by the public because of their ethical conduct. However, the information for the
majority of the case studies presented throughout this research was retrieved from local Bahamian
newspapers, online Bahamian news outlets, interviews, and The National Archives of The
Bahamas (also known as the Department of Archives). For additional case studies, information
was retrieved from the online archives of all major radio and television stations in The Bahamas.
Videos of television newscasts were also found on YouTube and Facebook. Several case studies
presented throughout this research were also found on Facebook, after several journalists posted
comments about the situations they faced as journalists in The Bahamas. Information for other
cases studies were obtained from the Digital Library of the Caribbean. But here we’ll explore
cases involving false reporting, fact-checking, violation of privacy, victims of sex crimes, and
conflict of interest.
False reporting & the lack of fact-checking.
False reporting involves the publishing of
inaccurate information that can occur when facts are not checked and verified. According to John
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C. Merrill (1997) in Journalism Ethics: Philosophical Foundations for News Media, inaccuracies
lead to a lessening of credibility for the media. To avoid inaccuracies, journalists should quote
people accurately, spell a person’s name correctly, give addresses precisely, and report facts and
statistics accurately (Merrill, 1997). Carole Rich (2003) in Writing and Reporting News explained
that every inaccurate mistake a journalist makes jeopardizes his or her credibility with readers.
Because of that credibility factor, newspapers print corrections every day, many for the incorrect
spelling of names (Rich, 2003). Therefore, according to the author, accuracy is paramount for
journalists, who should always, for example, double-check the names in their stories. In the
following case studies previously mentioned, More 94.9 FM radio talk show host Ortland H. Bodie
has several systematic chronic violations of media ethics, which involves the reporting of false and
inaccurate information and the lack of fact-checking. In the first case study, Bodie’s dilemma
arose after claims surfaced that he made disparaging remarks concerning Supreme Court Justice
Stephen Isaacs. According to an article in The Bahama Journal, Justice Isaacs said there was an
inference, based on witnesses who heard the talk show, which claimed that Bodie called him
corrupt or criminal. In Bodie’s second dilemma, he reported false information, claiming that he
knew where to purchase illegal firearms in Nassau. However, the dilemma continued after Bodie
also claimed on his show that he knew what happened to the firearm that went missing from a
Defence Force vessel just before Christmas 2009. Bodie’s ethical dilemmas are further illustrated
as follows:
More 94.9 FM radio Talk Show Host Ortland H. Bodie Jr., of Real Talk Live, made
disparaging remarks on his show regarding Supreme Court Justice Stephen Isaacs. The
remarks were related to a court case that was in front of Justice Isaacs concerning career
criminal Stephen ‘Die’ Stubbs. According to an article in The Bahama Journal, Justice
Isaacs said there was an inference, based on witnesses who heard the talk show, which
claimed that Bodie called him corrupt or criminal and wanted to expose him. Although
Bodie apologized to Justice Isaacs and asked for "the forgiveness and purging of the court,"
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he was ordered to make a public apology every day on air for the remainder of the week,
and he was given the option of paying $2,500 to the benefit of The Ranfurly Home or serve
seven days in prison.
(Source: bahamaslocal.com & The Bahama Journal – July 2, 2012 & June 28, 2012)
More 94.9 FM radio talk show host Ortland H. Bodie Jr. was arrested by Bahamian police
after telling listeners on his show, Real Talk Live, that he knew how to purchase illegal
firearms in Nassau. Bodie was accused of telling his listening audience that if someone
came up with $500, he could inform them how and where to buy a gun. He was on-the-air
discussing the rising increase in AK-47 assault rifles on the streets of The Bahamas when
he made the remark. AK-47s are highly dangerous weapons prized by guerrilla fighters,
drug dealers and criminals because of the rapid rate of fire, light weight and durability.
During his show Bodie also claimed to know "exactly" what happened to the firearm that
went missing from a Defence Force vessel just before Christmas 2009. He said he had
asked the Commissioner of Police, Ellison Greenslade, to contact him regarding the matter
but claimed that Greenslade declined to comment. The police then took Bodie's claims
seriously and decided to take him to the police station for questioning. The talk show host
was said to be quite remorseful at the police station and was quite aware that he had erred.
After being released, Bodie said he had no hard feelings towards the police and was really
only kidding; he does not know where to buy a gun on the street.
(Source: BahamasB2B.com & The Tribune - February 25, 2010)
Because of Bodie’s repeated ethical dilemmas, it seems as though More 94.9 FM has no
enforced code of ethics at the radio station. But like Bodie, another radio talk show host
experienced an ethical dilemma involving inaccurate reporting. Former Love 97.5 FM radio talk
show host Michael Pintard experienced an ethical dilemma when he called Prime Minister Perry
Christie a liar and gave inaccurate information concerning a statement made by the prime minister.
Pintard’s dilemma continued after he refused to apologize to the prime minister for his inaccurate
comments. Following is an illustration of Pintard’s case study:
After refusing to apologize to Prime Minister Perry Chirstie, Michael Pintard was fired as
the talk show host of the popular Love 97.5 FM radio show Issues of the Day. In 2006,
Pintard called Prime Minister Christie a liar during the radio show and he was asked by
Love 97.5 FM CEO Wendall Jones to apologize to Prime Minister Christie on air. Pintard
made comments on the show concerning a statement Prime Minister Christie made on the
death penalty at the funeral service for slain prison officer Dion Bowles. According to The
Tribune, when contacted, Pintard said he would release a statement before the end of the
week. He said his statement would include his history at Love 97.5 FM as it relates to
Issues of the Day and the series of events that led to his decision not to apologize as
requested, which was demanded by Jones and “those persons who sought to influence the
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show.” According to Jones, there was a misunderstanding between what Prime Minister
Christie said at the funeral and what the government did. Jones said Pintard had an option
to apologize to Prime Minister Christie for the misunderstanding. Jones added that Pintard
refused to acknowledge that he misunderstood the prime minister and he did not tell a lie.
(Source: Bahamasb2b.com – February 7, 2006)
The previous case studies illustrate that there is a need for a code of ethics for media practitioners
like Bodie and Pintard who are not professionally trained journalists. Bodie is a former lawyer
and Pintard has training in agricultural economics and is currently a senator in The Bahamas (The
Bahama Journal & The Nassau Guardian). In an interview with an anonymous tabloid veteran
journalist, who participated in this study, a few radio talk shows are hosted by responsible
journalists, but the others are hosted by individuals who have little or no journalistic background,
make no effort to research the subjects about which they speak and parcel out erroneous
information, which is then repeated by the listening public as “gospel” or truth.
Violation of privacy. Every individual is entitled to privacy and the right to be left alone, but the
amount of privacy given to public officials and public figures is questionable. According to
Englehardt and Barney (2002) in Media and Ethics: Principles for Moral Decisions, personal
privacy, which is the right to be left alone, has been called one of the greatest benefits of a
democratic society, necessary to assure individual freedom. The authors noted that privacy relates
to the private conduct that is of no concern to the public, adding that privacy involves personal
information to which there can be no right of public access. However, Englehardt and Barney
(2002) argued that public officials and public figures are given few privacy rights because they
receive their support from the public (for political leaders it is votes and public money and for
celebrities it is tickets and record sales) and therefore should be held accountable for that support
through public scrutiny. Even though public officials and public figures are held accountable
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through public scrutiny, journalists can face ethical dilemmas when covering stories seeking to
expose such persons. According to Gordon, Kitross, and Carol Reuss (1996) in Controversies in
Media Ethics, the media can err egregiously when they blithely accept and use information
supplied by political candidates or by any other sources without seeking verification. The authors
explained that the private facts that may expose a politician’s character must be linked to his or
her public and political behavior before the publication or broadcast becomes ethically justifiable.
They indicated that revealing private information about a public official or public figure without
establishing this link is a form of tabloid journalism that casts doubt on journalistic motives and
credibility. Therefore, the media have the responsibility to weigh information carefully and
present it in an accurate and fair context (Gordon, Kittross, & Reuss, 1996). In the following case
study The Tribune faced an ethical dilemma involving the violation of privacy after publishing
photos of Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith embracing former Minister of Immigration Hon.
Shane Gibson. The photos and the accompanying article in The Tribune sparked much controversy
concerning Smith and Gibson’s relationship. The Tribune’s case study is illustrated as follows:
In 2007, The Tribune published photos of Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith embracing
the former Minister of Immigration Hon. Shane Gibson. The photos sparked much
controversy about Gibson and Smith’s relationship. Also, in an article The Tribune raised
curiosity about the relationship between Smith and Gibson because Gibson fast-tracked
Smith’s Bahamian residency application. Due to the nature of the photos and the article
written in The Tribune, many believed that Smith and Gibson were having an affair. It was
during the government’s 2007 general election campaign when The Tribune published the
photographs and as a result, Gibson resigned as the Minister of Immigration. As a result
of the controversy, Gibson announced his resignation in a televised statement and said that
he was not admitting to any allegations brought against him because they were “vicious”
and “wicked lies.” Gibson denied having a sexual relationship with Smith. The Tribune
got the photos from an unidentified source and thorough investigation was not done to
verify whether Gibson had a sexual relationship with Smith or not.
(Sources: BahamasB2B.com – February 18, 2007 & The Tribune – February 12, 2007)
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This case shows that The Tribune may not have a code of ethics for journalists because the source
of the photos was not identified, the article was biased and the information presented was not
verified.
Lack of protection for sex crime victims & other vulnerable in the media. To minimize harm
in news reporting journalists should be seek to protect the vulnerable such as children, the disabled,
victims of sex crimes, and the elderly. Brown (2011) explained in Journalism Ethics, that
minimizing harm requires being sensitive to the consequences of what you do as a journalist. He
added that to journalists, minimizing harms means letting their humanity show through, which
involves showing compassion for the people who are affected by what they write. When
minimizing harm journalists should be careful, for example, not to report the identity of victims
involved in sex crimes, including children. Brown said this is important because for many people,
being a part of a story is rare, even a one-in-a-lifetime experience, therefore people live with the
consequences of what the journalist reported. However, he noted that many ethical decisions in
journalism are a struggle between doing one’s duty and being responsible about the consequences
of an action. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics states that journalists
should “recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort” and
“the pursuit of news is not a license for ignorance.” The SPJ Code of Ethics also states that
journalists should “show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage” and “show
special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.” The code
also urges journalists to “be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes”
(Brown, 2011, p. 93). Therefore, a code like this is necessary for Bahamian journalists because in
The Bahamas there is a concern for the media to protect the identity of children involved in sexual
cases. For example, in the following case study the media faced an ethical dilemma after they
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reported the identity of a man who was charged with incest, which would lead to the child victim
being identified. The media was then warned by the National Child Protection Council about its
need to protect the identity of children involved in cases of incest. Details of the case study are
explained below:
In 2013, the National Child Protection Council warned the media about its need to protect
the identity of children who are involved in cases of incest. This warning came after the
media reported the identity of a man who was charged with incest, which might also reveal
the identity of the child. Chairman of the Committee on Families and Children, Cleopatra
Christie, told the media that the child victim should always be protected; this includes not
identifying the perpetrator or the victim, their addresses, or anything that could identify the
victim. Any media company that violates this warning by publishing too much information
about the victim will be liable to a fine of $5,000 or imprisonment of 12 months or both.
This violation and the enforcement of the penalty was supported by The Bahamas Child
Protection Act of 2009 (Source: The Bahama Journal - June 28, 2013).
There is also a concern about carelessly placing children and other vulnerable people in the
media spotlight. In another case study, an NB12 news reporter faced an ethical dilemma when she
aired an interview of a group of children who were unable to give a coherent answer to a sensitive
question about crime. This case study is described below:
In the January 2, 2014 NB12 television newscast, a news reporter did a story on the
advocacy group Families of all Murder Victims. The reporter interviewed a group of
children and asked them what should be done to stop crime in the country. The children
were unable to provide clear answers to the question and no adult was visibly present with
them during the interview. (Source: YouTube Video – ‘Christie on Capital Punishment’ NB12 Jan. 2, 2014 Newscast)
Obviously, both cases show that a code of ethics is needed to encourage Bahamian journalists to
exercise sensitivity and care when covering stories involving children and the most vulnerable in
society.
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Conflict of interest. According to Englehardt and Barney (2002), conflict of interest emerges
when a reporter and an editor no longer have a primary obligation or loyalty to their audiences,
but instead to someone else. The authors pointed out that a reporter who accepts gifts or favors
from sources has potential conflict of interest. They explained that conflicts of interest may emerge
gently and painlessly early on as sources enfold journalists into inner power circles by offering
friendship and association with prominent figures. Alternatively, journalists may be offered gifts
either out of gratitude or out of friendship, which, if accepted, place the journalist at risk for giving
the source special treatment that will skew their stories, Englehardt and Barney (2002) added.
Therefore, journalists should seek to avoid conflict of interest to prevent writing a biased story,
which favors one party over the other. The authors suggested that avoiding club memberships is
a way for journalists to maintain their neutrality and minimize conflict of interest. When a
journalist is a group member in an organization, pressures may be applied to the journalist for
special favors, the authors mentioned. Therefore, they said the need for independence and
autonomy leads editorial, broadcast, and journalism codes of ethics to discourage membership in
most organizations as a potential conflict of interest. In the following case study a former Nassau
Guardian news reporter experienced an ethical dilemma involving conflict of interest when her
editor decided not to publish her story because one of the story’s sources was the editor’s friend at
a local organization. The editor and the source were both members of a lodge; therefore the editor
decided not to publish the story that would expose his lodge member. This is an explanation of
the case:
In 2000, a preschool teacher contacted a former Nassau Guardian news reporter and told
the reporter that she was a victim of identity theft. The teacher told the reporter that her
boss had stolen her identity and got a loan in her name. Right away the reporter did her
investigations and found out that the boss had stolen the women’s identity. The reporter
contacted the boss and she admitted to the crime on tape. The crime was reported to the
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police and the Central Bank of The Bahamas. After gathering all the facts, the reporter
wrote the story. However, the story never made it to the newspaper because the managing
editor at that time, Patrick Walkes, a member of a lodge, decided not to publish the story
because the preschool boss was also a member of the lodge. Even though the story was
news, Walkes didn’t want to publish the story because lodge members are supposed to
protect one another. The news reporter became discouraged and the preschool teacher was
disappointed that the story never made it to the newspaper. (Source: Interview with
anonymous former Nassau Guardian Reporter – January 10, 2014)
In another case study, the former Nassau Guardian news reporter experienced another
ethical dilemma involving conflict of interest when the same editor refused to publish a story she
wrote because the editor wanted to protect the vice president of Atlantis (a mega resort on Paradise
Island). The vice president of Atlantis begged the news reporter and the editor not to publish the
story about Atlantis hiring illegal Cubans to work on its construction. However, the editor agreed
and refused to publish the story. Following are details of this case study:
In 2001, a former Nassau Guardian news reporter got a tip that developers of Atlantis (a
mega resort) on Paradise Island were bringing in illegal Cubans to build phases of the
resort. A reliable source told the news reporter that truckloads of Cubans were coming to
work early in the morning when it was still dark so no one would see them on the road.
The source also gave the reporter pictures of the Cubans being transported to the work site.
According to the reporter, at that time there were many Bahamians who needed jobs, but
Atlantis was bringing in illegal foreigners for cheap labor. The reporter said she contacted
a vice president at Atlantis, Ed Fields, about the situation. She added that Fields begged
her not to publish the story and another director at Atlantis told her not to publish the story.
As a result, the story never got published because Patrick Walkes, the managing editor of
The Nassau Guardian, agreed to protect Fields. (Source: Interview with anonymous
former Nassau Guardian Reporter – January 10, 2014)
Both cases demonstrate that The Nassau Guardian may not have an enforced code of ethics
and a code of ethics is needed to address issues involving conflict of interest because The Bahamas
is a close-knit society. Because the Bahamian society is close-knit, a code from the New York
Times Ethical Journalism Handbook, for example, about conflict of interest should be modified
for Bahamian journalists. For example, the New York Times code suggests that to avoid conflict
of interest journalists should not write about people to whom they are related by blood or marriage
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or with whom they have close personal relationships, or edit material about such people, or make
news judgments about them. A code like this would have helped The Nassau Guardian editor
make a decision to publish the news worthy stories to avoid conflict of interest.
However, all of the previously mentioned case studies demonstrate the potential for a
prospective code of ethics in The Bahamas. But, there are several prime ministers throughout the
English-speaking Caribbean who criticized the ethical behavior of journalists in their countries
and suggested, several years ago, that the media should draft a code of ethics. One prime minister
even suggested that a code of ethics is needed for journalists throughout the Caribbean region,
because the ethical challenges of journalists throughout the region’s English-speaking countries
are similar.
Caribbean Prime Ministers & Government Officials Criticize the Media
Throughout the Caribbean, many journalists have been criticized for their performance on
numerous occasions by the public and their country’s governments. For example, The Gleaner
reported that the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) issued a letter urging former Jamaican Prime
Minister Andrew Holness and his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to exercise restraint in its criticism
of media workers covering the December 29, 2011 general election. According to The Gleaner’s
article, the PAJ respects the right of every individual to criticize the media, but the vitriol that came
from the JLP during the election coverage was unacceptable and placed media workers at risk as
they performed a legitimate and necessary function of providing the public with information. In
2012, at the Media Association Workers of Grenada awards, it was reported that Grenada’s Prime
Minister Tillman Thomas warned Grenadian journalists to be politically impartial and not to
engage in political activities while trying to inform the population about the socioeconomic
development of the island. According to the online news source Caribbean 360, Prime Minister
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Thomas told journalists that they should not allow themselves to be used by politicians and
explained that this problem is not only in Grenada, but the wider Caribbean. According to Prime
Minister Thomas, “some journalists” fall into the trap where politicians want to control all aspects
of the media (Caribbean 360). Based on the online news source, he argued that journalists ought
to be independent and recognize the important role they play in society, which is to educate, and
inform. The prime minister stressed that journalists must be honest, frank and realistic (Caribbean
360). However, these examples and the others discussed in this section, also provide support that
there is a need for an enforced code of ethics for journalists throughout the Caribbean, even though
there are some Caribbean countries with a nation-specific code of ethics (see Literature Review:
A Survey of Codes of Ethics in the Commonwealth Caribbean).
Before 2012, the Jamaica Gleaner reported that the Grenadian government had concerns
about the ethical performance of Grenada’s media and as a result, the government proposed to
draft a code of ethics for Grenadian journalists in 2001. But Grenadian journalists along with other
Caribbean journalists, opposed the government’s actions to draft a code of ethics (Jamaica
Gleaner, 2001). During the 2001 Annual Caribbean Media Conference, former Grenadian Prime
Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell explained, in an article in the Jamaica Gleaner, the government’s
actions to draft a code of ethics because he was concerned about the failure of the media to accept
the fact that it needs to police itself. Prime Minister Mitchell explained that it was not the
Grenadian government's intention to dictate a code to the media, but the media had that
responsibility, which he felt it was not carrying out (Jamaica Gleaner, 2001). Prime Minister
Mitchell stated in the newspaper’s article that "the media is very adept at defending itself, but when
it comes to policing itself and chastising those in its midst who fail to perform with responsibility
and accountability, it generally fails miserably.”
Grenadian journalists at the conference
21
responded to Prime Minister Mitchell’s criticism by suggesting that the problem of journalistic
ethics lay not in the inability of those working in the journalism field to discipline themselves, but
instead in the lack of a legal framework for information gathering, such as a national Freedom of
Information Act that would instantiate journalists as true “watchdogs” over government and other
powers (Jamaica Gleaner, 2001).
Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell also insisted that there is a need for a code of ethics for
Caribbean journalists because of the ethical challenges faced by journalists in the region. "I believe
the Caribbean media must mature to the point where it can be accountable to itself and the public
it serves," said Prime Minister Mitchell (Jamaica Gleaner, 2001). He explained that Caribbean
media must have a set of ethical principles, otherwise there are some journalists who would
continue to exercise the power of the media with favoritism rather than fairness (Jamaica Gleaner,
2001). In 2004 at the Commonwealth-Caribbean Media Conference, Trinidad and Tobago Prime
Minister Patrick Manning also called for a code of ethics for media practitioners in the Caribbean.
Prime Minister Manning underscored the value of media practitioners adhering to defined ethical
professional practices and warned that “considerable amount of bias, character assassination, and
slander,” should not be made “synonymous with professional journalism” (Singh, 2004).
In 2014 The Bahamas Minister of Tourism and former journalist Obie Wilchcombe, in his
contribution to the debate in the House of Assembly, publically reprimanded journalists for being
unfair and “anti-government” (Cartwright-Carroll, 2014).
In Cartwright-Carroll’s article
published in The Nassau Guardian, Wilchombe argues that the media is trying to create a fight,
with their unfair reports, between Prime Minister Perry Christie and former PLP Member of
Parliament Lofus Roker, who criticized Prime Minister Christie over the 2013 gambling
referendum and his leadership style. According to the article, Wilchcombe argued that any story
22
that paints the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) in a negative light makes the newspaper.
Wilchcombe assured that journalism should never be like this and a journalists’ job is to protect
the interests of the country, which includes being fair to people (Cartwright-Carroll, 2014). The
former journalist explained that the media has a greater and more responsible role to play in the
country (Cartwright-Carroll, 2014). “You’re never supposed to be using your ink to destroy
people. That is not the job of a journalist,” Wilchcombe warned, according to the article. This
recent situation makes a code of ethics and decision-making framework even more paramount for
Bahamian journalists.
In an email interview Juliette Storr, former Bahamian journalist and an associate professor
of communications at Penn State University-Beaver, argued that “media organizations and
journalists throughout the region (Caribbean), have received increased criticism of their
performance over the last decade” (personal communication, September 2, 2013).
Storr
emphasizes that a code of ethics is needed urgently for media in The Bahamas and throughout the
Caribbean region. However, some Caribbean countries such as Jamaica have a nation-specific
code of ethics, but the criticisms from Caribbean prime ministers and government officials show
that there are still challenges throughout the region regarding the ethical conduct of journalists.
According to the PAJ, the Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalists and Media Organizations was
revised in June 2010, which replaces the 1965 PAJ Code of Ethics (Press Association of Jamaica).
Media & Politics in the Caribbean
Besides criticizing the media, Caribbean governments can influence the information that is
broadcast on government-owned media, which can interfere with the ethical practices of
journalists, causing them to be biased toward the governing political party. Regis (2001), in
Culture and Mass Communication in the Caribbean: Domination, Dialogue, Dispersion, noted
23
that in the Caribbean, the two-party political system that is upheld as the mainstay of the major
democracies of the developed world is sometimes very controlling. In this political system, Regis
explained that ordinary citizens, including journalists, are identified as belonging to one party or
the other (without necessarily being registered as party members) or seen as supporters of one
party or the other. As a result, he said when one party wins a general election, its leadership tries
to influence the opportunities available in the job market to ensure that jobs go to its supporters or
members. For example, in The Bahamas, following the Free National Movement’s (FNM) victory
in the 2007 general election, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham fired ZNS radio talk show
host Steve Mckinney because he was not an FNM supporter (The Tribune). ZNS radio is a
government-owned radio station and during the 2007 general election campaign, McKinney
showed his support on air for the governing Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) (Bahamasb2b.com).
Unfortunately, after the PLP lost the general election, McKinney lost his job. Because McKinney
was employed at a government-owned media company this interfered with his professional ethical
standards because journalists should show impartiality towards political parties. According to
Regis (2001), in such a political system the government-owned media often become tools of the
party system. Rather than acting as objective watchdogs with their eyes on the whole society, an
independent estate, the media can become party supporters, like ZNS, which is owned by the
Bahamian government (Regis, 2001). In small nations with two political parties, the author
pointed out that there were periods when there were two major newspapers both owned by
members of one party. He explained that in such a situation, when that party is in opposition, the
print media play the role of vociferous and hostile critic, and when that party is in power, the media
are gentle and enthusiastic cheerleaders. For example, ZNS and Steve McKinney supported the
PLP’s agenda while it was the governing party and when the PLP lost Ingraham ensured that ZNS
24
supported the FNM’s agenda. In some Caribbean countries where there may be only one television
station that may be government-owned, for example The Bahamas’ ZNS-TV 13, the regime in
power may go to great lengths to ensure that all information presented on that station is flattering
and favorable to itself (Regis, 2001). During the general election season in The Bahamas the media
are filled with biased stories about the government and other political parties and there are some
media companies that favor one political party over the other. Biased in the context of journalism
often signifies unfair, dishonest, self-serving, unbalanced, or misleading slanting of news (Cohen
& Elliott, 1997). For example, the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (BCB), the
government-owned media company that incorporates ZNS radio and ZNS-TV 13, is used to
support the agenda of the governing party and broadcast all of its political rallies. During this
time, the agenda and rallies of the opposing political parties are rarely broadcast on ZNS radio and
television. This makes a code of ethics and decision-making framework paramount for Bahamian
journalists because professional journalists are encouraged to be impartial and fair during general
elections.
Caribbean Journalists Embrace the Need for a Code of Ethics
According to John Lent (1977), in his study Third World Mass Media and their search for
Modernity: The Case of the Commonwealth Caribbean, self-regulatory codes of ethics, press
councils, and other press institutions are worthy projects for Commonwealth Caribbean countries
and should be encouraged as long as they come from within media ranks. Lent (1977) explained
that mass media practitioners in some Commonwealth Caribbean countries realize that they cannot
continue their destructive criticism of government without serious repercussions, therefore some
island media are initiating self-regulatory guidelines (e.g. code of ethics). The Commonwealth
Caribbean refers to independent English-speaking Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, Trinidad,
25
and The Bahamas. The author further explained that on some islands, especially Trinidad and to
a certain degree Jamaica, media and government personnel promoted the concept of a deliberately
guided press. He expressed that with this concept, the media are urged to show restraint in their
criticism of the government for the sake of the accomplishment of national goals. There are merits
to such concept, although it is readily recognized as a modified form of authoritarianism (Lent,
1977). But Lent (1977) argued that this concept is an idealistic principle that assumes that men in
power (e.g. government leaders) will, on their own violation, lessen press restrictions once their
governments are more stable and national goals have been met.
He observed that in the
Commonwealth Caribbean, where authoritarian government leaders are in control of an island for
a long period of time, such concept seemed to strengthen their rule and perpetuate them in office
for longer periods of time. For example, in The Bahamas Sir Lynden Pindling served as prime
minister for twenty-three consecutive years, from 1969 until 1992 (Grant & Gibbings, 2009).
During this era, ZNS radio and television were the only broadcast media in the country, controlled
by the PLP government, which was led by Pindling. According to Lent (1977), press criticism of
the government is needed in the Commonwealth Caribbean until the governments learn to
appreciate the necessity of an opposition. But, a code of ethics is needed in English-speaking
Caribbean countries, such as The Bahamas, to avoid potential government plans to regulate the
ethical standards of journalists, which may include government drafting a code of ethics for the
media.
Currently, there some English-speaking Caribbean countries that have a nation-specific
code of ethics for journalists, some countries are in the process of drafting a code of ethics and
within the past ten years even some non-English-speaking Caribbean countries implemented a
code of ethics. In the past three years non-English-speaking Caribbean countries such as Cuba
26
(Spanish-speaking) and Haiti (French-speaking), which are in close proximity to The Bahamas,
also implemented nation-specific codes of ethics. In 2014 a code of ethics was developed for
Cuban journalists with the help of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (Paz, 2014).
According to a Cuban news reporter Jorge Amado from Santiago de Cuba, the code of ethics
“fulfills international standards, it covers protecting sources, backing up information with specific
facts and reliable sourcing, respect for intellectual property, and other things” (Paz, 2014). In 2011
Haiti adopted a code of ethics that defines an outline for the Haitian press regarding the rights and
duties of journalists exercising the profession in the country (The Sentinel, 2011). Haiti’s code of
ethics was developed through a consensus organized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational
Scientific and Cultural Organization) along with the leaders of Haiti’s media associations, media
owners and journalists (The Sentinel, 2011). However, islands of the Eastern Caribbean, which
include English, Spanish, French, and Dutch-speaking countries also implemented a code of ethics.
In 2002 the Code of Practice of Caribbean Journalists was drafted and in 2003 it was adopted by
Barbados and other Eastern Caribbean countries (Press Association of Jamaica & Code of Practice
of Caribbean Journalists). As for The Bahamas, Storr, who is also a founding member of The
Bahamas Association of Journalists, indicated that the organization is in the early stages of drafting
a code of ethics for the organization’s journalists, but nothing has been published at the time of
this writing. Also, in an interview with the author, Anthony Newbold, BCB Parliamentary
Channel director, indicated that the new Bahamas Press Club 2014 also has plans to draft a code
of ethics for Bahamian journalists (personal communication, August 13, 2014). Because both
organizations do not have a published code of ethics at the time of this writing, this provides further
indication that there is a potential for a prospective code of ethics, which would serve as a selfregulatory guideline for journalists at the government-owned and privately-owned media
27
companies in The Bahamas. To examine this issue further, it is important to understand the
structure of the Bahamian society, which includes the country’s government, geography, and the
media and their relationship to the wider Caribbean. Therefore, a thorough examination of the
Bahamian society as it relates to the media will be presented in the next section as background
information that will further explain the need for a code of ethics within this parliamentary
democracy.
Background Information
The Bahamas
Geography of The Bahamas
The Commonwealth of the Bahamas is an archipelago of 700 islands and 2,400 cays
(pronounced “keys”), stretching from fifty miles off the southeast coast of Florida to fifty miles
off the northwest coast of Cuba (see Figure.1) (Boultbee, 1989). The country lies in the North
Atlantic Ocean and the name Bahamas comes from the Spanish word bajamar, which means
shallow sea (Boultbee, 1989). The last census conducted in 2010, showed that the country has a
population of 353,658 (The Bahamas Department of Statistics). According to The Bahamas
Department of Statistics, as of 2014 the country has a projected population of 364,000. The
Bahamas is also the wealthiest country in the Caribbean and has the third highest per capita income
among all western hemisphere countries led only by the United States and Canada
(Commonwealth Network).
28
(Source: Worldatlas – Used with permission)
Figure 1. Map of The Bahamas
The Bahamas is an archipelago of 700 islands and more than 2,000 cays stretching 50 miles off the
southeast coast of Florida to 50 miles off the northwest coast of Cuba.
The Bahamas’ Relationship with Caribbean Mass Media
The Bahamas’ archipelago is also a part of the Caribbean (see Figure 2.) and it is among
the English-speaking countries in the region.
The English-speaking Caribbean includes
independent and non-independent countries that were colonized by Britain, with the independent
countries being members of the British Commonwealth (The Commonwealth). The independent
English-speaking countries are referred to as the Commonwealth Caribbean and were formally
known as the British West Indies or the British Caribbean (Lent, 1977). Countries that make up
the Commonwealth Caribbean are Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize,
29
Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the
Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago (The Commonwealth). However, the non-independent
English-speaking Caribbean countries are known as British territories or the British West Indies.
The non-independent English-speaking Caribbean countries are Anguilla, British Virgin Islands,
Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos Islands. Also among the Englishspeaking Caribbean countries are the United States Virgin Islands. The media in the English-
(Source: Worldatlas – Used with permission)
Figure. 2 – Map of the Caribbean
The Bahamas is a part of the Caribbean and it is one of the English-speaking countries in the region. The
independent English-speaking that were colonized by Britain are known as the Commonwealth Caribbean.
Countries that make up the Commonwealth Caribbean are Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados,
Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines,
and Trinidad and Tobago.
speaking Caribbean are encouraged to disseminate news and information among each other and
other non-English-speaking countries in the region. To assist with the dissemination of news in
30
the Caribbean, membership organizations with this objective were established. In 1970 the
Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) was formed to bring together under a single umbrella of
common interest broadcasters from the English, Spanish, and Dutch-speaking Caribbean
(González, 1996). The CBU stimulates the flow of broadcast material among radio and television
systems in the Caribbean region (Caribbean Broadcasting Union). Therefore, media ethics is
important in the Caribbean region and the CBU has offered training programs for management,
programming, marketing, and engineering personnel (Caribbean Broadcasting Union). The CBU
is committed to deepening the integration of Caribbean broadcast media by facilitating discussion
and analysis to assist in policy formation on major integration issues (Caribbean Broadcasting
Union). Also, the CBU is the only Pan Caribbean medium reaching over 4.8 million people in the
Caribbean (Caribbean Broadcasting Union). The Bahamas is a member of the CBU through its
public broadcasting service, the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (BCB), which airs
many of CBU’s programs. According to Edwin Lightbourn, former BCB general manager, the
BCB has been a full and active member of the CBU since 1997 (personal communication, July 1,
2014). Since 1989, from its headquarters in Barbados, the CBU has coordinated the transmission
of daily news exchange programs between its member systems, and live coverage of regional
events has since become quite commonplace (González, 1996). In the mid-1980s the CBU created
several regionally syndicated programs including CaribScope, Caribbean Newsline, Caribbean
News Review, Caribbean Business Weekly, Talk Caribbean, the Caribbean Song Festival, Riddim
Express, and the CaribVision television news exchange. Even though The Bahamas is a member
of the CBU, journalists from the CBU’s news programs (e.g. Caribbean Newsline) were not
involved in this research because the focus of this project is mainly on the ethical practices of
Bahamian journalists employed at media companies in The Bahamas. Some of the objectives of
31
the CBU are “to promote the building of a regional tradition in broadcasting, to encourage proper
standards and ethics in regional and unit broadcasting, and to encourage the exchange of regional
news and programming between member states” (Lent, 1977). The BCB enjoys excellent relations
with media houses in the Caribbean, the Commonwealth and the around world and it is also a full
member of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA), which is an organization
dedicated to the provision of training assistance to its broadcast members who are members of the
Commonwealth of nations.
The CBA also provides bursaries, consultancies, networking
opportunities, and material for broadcast. Lightbourn noted that the CBA supports freedom of
expression and the ideals of public service broadcasting and fosters the exchange of information
among its membership. The CBA has editorial guidelines reflective of a code of ethics, which was
revised in 2010 for Commonwealth countries and countries outside the Commonwealth
(Commonwealth Broadcasting Association). The CBA’s editorial guidelines discuss topics such
as accuracy, conflict of interest, anonymous sources, impartiality, and election coverage, which
are also covered in some journalists’ codes of ethics. According to the CBA, the editorial
guidelines are used by CBA member organizations as a basis or foundation of their own
guidelines/code of ethics. The editorial guidelines were designed to help broadcasters identify and
adopt good practices that ensure sound coverage by the media to operate freely and fairly
(Commonwealth Broadcasting Association).
The Bahamas & British Colonialism
However, for further clarity on this research topic, The Bahamas’ relation to British
colonialism and the structure of government must be highlighted because some newspapers were
started by British editors and radio broadcasting began under the colonial government. The
Bahamas is now an independent country, but most of its history prior to independence relates to
32
British colonialism, which has left an indelible mark on the country’s government, judicial system,
and national media system. Because the country has been under British rule for more than two
hundred years, the founding fathers of The Bahamas’ Constitution, before independence, opted to
model the government after the parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom. According to
Sir Arthur Foulkes, former governor general and a founding father of the Constitution, there was
a consensus among the founding fathers that The Bahamas would continue as a parliamentary
democracy and there was also an agreement on the Constitution’s model (Jones, 2013). Therefore,
traces of colonialism are still evident in the country’s government, judicial system, and national
media system. Even though, The Bahamas has lingering ties to Britain, the country, since
independence, has made progress towards developing its own national identity. For example,
towards the independence celebrations in 1973 competitions were held to design national symbols
for the country, which included the new coat of arms and the country’s new motto (Bethel, 2000).
As for the media, a nation-specific code of ethics would be a step closer towards a national identity
for Bahamian journalists.
Bahamian Government & Politics
The Bahamas government is an independent parliamentary monarchy and democracy
headed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England. The government is modeled after the
Westminster system, which is a democratic parliamentary system of government based on the
government of the United Kingdom. The Queen is the head of state and represented by the
governor general. According to the constitution of The Bahamas, “There shall be a governor
general of The Bahamas who shall be appointed by Her Majesty and shall hold office during Her
Majesty’s pleasure and who shall be Her Majesty’s representative in The Bahamas” (Constitution
of The Bahamas). There are three branches of government: the executive branch, the legislative
33
branch, and the judicial branch. The executive branch consists of the Cabinet, which has the
control of the government. The prime minister is the head of the government and the leader of the
political party with the most seats in the House of Assembly. The governor general’s position is
higher than the prime minister’s because the governor general represents the Queen, but the prime
minister has more power over the country’s affairs than the governor general. The prime minister
appoints other Cabinet ministers, makes and coordinates the policy of the government, controls
the administration, holds responsibility for the government’s budget, and dispenses patronage.
Cabinet ministers are responsible for tourism, education, social welfare, national security, and
other government ministries. A Cabinet minister is also responsible for broadcasting and oversees
the government-owned Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas. There are two major political
parties in The Bahamas, the PLP (Progressive Liberal Party) and the FNM (Free National
Movement). Currently, the PLP has the majority of seats in the House of Assembly and the FNM
is the opposition party.
The legislative branch is made up of a bicameral (consisting of two chambers) parliament,
which consists of the House of Assembly and Senate. Parliament, which consists of the House of
Assembly and Senate, is responsible for making laws for peace and order.
However, during parliamentary proceedings, whether in the House of Assembly or the
Senate, journalists/parliamentary reporters in The Bahamas and throughout the Commonwealth
Caribbean must abide by parliament’s Standing Orders. In the Handbook for Caribbean
Journalists, Gloria Biggs (1983) explained that the Standing Orders are rules laid down for the
conduct of parliamentary sessions and the rules also cover the functions and responsibilities of
parliamentary reporters.
According to Biggs (1983), the key to parliamentary reporting is
accuracy, and as it relates to parliament, the information must be factual and without bias (p. 76).
34
In addition, parliamentary reporting is also covered by “privilege.” For example she said, members
of parliament enjoy privilege, in the sense that they are free, while in a parliamentary session, to
make statements which, if made outside parliament, could lead to criminal or civil proceedings in
court. She explained that parliamentary reporters are covered by this same privilege, provided that
they report faithfully and factually only what is said and done in parliament. Therefore, speeches
and statements made in parliament, and documents and papers presented to parliament, are all
covered by privilege and can be freely reported and quoted from based on fairness and accuracy,
according to the author. Biggs (1983) further explained that if a parliamentary reporter fails to
report accurately on what was said and done in parliament, he or she can face disciplinary or
punitive measures for a breach of privilege as outlined in the Standing Orders. By all means, a
nation-specific code of ethics outlining the privilege of journalists who cover parliament and the
need to report parliamentary proceedings accurately and fairly is needed for Bahamian journalists.
The judicial branch is made up of the Privy Council, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme
Court, and the Magistrate’s Court. The basis of the Bahamian law and legal system is the English
Common law tradition. The English Common law is the ancient law of England based upon
societal customs recognized and enforced by the judgments and decrees of the court. The English
Common law was “common” throughout England and its colonies and it was founded on the
principle that the rulings made by the King’s courts were made according to the common custom
of the realm.
However, during a court hearing whether in the Magistrate’s Court, the Supreme Court or
the Court of Appeal, Bahamian journalists must exercise care. According to Biggs (1983), the
journalist covering a court trial is entitled to publish or broadcast only what takes place and is said
during a court hearing or in open court. The author implied that reporting any matter outside of
35
this prescribed area (e.g. information not discussed in court) can lead to contempt of court.
Journalists in the Commonwealth Caribbean who cover the courts must also follow the rule of sub
judice (Biggs, 1983). The sub judice rule, according to Biggs (1983), prevents the publishing and
broadcasting of information which is likely to, or which tends to prejudice a fair trial. Information
that tends to prejudice a fair trial can lead to contempt of court. For example:

Journalists can be held in contempt of court if the criminal record of an accused
person is published before trial.

Journalists can be held in contempt of court for publishing information on
pending proceedings, which prejudge the merits of the case, or which imputes
guilt, or assert the importance of an accused person. (Biggs, 1983, p. 74)
She also mentioned that there are instances when a judge may give journalists instructions not to
publish a piece of evidence. For example, she advised that when the judge gives such instructions
it is the journalists’ responsibility to obey the instructions even if the evidence is news worthy. If
journalists disobey the judge’s instructions, they will be held in contempt of court and ordered to
pay heavy fines or face imprisonment (Biggs, 1983). Therefore, rules relating to sub judice and
court reporting can be included in a nation-specific code of ethics for Bahamian journalists, which
would help journalists make wise choices to avoid being held in contempt of court.
The Media’s Role in a Democracy
Most definitely, there is a potential for a prospective code of ethics for journalists within
this parliamentary democracy because the media have a decisive role in the development of a
democracy and public opinion. The media is the backbone of a democracy, and it supports the
flow of information within a society. According to the theory of democracy presented by John
Dewey, a famous philosopher, the real purpose of a democracy was human freedom and if people
36
were to communicate freely with each other, democracy was the natural outgrowth of human
interaction (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2001). Authors Kovach and Rosenstiel (2001) said the theory
held that problems within a democracy can be solved if the skills of the press are improved, which
would help in educating the public. They added that the goal of a democracy, according to Dewey,
was to allow people to develop to their fullest potential. Therefore, providing information that
would educate a society is key within a healthy democracy and one of the significant roles of the
media. In the article The Role of Media in Deepening Democracy, Sheila Coronel stated that the
media promotes democracy by educating voters, protecting human rights, promoting tolerance
among social groups, and ensuring that governments are transparent and accountable. When
discussing the role of media in democracy, a study conducted by the United States Center for
Democracy and Governance (1999) argued that access to information is essential to the health of
democracy because it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting
out of ignorance or misinformation. Access to information is also essential because information
serves as a “checking function” by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office
and carry out the wishes of those who elected them (Center for Democracy & Governance, 1999,
p. 3). In a democratic society the media allows the public to have access to information, which
includes, for example, information about the government’s budget and projects for a fiscal year.
According to Coronel, democracy requires the active participation of citizens and the media should
keep citizens engaged in the business of governance by informing, educating and mobilizing the
public. As a result, the roles of the media in a democracy is to identify problems within a society,
serve as a medium for deliberation, uncover errors and wrongdoing by those in authority, and
supply political information, which voters base their decisions on (Fog, 2004). Coronel argued
that contemporary democratic theory appreciates the media’s role in ensuring governments are
37
held accountable. In a democracy, she said the notion of the media as watchdog and not merely a
passive recorder of events is widely accepted. The contemporary democratic theory argued that
governments cannot be held accountable if citizens are ill-informed about the actions of officials
and institutions (Coronel). It is the media’s responsibility to inform the public accurately with
facts concerning government’s actions and expose the government’s wrongdoings with thorough
investigations. The watchdog press/media is guardian of the public interest, warning citizens
against those who are doing them harm (Coronel). According to Agner Fog (2004) in the article
The Supposed and Real Role of Mass Media in Modern Democracy, the most important roles of
media in a democracy, however, is to act as a surveillance of sociopolitical developments, identify
the most relevant issues, provide a platform for debate across a diverse range of views, hold
officials accountable for the way they exercise power, provide incentives for citizens to learn,
choose, and become involved in the political process, and resist efforts of forces outside the media
to subvert their independence.
Coronel argued that democracy is impossible without a free press. In democratic societies
the press has been widely proclaimed as the “Fourth Estate”, a coequal branch of government that
provides the check and balance without which governments cannot be effective (Coronel). She
said for this reason, democrats through the centuries have tended to take the Enlightenment’s
instrumentalist view of the press as a forum for public discussion and debate. The press plays an
important role in making public officials aware of the public’s discontents and allows a country’s
government to rectify its errors (Coronel). The Constitution of the United States, which is a
democratic country, guarantees freedom of the press in the First Amendment, but in The Bahamas
and some other English-speaking Caribbean countries, that are also democracies, their Constitution
guarantees freedom of expression. The Constitution of the United States reads, “Congress shall
38
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or
abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” (Connell, 2008).
In the United States’
Constitution, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are clearly outlined.
According to the Constitution of The Bahamas, every Bahamian is entitled to freedom of
expression and no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of this freedom. As it is explained in
The Bahamas’ Constitution, freedom of expression includes a person’s freedom to hold opinions,
and freedom to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. In The Bahamas’
Constitution freedom of the press is not clearly outlined, which is the difference between its
Constitution and the United States’ Constitution as it relates to the media. Freedom of the press
and freedom of expression are essential elements of a democracy and can be interpreted differently.
In Journalism in The Service of Democracy: A Summit of Deans, Faculty, Students, and Journalists
Vartan Gregorian argues that the First Amendment shows how strongly the “Founding Fathers” of
the United States felt about freedom of expression and freedom of the press as being intrinsic to
the strength of democracy (Connell, 2008). In a democracy, the value of the press is inestimable
and serves as a public sphere for ideas to provide an opportunity for voicing opposition to even
the most widely held beliefs (Connell, 2008). The foundational purpose of a free press in a
functional public sphere is to hold everyone accountable including government officials,
policymakers, educators, philanthropists, business leaders, and political parties (Connell, 2008).
However, freedom of expression by itself without reference to the national press or media system
has no definition or clarity. An unclear definition of freedom of expression can lead to government
control over the media and has been a part of the English-speaking Caribbean ever since the region
was colonized by the British hundreds of years ago. For example, Rosa M. González (1996) in
Media and Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean, outlined some of the major problems
39
and threats to freedom of expression, which is disrupted by the perpetuation of regulations for
broadcasting (radio and television) by authoritarian regimes authorizing arbitrary action and
control agencies using discretionary powers to harass the media. Problems and threats to freedom
of expression also include the persecution and pursuit of journalists, with their freedom, security,
and even lives being threatened (González, 1996). In addition, the author pointed out that appeals
are made to the judicial power to force journalists to reveal their information sources.
However, John Lent (1990) in Mass Communication in the Caribbean, noted that former
British colonies (English-speaking countries) in the Caribbean (including The Bahamas), have
been among the territories of the world in the process of redefining the concepts of press freedom
inherited from their mother countries. In The Bahamas the extent of freedom of expression as it
relates to the press can be questioned, because in the Bahamian state model, the government
regulates its own television and radio stations, and even its public relations firm. Governments in
the English-speaking Caribbean have made concerted efforts to own and control as many media
as possible or to make them become part of private business concerns tied to, or dependent upon
government, which includes the practice of information control and dissemination, even via private
television and radio stations (Lent, 1990). According to Lent (1990), governments of the former
British colonies in the Caribbean act as benevolent dictators by asking the mass media to show
restraint in criticizing government and at the same time to promote national goals and identities.
However, in The Bahamas following suggestions for a free press, The Bahamas’ Constitutional
Review Commission (a committee appointed to revise the constitution) has for several years been
in the process of amending the Constitution to include freedom of the press as part of the principle
of freedom of expression (Dames, 2006). The process to amend the Constitution to include
freedom of the press was welcomed by many Bahamian journalists. According to Carlton Smith,
40
former deputy general manager of news at the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas,
enshrining freedom of the press in the Constitution “would be a significant accomplishment in
helping to promote true democracy and assist in the national development of our country” (Dames,
2006). National development in The Bahamas has brought much progress to media in the country,
which can be seen in the number of newspapers, radio stations and television stations known
throughout the country.
A Summary of the Bahamian National Media System
From the birth of the first newspaper, The Bahama Gazette, to the birth of the first radio
station, ZNS Radio, The Bahamas boasts of a rich history in mass communication. The country
has an ample amount of newspapers, radio stations, and television stations, which presents
competition, but Bahamian media is not rated and ranked like media in the United States. In an
interview an anonymous private media owner, who is also a participant in this research, said
Bahamian media are not concerned about ratings like the United States because people read
Bahamian newspapers and tune in to the local radio and television stations because they believe
the information is compelling and adhere to the standards of decency and fair play, which are a
part of a code of ethics (personal communication, January 8, 2014). Therefore, Bahamians were
compelled to embrace mass media in the country, since its inception, because of the information
presented and the media’s ethical standards. The inception of mass communication began in The
Bahamas when American loyalist John Wells started the first newspaper, The Bahama Gazette in
1784 (Pactor, 1985). The Bahama Gazette was a four-page folio size newspaper published weekly
until 1790, when it became a bi-weekly (Craton, 1962). According to Storr (2000), since 1784
newspapers developed in the country mostly in the hands of private ownership. During the period
1784-1956 there were forty-four newspapers in The Bahamas (Pactor, 1985).
Only two
41
newspapers survived from the nineteenth century, the Bahama News, started in 1897, and The
Nassau Guardian, started in 1844 (Storr, 2000). The author noted that the Bahama News died in
1901 and was restarted by new ownership in 1934. Currently, there are eight privately owned
newspapers: The Nassau Guardian, The Tribune, The Bahama Journal, The Punch, The Freeport
News, The Eleutheran, The Abaconian, and The Exuma Breeze (see Table 1). The first four
newspapers listed (The Nassau Guardian, The Tribune, The Bahama Journal, & The Punch) are
the major national newspapers of The Bahamas and, with the exception of The Punch, they
circulate daily throughout the archipelago. The Freeport News, The Eleutheran, The Abaconian,
and The Exuma Breeze are smaller newspapers circulating primarily on the island of their origin.
For example, The Freeport News is distributed daily to more than 18,000 people on the island of
Grand Bahama (The Freeport News). Most of the current newspapers in The Bahamas were started
by local Bahamian families and it is common for a newspaper’s ownership to be passed down
through the families’ generations. According to Philip Meyer (1987) in Ethical journalism: A
Guide for Students, Practitioners and Consumers, traditionally, newspapers have been family
operations, with the owning family having long and close association with the town where the
newspaper is published. Such an arrangement gives the owners high visibility in their communities
and, for some, at least, a reason to take personal pride in their product (Meyer, 1987). He added
that this personal pride, more than economic considerations, motivates newspaper owners toward
professionalism and editorial excellence.
42
Table 1. Newspapers in The Bahamas. Currently, there are eight privately owned newspapers in The
Bahamas. The newspapers are distributed daily, biweekly, monthly and bimonthly. The country has one
tabloid newspaper.
Newspapers
Frequency/Category/
Circulation
Owner
Headquarters
1. The Nassau
Guardian
Daily
13,000 – 15,000
Emanuel Alexiou &
Anthony Ferguson
Nassau, Bahamas
2. The Tribune
Daily
15,000 – 21,000
Daily
4,000
The Tribune Limited
Nassau, Bahamas
Jones
Communications
Limited
Ivan Johnson
Nassau, Bahamas
The Nassau
Guardian
Spice Media Group
Freeport, Bahamas
Eleuthera, Bahamas
Bradley Albury
Abaco, Bahamas
Dwight C. Hart
Exuma, Bahamas
3. The Bahama Journal
4. The Punch
5. The Freeport News
6. The Eleutheran
7. The Abaconian
8. The Exuma Breeze
Biweekly/Tabloid
20,000
Daily
4,000
Monthly
3,000
Bimonthly
7,000
Monthly
3,500
Nassau, Bahamas
Source: Compilation by author
According to the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA), the organization
responsible for licensing the country’s electronic communications, The Bahamas has forty-three
licensed radio stations (see Table 2). Six of the radio stations are owned by the government’s BCB
and the others are privately owned by media companies and other organizations. Radio
broadcasting began in The Bahamas on May 12, 1937 when the colonial government launched
ZNS (Zephyr Nassau Sunshine) Radio as part of the Telegraph Department, just in time for the
coronation of Britain’s King George V (ZNS Bahamas). The BCB operates several radio stations:
1540 AM, 1240 AM, 810 AM, 104.5 FM, 107.1 FM and 107.9 FM. Since 1994, ZNS has operated
the Parliamentary Channel on cable channel 40, covering proceedings in the House of Assembly
and Senate on behalf of the government of The Bahamas (ZNS Bahamas). In October 2010 ZNS
43
underwent a restructuring exercise to become the nation’s official public service broadcaster (ZNS
Bahamas). The BCB is governed by a five-member board of directors appointed by the governorgeneral on the advice of the prime minister (ZNS Bahamas). Currently, the board reports to a
cabinet minister responsible for broadcasting (ZNS Bahamas). According to Lent (1977), the
minister responsible for broadcasting in The Bahamas is provided with wide administrative powers
under the Broadcasting Act, which was revised in 1969 (p. 269). But, in 2009 the government
reformed the country’s communication sector and established URCA, which is responsible for the
regulation of all radio, television and other electronic media (e.g. telephone & internet) (URCA &
ZNS Bahamas).
To assist with the regulation of the country’s electronic media, URCA published its Code
of Practice for Content Regulation in 2012 (URCA). According to URCA, the code establishes
regulatory standards and boundaries across six core content areas, which include (1) harm and
offence, (2) protection of young persons, (3) political broadcasts and political advertisements, (4)
advertising and sponsorship, (5) news and factual programs, and (6) access services. In requiring
broadcasters to adopt responsible policies through scheduling, advisories and program
classifications, the code sets out standards for the protection of young persons, in order to limit the
exposure of children to potentially harmfully or unsuitable broadcasts (URCA). For example, the
code establishes a watershed period, commencing at 9:00 p.m. on any given evening and ending
at 5:00 a.m. the following morning (URCA). Material that is unsuitable for children may only be
broadcast during this watershed period (URCA).
The Bahamas has six television stations (see Table 3) providing local programming, but
according to URCA, there is only one licensed television station, ZNS-TV 13, and the other
stations/television channels (JCN, NB12, BCN, Parliament 40, & Bahamas Real Estate Channel)
44
are content providers. These stations/television channels (JCN, NB12, BCN, Parliament 40, &
Bahamas Real Estate Channel) provide television content through Cable Bahamas and are
privately owned, except Parliament 40, which is operated by the government’s BCB. Cable
Bahamas began in 1995 and provides cable television services throughout the entire archipelago
(Cable Bahamas). In December 2014, the Bahamas Telecommunications Company launched BTC
TV, which will offer a channel line-up of local, international, and regional content (The Bahama
Journal). Currently, one hundred residents on the island of Bimini are testing BTC TV free of
charge and in March 2015 BTC will commercially launch its television services on the island (The
Bahama Journal).
However, of the listed television stations, only three (ZNS-TV 13, JCN,
NB12) provide daily news broadcasts. The journalists primarily from those three television
stations and their affiliate newspapers and radio stations were used as participants in this research,
in addition to The Tribune and its affiliated radio stations.
Table 2. Radio Stations in The Bahamas. Currently, there are 43 radio stations in The Bahamas and
the majority are privately owned. The government’s Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas owns six
radio stations. The list of radio stations in The Bahamas was taken from the Utilities Regulation and
Competition Authority (URCA) public register of individual licensees and class licensees requiring
registration.
Radio Stations
Licensee/Owner
Location
1. Hot 91.7 FM
2. Joy 101.9 FM
3. Infolight 90.1 FM
Associated Media Group Ltd.
Bahamas Free Press Ltd.
Bahamas National Library
Service/MOE/UNESCO
Bartlett-McWeeney
Communications Ltd.
Calvary Bible Church
Cathedral of Olive
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
4. GEMS 105.9 FM
5. 89.1 FM
6. Radio Andros 88.5
FM
7. Island 102.9 FM
8. Splash 89.9 FM
9. Spirit Gospel
Splash 92.5 FM
Carter Broadcasting Bahamas
Ltd.
Christopher J. Forsythe
Trading As: Splash FM
Christopher J. Forsythe
Trading As: Splash FM
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Andros, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Eleuthera, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
45
10. 95.5 FM
11. Y 98.5 FM
12. Classical 98.1 FM
13. Trinity 107.3 FM
14. Glory 93.9 FM
15. Cool 96.1 FM
16. 98.3 The Breeze FM
17. ZSR 103.5 FM
18. 89.7 FM
19. Coast 106.1 FM
20. Global 99.5 FM
21. Guardian Talk Radio
96.9 FM
22. Dove 103.7 FM
23. Mix 102.1 FM
24. 101.1 FM
25. Love 97.5 FM
26. Lyfe 90.9 FM
27. More 94.9 FM
28. 99.1 FM
29. 98.7 FM
30. Star 106.5 FM
31. Radio Abaco 93.5 FM
32. 91.1 FM
33. 105.1 FM
34. SBC 88.3 FM
35. 810 AM
36. 1240 AM
Christopher J. Forsythe
Trading As: Splash FM
Christopher J. Forsythe
Trading As: Splash FM
Classical FM Bahamas Ltd.
DC Productions Limited
DK Communications Limited
Dovoro Limited
Dwight C. Hart
Frank Rutherford & Philip
Smith/Navette Broadcasting
& Entertainment Company
Limited
Genesis Academy Limited
George O. Harris/ ADVO
Enterprises
Global Communications
Network
Guardian Radio Ltd.
Infinity Communications Ltd.
Intercity Broadcasting Group
Ltd.
J.K. Communications
Network Limited
Jones Communications
Limited
LYFE Broadcasting Network
Limited
More FM Company Limited
Neverland Productions
Limited
New Wave Communications
Pure Gold Investment
Limited
Radio Abaco
Radio Abaco
Sheena Carroll Enterprises
Ltd.
South Bahamas Conference
of Seventh Day Adventists
The Broadcasting
Corporation of The Bahamas
The Broadcasting
Corporation of The Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Freeport, Bahamas
Exuma, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Inagua, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Freeport, Bahamas
Freeport, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Abaco, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Abaco, Bahamas
Abaco, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Freeport, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
46
37. The National Voice
1540 AM
38. Power 104.5 FM
39. 107.1 FM
40. Inspiration 107.9 FM
41. Peace 107.5 FM
42. 100.3 Jamz FM
43. BBN 102.3 FM
The Broadcasting
Corporation of The Bahamas
The Broadcasting
Corporation of The Bahamas
The Broadcasting
Corporation of The Bahamas
The Broadcasting
Corporation of The Bahamas
The Mckinney Media Group
Tribune Radio Limited
Turning Point Radio
Bahamas Limited.
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Source: URCA - Used with permission
Table 3. Bahamas TV Stations & Content Providers. The Bahamas has six local television
stations and content providers. According to URCA, ZNS TV-13 is the only licensed television station in
The Bahamas and it is owned by the government’s Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas. The other
television stations are privately owned content providers that provide local programming through Cable
Bahamas.
TV Stations &
Content Providers
1. ZNS TV-13
2. JCN Channel 14
3. NB12
4. BCN
5. Parliament 40
6. Bahamas Real Estate
Channel
Owner
Headquarters
The Broadcasting
Corporation of The Bahamas
Jones Communications
Limited
Cable Bahamas
Bahamas Christian Network
The Broadcasting
Corporation of The Bahamas
Cable Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Abaco, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
Source: Compilation by author
Theoretical Support for a Nation-Specific Code of Ethics
Post-colonial theorist and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, who was concerned about the
psychopathology of colonization and the human, social, and cultural consequences of
47
decolonization, wrote the book A Dying Colonialism, where he discussed the effects of colonialism
in Algeria. Fanon’s (1965) study indicates that colonialism changes a nation’s language, ideas,
customs, and laws. For example, he explained that the officials of the French administration were
committed to destroying the colonized society’s originality and were instructed to bring about
disintegration at whatever cost. To accomplish this, he argued that the colonial administration
defined a political doctrine, which was to destroy the structure of a society and its capacity for
resistance by conquering the societies weakest, which included the women. French colonialism
has always developed on the assumption that it would last forever, according to the author. Fanon
(1965) explained that the structures built within the colonized society, the port facilities, the
airdromes and the prohibition of the native language, often gave the impression that the enemy
(colonial administration) committed himself, compromised himself, half lost himself in his prey,
precisely in order to make any future break, or any separation impossible. According to Fanon
(1965), the colonized person is like the men in underdeveloped countries or the disinherited in all
parts of the world, who perceives life not as flourishing and developing productively, but as a
permanent struggle against an omnipresent death. This death refers to the effects colonization has
on a country’s national identity by threatening a nation’s culture and community structure, which
eventually dies. French colonialism resulted in the separation of families and fragmenting them,
with the sole objective of making any cohesion impossible (Fanon, 1965).
According to Fanon (1965), colonialism wanted everything (e.g. laws, culture, and
language) in a society to be associated with it. However, in some societies the colonized were
sensitive and aware that the colonizers raged at “always doing them good in spite of themselves”
(Fanon, 1965, p. 63). As a result, the author explained that the colonized would sometimes reject
the values of the colonizer, even if the values were worth choosing. Fanon (1965) further explained
48
that the doctrinal assertions of colonialism in its attempt to justify the maintenance of its
domination almost always pushed the colonized to the position of making uncompromising, rigid,
static, counter-proposals. However, in The Bahamas, British colonialism did not last forever and
since independence Bahamians have turned away from some if its British values and are
continuing to develop its own national identity. For example, as a way to get rid of British values,
for several years Bahamians have been petitioning to remove the British Privy Council as the
country’s highest court because it is too remote, not fully appreciative of Bahamian attitudes and
circumstances, and the Privy Council wants to get rid of capital punishment (Foulkes, 2006).
Colonialism was designed to control and change the national identity of a nation and because of
this Bahamian journalists should not adopt a code of ethics from its mother country, Britain.
Adopting a code of ethics from Britain would show that Bahamian journalists are identifying
themselves with British journalists and not developing their own national identity as Bahamian
journalists. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) may have high ethical standards for its
journalists, but that does not mean Bahamian journalists should copy the BBC’s code of ethics.
The Bahamas is now an independent nation, therefore drafting a nation-specific code of ethics
suitable for the environment journalists work in would be more applicable for The Bahamas.
However, another post-colonial theorist Albert Memmi (1965) argued in The Colonizer
and the Colonized, that the most serious blow suffered by the colonized is being removed from
history and community. A colonized society is a diseased society in which internal dynamics no
longer succeed in creating new structures (Memmi, 1965).
For example, the native
people/colonized can no longer control how their society is governed and their opinions concerning
the development of their country has no value. Also, the culture, language, and laws of the mother
country (e.g. Britain) becomes embedded into the colonized society. In The Bahamas, the English
49
language became the sole practical means of communication for Bahamians because of the British
colonizers. Even the structure of media organizations and the content of the media becomes
embedded into the colonized society and resembles the media of the mother country. Like
Britain’s British Broadcasting Corporation, Bahamians also have the Broadcasting Corporation of
The Bahamas, which began after the colonial government started ZNS. As a result, the “centuryhardened” face of the colonized society becomes a mask under which it slowly smothers and dies
(Memmi, 1965). The post-colonial theorist explained that the colonized society becomes indulged
in the customs of the mother country and tend to forget its own customs, therefore such society
cannot dissolve the conflicts of generations because it cannot be transformed. For example, during
the colonial era in The Bahamas, the ruling culture was British and the colonists adhered to the
British customs and laws. Following colonialism, the British left their English language, former
culture, and laws with Bahamians. This is one of the reasons why the Bahamian government is
modeled after the British government and the media laws are still the same as the British common
law, even after independence.
European colonialism also introduced mass media to some of the countries it colonized.
When mass media entered the Caribbean region, they certainly did not represent cultural
institutions with which West Indians could identify (Lent, 1990). Instead, they were a means, as
noted by Fanon (1965), for the colonizers to keep in touch with their civilization. Also, the media
were elite-oriented in colonized countries and made the colonizers feel close to their homeland
(Lent, 1977). When referring to the radio as the media, Fanon (1965) said, “In the hinterland, in
the so-called colonization centers, it [radio] is the only link with the cities, with the metropolis,
with the world of the civilized. It [radio] is one of the means of escaping the inert, passive and
sterilizing pressure of the native environment. It [radio] is, according to the settlers’ expression,
50
the only way to feel like a civilized man” (p. 71). Similarly, in the Caribbean once the colonial
press/media was setup in the latter nineteenth century, they were more oriented to linking the
islands to the outside world rather than to one another (Lent, 1990). The colonial press was not
designed initially for the local people, but rather for the colonists, to keep them updated with the
news in their countries (Lent, 1990). For example, according to the history of the Broadcasting
Corporation of The Bahamas, radio broadcasting began in The Bahamas in 1937 when the colonial
government launched ZNS Radio as part of the Telegraph Department, just in time for the
coronation of Britain’s King George V (ZNS Bahamas). ZNS Radio programming consisted of
BBC news, local news, and musical recordings from the BBC (ZNS Bahamas). In addition, the
British standard of journalism, which includes language use and writing style was also left in The
Bahamas. For example, in The Bahamas it is mandatory for the press to use the British style of
English with regards the spelling of words, grammar, and punctuation when writing. In most
newsrooms, the American English style is not encouraged, even though some media companies
tend to use it because of the influence of the American culture on The Bahamas. However,
although the effects of colonialism (e.g. English language and laws) are still in The Bahamas, a
“cookie-cutter” approach should not be considered for a code of ethics for The Bahamas because
what works for British journalists may not work for Bahamian journalists. The British society and
the Bahamian society are totally different, therefore, a nation-specific code of ethics is needed for
Bahamian journalists.
A Code of Ethics as a Measure for Professionalism
A code of ethics provides no legal protection for journalists, and it would not protect
journalists from being challenged by the government, but it can enhance the professional standards
51
of Bahamian journalists.
In Contemporary ethical issues: Journalism Ethics a Reference
Handbook, Elliot D. Cohen and Deni Elliott (1997) explained that code rules are not always
enforceable, but a code of ethics play several important roles in a profession. First, a professional
code of ethics provides a sense of professional identity for practitioners and signalizes the maturity
of the profession (Cohen & Elliott, 1997). The authors argued that the existence of a code of ethics
is a healthy sign that those who practice a certain art or science have developed a unified
understanding and image of what is expected of them and, indeed, of what they should expect of
themselves. For example, organizations such as The Bahamas Association of Journalists and The
Bahamas Press Club 2014 have acknowledged that a code of ethics provides a sense of professional
identity and as mentioned earlier, both organizations have plans to draft a code of ethics for
journalists in the near future. Second, codes of ethics promote professional autonomy by providing
a framework for self-regulation (Cohen & Elliott, 1997). As mentioned earlier, the Constitution
of The Bahamas grants freedom of expression and with such freedom comes the responsibility for
journalists to act wisely. Therefore, a nation-specific code of ethics would provide a framework
for journalists to fulfill this responsibility. Third, a code of ethics can provide important guidelines
for helping practitioners in making ethical-decisions (Cohen & Elliott, 1997). For example, the
journalists and media practitioners (e.g. Ortland H. Bodie), who faced ethical dilemmas in the case
studies presented previously, would benefit from a nation-specific code of ethics because it would
provide guidelines to assist with their ethical decision-making.
However, codes of ethics are not
intended to offer algorithms for ethical decision-making (Cohen & Elliott, 1997). Cohen and
Elliott (1997) explained that aspiring to journalistic codes depends much upon journalistic insight,
careful reasoning, knowledge and experience, which no code of ethics alone could provide.
Therefore, a code of ethics alone will not prevent Bahamian journalists from being faced with
52
ethical dilemmas, but it can be effective if journalists agree to follow it and based on their ethical
experiences, use it as a measure for reasoning.
Media Ethics & Bahamian Law: They are Different
According to Cohen and Elliott (1997), journalism ethics is different from law and
constitutionally acceptable laws relating to the publication of material allow for punishment after
the fact, but not for prior restraint. They explained that news organizations can be punished for
printing material that is false and damaging or for printing true information that unjustifiably
violates the privacy of the individual. However, the authors acknowledged that some of the ethical
dilemmas that arise in journalism relate to publication of material that is likely to result in libel or
an invasion of privacy lawsuit. Yet, without being a potential legal problem, the published material
or process of gathering information for a story can have long-lasting detrimental effects on
individuals or on the community (Cohen & Elliott, 1997). For this reason, the authors explained
that the published material or process of gathering information for a story can still be ethically
problematic. The media laws of The Bahamas are based on libel, defamation, and slander. While
there are other laws concerning media in The Bahamas, breaches of these laws, especially libel are
the most common reason why journalists can be charged with contempt of court. According to
the Libel Act of The Bahamas, if a newspaper is charged for libel, the defendant may plead that
the information was written without malice and neglect and pay the court to make amends. Also,
according to the act, the defendant can offer an apology for the damages. The following case
studies show illustrations of a journalist who was held in contempt of court after reporting false
information and another journalist who was charged for publishing a defaming headline, which
was considered as “criminal libel”:
53
On April 9, 2013 The Bahama Journal news reporter Korvell Pyfrom was held in contempt
of court after reporting false information. Pyfrom’s false report claimed that murderer
accused Kofe Goodman, who was accused of the murder of 11-year-old Marco Archer,
was also charged with two additional murders. Pyfrom was summoned to appear before
the court because Goodman was not charged with two additional murders, making the
information false. The false information was also broadcast on Love 97.5 FM on April 8,
2013 the same day Goodman’s trial was supposed to begin. As a result of Pyfrom’s false
reporting, the CEO of Jones Communications and The Bahama Journal, Wendall Jones,
was ordered to appear before the Supreme Court Justice where he had to make an apology
to the court. (Source: The Nassau Guardian – April 17, 2013)
On November 7, 1986 Lionel Dorsett, editor of The Torch, published an intentional
headline defaming former Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling. The headline stated, “The
country wants to know: Is the chief still a thief?” The Torch was the Free National
Movement’s newspaper. According to The Tribune reports, as a result of the publication,
Dorsett was taken before the courts in 1987 and charged with the offence of “criminal
libel.” The case was heard first in the Magistrate’s Court and the court docket stated that
the headline meant Prime Minister Pindling was guilty of a crime of stealing. According
to an editorial letter written in The Tribune, Dorsett made a statement questioning the
integrity of former Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling therefore, he was threatened with
seven years’ imprisonment without the possibility of parole. However, the prosecution did
not produce any evidence that Dorsett published the November 7 edition of The Torch.
Dorsett’s lawyer Harvey Tynes said the fact that Dorsett’s name appeared on the masthead
as editor is not evidence of publication and there is no evidence of unlawfulness.
(Source: The Tribune – March 17, 1987 - March 23, 1987 – August 19, 2006)
The distinction between what is legally restricted and what is ethically appropriate can be
analyzed with the previous case studies. In the first case study, Korvell Pyfrom reported false
information, claiming that murderer accused Kofe Goodman, who was accused of the murder of
11-year-old Marco Archer, was also charged with two additional murders. The false information
was published in The Bahama Journal and broadcast on Love 97.5 FM. According to Cohen and
Elliott (1997), how the decision-makers in news organizations choose to exercise restraint over
what is published and what is not is far more often a matter of ethics than law. Therefore, the
publishing and broadcasting of the false information is a matter of ethics and not law. Pyfrom’s
ethical dilemma became a legal matter after he was summoned to appear before the court
54
concerning the publishing and broadcasting of the false information. In the second case study
Dorsett’s decision to publish the defaming headline, “The country wants to know: Is the chief still
a thief?” was the ethical problem. Dorsett’s ethical decision to publish the headline resulted in a
legal matter after he was charged with criminal libel and threatened with a prison sentence. Libel,
defamation and slander are considered as unethical practices for journalists and in The Bahamas
journalists can be punished by the law for such actions; therefore there is a potential for a
prospective code of ethics to help journalists make justifiable decisions, even though a code will
not provide protection from the law and government.
In an interview Storr explained that a code of ethics for Bahamian journalists should not
be driven by the government; instead, she argues it should be driven by industry, media owners,
and practitioners. Englehardt and Barney (2002) explained that unless journalists establish binding
professional requirements, such as a code of ethics, legislators and the courts will seek to establish
restrictions for the media. Jones (1980) found that codes of ethics formulated by outside bodies,
whether they be government, consumer groups, or anyone else, are over-weighed in their
protection of the consumer or the government and can operate against the media even when the
latter are functioning in full accord with their own clearly defined ideals and ethics. It is true that
such outside codes came into being as a result of some feeling dissatisfied, real or imaginary,
justified or unjustified, over the performance of the media (Jones, 1980). This is particularly true
if the ruling power in government terms is unduly sensitive to criticism (Jones, 1980). As a result,
the author the author said it is likely to have strong opposition, even resentment, from media
practitioners, and media owners. In agreement, the Caribbean journalists who opposed the
Grenadian government’s move to draft a code of ethics for Grenadian journalists, argued in the
Jamaica Gleaner’s article, that governments should be encouraged to divest their holdings in
55
media houses and where governments own media, those should be free from political control
relating to content and policy.
Furthermore, it is important that a code of ethics originates from inside the industry and is
supported by academia, so it is distinct from the government. A code of ethics supported by
academia would help journalism students to systematically work through ethical dilemmas
(Brown, 2011). If Bahamian journalists would formulate a code of ethics for themselves it would
provide a better pathway for communication and dissemination of news. Journalists would also
be respected more by individuals in society and by politicians. A code of ethics would help to
better prepare students to work as journalists in the country. When broadcasting began in The
Bahamas in 1937, many journalists who entered the field at that time were trained on-the-job and
journalism was considered a trade. Lent (1977) pointed out that Caribbean journalists were trained
mostly on the job and the majority of journalists in the Commonwealth Caribbean qualified for
their positions through practical media experience. In The Bahamas, ZNS instituted a year-long
training program in 1971 that consisted of three stages (Lent, 1977). The author pointed out that
the first stage was a ten-week orientation, which introduced student journalists to all aspects of the
company. During the second stage, he noted that the students received basic training for sixteen
weeks in news, production, and control room procedures. The final stage concentrated on a
“deeper involvement of the student in the operations of the station” and after the successful
completion of the program the students were offered employment with ZNS (Lent, 1977).
Additionally, some Bahamian journalists who began their careers during the early years of
broadcasting in the country did not attend colleges and universities as a requirement to begin their
job and many who started off this way are known as the best veteran journalists in the country.
Journalists do not have to go to journalism school to be a good journalist, according to Albert
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Ilbargüen, president of the Knight Foundation (Connell, 2008). Lent (1990) mentioned that formal
mass media education in the English-speaking Caribbean was nearly nonexistent until 1974 when
a diploma program was instituted at the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica. The
diploma program became known as the Caribbean Institute of Mass Communication (CARIMAC)
(Lent, 1990). The College of The Bahamas (COB) was established in 1974 and for many years
COB offered an associate’s degree in journalism and mass communication (College of The
Bahamas). Assistant Professor of Communication at The College of The Bahamas Paola Alvino
explained via email that in 2011 COB launched its Bachelor of Arts program in media journalism,
which is a vocational program, partly focused on journalism training (personal communication,
June 23, 2014). Journalism is now professionalized and today, in order to begin a career as a
journalist in The Bahamas, most media companies require entry level reporters have an associate’s
or bachelor’s degree. “There is no major media house in the Caribbean now that advertises
vacancies without requiring at minimum a diploma in mass communication” (Lent, 1990). This
requirement has become relevant because journalism ethics and the need for professional training
has been taken into consideration. At CARIMAC undergraduate students are required to take a
course in media ethics and legal issues and at the College of The Bahamas journalism students are
required to take a media ethics and law class also (CARIMAC & College of The Bahamas). Many
journalists depend on the ethical practices that they were taught in college or university to assist
them while on the job. The employers are also more confident when hiring the reporter because
they are assured that the reporter has the ethical standards and training needed to be successful.
Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, explained that when hiring
journalists, he and news organizations are not only interested in the techniques students learnt, but
the content of what the students learnt (Connell, 2008).
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As mentioned earlier, politicians and government officials have criticized the media for
their ethical behavior on numerous occasions. Hence, the purpose of this research is to bring
awareness to the government, politicians and journalists so that they would see for themselves the
potential for a prospective code of ethics in The Bahamas. This research would demonstrate that
a nation-specific code of ethics is needed for Bahamian journalists as a measure to guide their
ethical behavior. Many Bahamian journalists receive their training at colleges in the United States
and Canada and they are taught media ethics based on the regulation of the media in those
countries. This is beneficial to the journalist, but upon their return home, the ethical practices
learned abroad are in conflict with some of the norms and laws practiced in The Bahamas.
Journalism ethics should take into consideration the local environment in which journalistic codes
are supposed to be applied and who they are supposed to apply to, otherwise one finds that the
codes are not universally applicable in the same way (Nassanga, 2008). Therefore, a nationspecific code of ethics drafted to suit the local environment for Bahamian journalists would be
beneficial instead of a code of ethics from another country because not all codes are universally
applicable. A nation-specific code of ethics would also assist with the professionalization of
Bahamian journalists. Therefore, in the next section a theory on professionalism and other ethical
theories used in journalism will be applied to more case studies to demonstrate how Bahamian
journalists can apply the theories to guide their decision-making.
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Ethical Theories
Many decisions journalists make are based on ethical theories, and the theories can be
applied to ethical dilemmas to justify a journalist’s decision. When theories are applied to ethical
situations it is known as applied ethics. In Journalism Ethics: A Casebook of Professional Conduct
for News Media, Fred Brown (2011) explained that applied ethics is the problem solving step in
an ethical situation and it provides road maps, using the rules of normative ethics (ethical theories)
as a guide, which shows how to arrive at a defensible solution to an ethical problem. Therefore,
in this section and throughout this research several ethical theories will be explained and applied
to the ethical dilemmas faced by some Bahamian journalists to illustrate and justify how the
journalists arrived at their decisions. This section will also indicate how Bahamian journalists can
use the ethical theories together to draft a code of ethics in the near future.
Social Capital Theory
A code of ethics can enhance the credibility and the social capital and power of journalists.
However, according to J. Clement Jones (1980) in Mass Media Codes of Ethics and Councils, a
code of ethics does not in itself offer any panacea, but it appears as a life-line tracing back to
responsibility and credibility. Having credibility would allow the public to trust journalists more
and they would be respected by society. Jones (1980) explained that it is the mass communicators
themselves throughout the world who will have to work out their own solutions with regards to
professional standards. Mass communicators have to work out their own solutions with regards to
professional standards because codes of ethics for journalists are not always universally applicable.
For example, a code of ethics in communist China may not be entirely applicable for journalists in
democracies like The United States and The Bahamas. As mentioned earlier, journalism ethics
59
should take into consideration the local environment in which journalistic codes are supposed to
be applied and who they are supposed to apply to, otherwise one finds that the codes are not
universally applicable in the same way (Nassanga, 2008). Therefore, the social capital theory can
be used to illuminate ethics as a professionalizing strategy for Bahamian journalists. Social capital
is defined as the resources inherent in social relations which facilitate collective action. According
to Nan Lin (2001), professor of sociology at Duke University, in his book Social Capital Theory:
A theory of Social Structure & Action, social capital is the investment in social relations with
expected returns in the marketplace. The market may be economic, political, labor, or community
and individuals engage in interactions and networking in order to produce profits (Lin, 2001).
Social capital is the expected collective benefits derived from the preferential treatment and
cooperation between individuals and groups. According to James Coleman (1988), an American
sociologist, social capital is not a single entity but a variety of different entities, with two elements
in common: they all consist of some aspect of social structures and they facilitate certain actions
of actors, whether persons or corporate actors, within the structure. Like other forms of capital,
social capital is productive, making possible the achievement of certain ends that in its absence
would not be possible (Coleman, 1988). Social capital refers to social relations that bring about
productive benefits and it also refers to the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the
quality and quantity of a society’s social interaction. Social capital resources include trust, norms,
and networks of association representing any group that gathers consistently for a common
purpose. A code of ethics is a social capital resource which represents a journalists’ association
or press club. Coleman (1988) pointed out that trust is necessary among members of a group or
an organization because without a high degree of trustworthiness among members of the group,
an organization could not exist. For example, if Bahamian journalists adhere to a code of ethics,
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there is a possibility that their credibility would increase and the public would be willing to provide
them with assistance for their stories because they would trust them. As mentioned earlier in the
discussion of media in a democracy, trust is important because the media has a decisive role in the
development of a democracy, which require the active participation of citizens.
Also, in
democratic countries the media keeps citizens engaged in the business of governance by informing,
educating, and mobilizing the public. Therefore, without trust, citizens won’t be able to make
well-informed decisions about voting and identify problems within a democratic society. When
norms exists and are effective, Coleman (1988) explained that they constitute a powerful, though
sometimes fragile form of social capital. The author added that norms as social capital not only
facilitates certain actions; it constrains others. For example, when considering journalistic norms,
if journalists dedicate themselves to practicing high ethical standards as a norm, they would
constrain themselves from careless reporting and always provide factual and accurate information.
According to Coleman (1988), social capital inheres in the structure of relations between
actors and among actors. He said it is not lodged either in the actors themselves or in physical
implements of production. Because purposive organizations can be actors (corporate actors) just
as persons can, relations among corporate actors can constitute social capital for them as well (with
perhaps the best-known example being the sharing of information that allows price-fixing in an
industry) (Coleman, 1988). For example, in journalism, media companies represent the actors
Coleman is referring to, and when media companies develop relationships with other media
companies, they generate social capital, which involves the sharing of news and information
among the companies. However, Lin (2001) provided four explanations as to why embedded
resources, such as information, in social networks enhance the outcome of actions. First, the flow
of information is facilitated (Lin, 2001). In the usual imperfect market situations, social ties
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located in certain strategic locations and/or hierarchical positions (and thus better informed on
market needs and demands) can provide an individual with useful information about opportunities
and choices otherwise not available (Lin, 2001). Coleman (1988) explained that information is
important in providing a basis for action and information can be acquired by use of social relations
that are maintained for other purposes. For example, a person who is not greatly interested in
current events but who is interested in being informed about important developments can save the
time of reading a newspaper by depending on a spouse or friends who pay attention to such matters
(Coleman, 1988). This form of social capital provides information that facilitates action (Coleman,
1988). Second, Lin (1988) argues that these social ties may exert influence on the agents (e.g.,
recruiters or supervisors of the organizations) who play a critical role in decisions (e.g., hiring or
promotion) involving the actor. Third, social ties, and their acknowledged relationships to the
individual, may be conceived by the organization or its agents as certifications of the individual’s
social credentials, some of which reflect the individual’s accessibility to resources through social
networks and relations – his or her social capital (Lin, 1988). “Standing behind” the individual by
these ties reassures the organization (and its agents) that the individual can provide added resources
beyond the individual’s personal capital, some of which may be useful to the organization (Lin,
1988, p. 20). Finally, Lin (1988) acknowledged that social relations are expected to reinforce
identity and recognition. The author asserts that being assured of and recognized for one’s
worthiness as an individual and a member of a social group sharing similar interests and resources
not only provides emotional support but also public acknowledgment of one’s claim to certain
resources.
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Social Capital Theory Applied to Bahamian Journalists
Social capital is productive and a code of ethics is one of the measures that can be used to
enhance the profession of Bahamian journalists. For example, in The Bahamas, a code of ethics
can enhance the social capital of Bahamian journalists by increasing their credibility, making them
more trustworthy, and providing them with the respect they need from the public. Many instances
have occurred in The Bahamas in which Bahamian journalists were arrested and threatened by
police officers while carrying out their jobs. In the following case study NB12 television station
cameramen were threatened with arrest from police officers while filming a robbery at a church.
The ethical dilemma arose after police officers suspected that the cameramen were filming the
Urban Renewal Centre, on private property, which serves as the community crime watch.
NB12 television station’s cameramen were filming outside the Yahweh House of Prayer
in Nassau following an armed robbery at the church. The Nassau Village Urban Renewal
Centre office is opposite the church and one of the police officers at the Centre confiscated
the camera from the cameramen. The police officer said that he would not return the
camera until he was able to see the footage on the camera. He threatened to arrest the
cameramen if any images of the Urban Renewal Centre were shown as part of the television
story. The police officer returned the camera after a complaint from NB12 and The Nassau
Guardian was filed to a senior police officer. (Source: The Nassau Guardian – November
22, 2013) (see Appendix A for further details)
If Bahamian journalists adhere to a code of ethics, it would help to enhance the
professionalism of journalists in the country and they would gain more respect from the public,
public figures and public officials. A code of ethics would not protect a journalist from arrest, but
it would serve as a guideline outlining the professional behavior of the country’s journalists.
According to media ethicist and author Stephen Ward, a code of ethics increases public and
professional accountability, articulate what journalists and newsrooms stand for, and allows the
public to hold journalists accountable. Professional development is one of the benefits of social
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capital and a code of ethics will allow journalists to understand their role in serving the public and
it would help journalists make ethical decisions in the public’s interest.
Because there is potential for a prospective code of ethics, meaning that there may not be
a nation-specific code of ethics for journalists in The Bahamas, Bahamian journalists can consider
drafting a code for themselves with the use of several ethical theories. Among the ethical theories
that can be used for a code of ethics for Bahamian journalists include the theories of Immanuel
Kant, Seyla Benhabib, John Rawls, John Stuart Mill, and Socrates. The theories of these ethicists
will serve as the framework in this research and it will demonstrate how the theories can be applied
to ethical situations. The five theories were chosen because Kant focuses on duty, Benhabib
focuses on care, Rawls focuses on justice and fairness and the need to protect the most vulnerable
in society, Mill focuses on utilitarianism and the “greater good”, and Socrates’ focus is on truth.
The theories are relevant to this study because they can all be applied to the ethical dilemmas of
journalists in The Bahamas, and they are vital to a prospective code of ethics for Bahamian
journalists that would help to justify the decisions journalists make. Kant’s categorical imperative
theory that focuses on duty will demonstrate human duty. This theory can be applied to journalists
in The Bahamas because Kant encourages people to act in accordance to the rules and principles
they believe they ought to follow. For example, according to some of the cases studies presented
in this research (see Chapter 1 & Appendix A), some Bahamian journalists believe that they have
a right to protect their sources. Therefore, Kant’s theory would help to create a code that would
justify a journalist’s decision to protect their sources, especially under conditions of anonymity.
Rawls’ theory of justice and fairness will demonstrate the need to protect the most vulnerable in
society. Rawls’ theory can be applied to journalists in The Bahamas because there have been cases
(see Chapter 1 & Appendix A) in the media where a sources’ views were not portrayed correctly
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and crime witnesses were not protected. Therefore, Rawls’ theory can be used to create a code
that would encourage Bahamian journalists to report fairly and exercise caution when reporting
cases involving crime witnesses. Benhabib’s “ethic of care” will show how a journalists should
show care for the society, their organization and their sources when covering a story. Benhabib’s
ethic of care can be applied to journalists in The Bahamas because cases have been discovered
(see Chapter 1 & Appendix A) where children involved in sex crimes were identified. As a result,
Benhabib’s theory can be used to create a code that would prevent Bahamian journalists from
revealing the identity of children involved in sex crimes. Mill’s theory will illustrate how
journalists make decisions to bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
Mill’s theory can be applied to journalists in The Bahamas because it would encourage journalists
to take actions resulting in the most good. According to the case studies (see Chapter 1 &
Appendix A), some Bahamian journalists are faced with situations where public officials and
public figures (e.g. police officers) try to prevent journalists from carrying out their duties.
Therefore, Mill’s theory would be used to create a code that would tell journalists to serve society
and make decisions in the public’s interest. Socrates will demonstrate a journalist’s duty to seek
the truth, be independent, and socially responsible. Socrates’ theory can be applied to Bahamian
journalists because, as illustrated in the case studies (see Chapter 1 & Appendix A), there were
times when inaccurate information was reported in the media. Therefore, a code of ethics using
Socrates’ theory would tell Bahamian journalists to report accurate information, revealing the truth
as much as possible. With the use of all the theories Bahamian journalists would be able to justify
their ethical decisions based on a code of ethics and according to the social capital theory a code
of ethics can help in professionalizing journalists.
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The Importance of Ethical Theories in Media Ethics
According to Philip Patterson and Lee Wilkins (2005), in The Handbook on Mass Media
Ethics, ethics means having a process to make rational choices between what is a journalist’s duty
and what is fair, between what is a morally justifiable action and what is not, and supporting an
individual moral compass. Elliot Cohen and Deni Elliott (1997) in Journalism Ethics: A Reference
Handbook, identified the duties of a journalist, which includes providing accuracy, justice
(fairness), having respect for liberty, humaneness, and being a stewardship of community
resources (most notably, a responsible press). Cohen & Elliott (1997) argued that professional
ethics in journalism is (1) the discipline or activity of studying the moral issues raised in
journalism, (2) the standards officially endorsed by the profession, especially those put forth in
codes of ethics promulgated by professional societies, (3) the standards actually acted on by most
journalists, or (4) the justified (valid) moral standards (duties, rights, virtues) that journalists ought
to abide by. Modern philosophers affirmed that people should be able to explain ethical decisions
to others (Patterson & Wilkins, 2005). According to Patrick Plaisance (2009) in Media Ethics:
Key Principles for Responsible Practice, ethics begins when elements of a moral system conflict.
Plaisance (2009) argued that the real work of ethics is a person’s ability to provide “complete”
accounts of both what he or she should do and why he or she should do it. That ability to explain
ethical choices is an important one for journalists, who, in the course of reporting a single story,
may have to make separate ethical decisions when dealing with sources, colleagues and ultimately
the public, which holds them accountable (Patterson & Wilkins, 2005). Ethics is about a person’s
thinking process and through solid and careful deliberation, a person should be able to explain the
normative duties about what he or she should do in a situation (Plaisance, 2009). Normative
completeness, which involves ethical theories, enables people to justify the moral judgments they
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arrive at on the basis of the facts that indicate their obligations (Plaisance, 2009). According to
Plaissance (2009), normative completeness refers to the real work of ethics, which is to provide
complete accounts of both what journalists should do and why they should do it. Therefore, when
journalists make ethical decisions they should be able to provide a complete account to justify their
behavior. After all, this topic is important because a journalist duty involves making ethical
decisions, which are based on ethical theories. As explained by Christians and Fackler (2011) in
Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning, a journalist’s duty to society is an increasingly
important dimension of applied ethics and has been highlighted for the media under the term
“social responsibility” (p. 20). Journalists, mainly in democratic countries, are held socially
responsible because they are expected to perform at a high ethical standard and the public has a
right to criticize them and complain if they fail to do so. Bernard Rubin (1978) in Questioning
Media Ethics, pointed out that in order for journalists to maintain the highest ethical standards,
journalists are urged to be unselfish, to avoid conflicts of interests, to seek news that serves the
public interest, to be accurate and objective, to separate clearly opinion from news reports, to offer
informed analysis, to “at all times…respect dignity, privacy, rights and well-being of people
encountered, not to “pander to morbid curiosity about details of vice and crime,” and to be “prompt
and complete” in correcting errors (p. 11). According to the Society of Professional Journalists
Code of Ethics, journalists should be accountable and abide by the same high standards to which
they hold others. A code of ethics is important to the field of journalism and when faced with an
ethical situation, it is very important for journalists to apply the ethical guidelines/theories to help
with their decision-making. Cohen and Elliott (1997) explained that ethical theories can be
invoked to justify a social institution or practice, which is then used to justify particular roles within
the institution, which in turn are used to justify particular actions that fall under those
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responsibilities. For example, ethical theories can be used to justify a free press, which is then
used to justify journalists’ role of zealously pursuing accuracy, which in turn establishes the
obligation to pursue the accuracy more aggressively than is permissible in everyday life, which,
finally, sometimes justifies particular acts of using deception to uncover vital information (Cohen
& Elliott, 1997). However, the ethical theories of Kant, Mill, Rawls, Benhabib and Socrates will
be discussed further and applied to the ethical situations of Bahamian journalists.
Kant - Deontology
German philosopher Immanuel Kant is considered as one of the best examples of a
deontological (legalistic, law-oriented) ethicist who believed that only an action taken out of selfimposed duty could be ethical and that any consideration of consequences either to self or to others
would nullify the action’s moral substance (Merrill, 1994). Such self-imposed duty is known as
human duty and Kant believed that persons, for example journalists, should have principles, rules,
or maxims, which they feel are their duty to follow (Merrill, 1997). Principles that journalists
should follow can be found in a code of ethics; for example, the British National Union of
Journalists Code of Conduct states, “A journalist shall strive to ensure that the information he or
she disseminates is fair and accurate” (Cohen & Elliott, 1997, p. 149). Kant believed following a
society’s laws is necessary, so order can be maintained (Peck & Reel, 2013). He also believed all
men are equal and no one should be treated as means to an end (Peck & Reel, 2013). Treating
someone as means to an end means disrespecting a person or taking advantage of someone.
Therefore, the foundation of Kant’s ethical theory was to have a basic respect for persons and
human dignity (Merrill, 1997). According Plaisance (2009), Kant declared, “We must strive to
treat others as ends in themselves and not solely as means for the attainment of our personal goals
or desires” (p. 54). Another way to express this principle as illustrated in Kant’s book titled Kant,
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translated by Gabriele Rabel (1963), his words said, “Act in such a way that you use man, in your
own as well as in any other person, always also as an end, never only as a means” (p. 160). Humans
are rational beings, meaning they are intellectual and can make sound judgments and decisions.
Therefore, not treating someone as means to an end involves respecting a person’s rationality and
not manipulating, using and taking advantage of someone for your personal purposes. Kant (1963)
explained that this principle is the supreme limiting condition of every man’s freedom. Kant’s
theory is not directed to journalists specifically, but it can be applied to the profession. As
mentioned earlier in Kant’s view, a person is ethical when they follow principles, rules, or maxims.
For example, a journalist is ethical if he or follows the principles of the journalism profession. The
Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics states, “Ethical journalists should treat
sources, subjects, and colleagues as human beings deserving respect.” This statement in the SPJ
Code of Ethics is based on Kant’s theory because it refers to treating humans with respect.
Therefore, a journalist can follow this code by showing compassion for persons affected by news
coverage and being sensitive when seeking photographs and interviews of persons affected by
news coverage.
Kant also believed that intentions and duties are morally relevant in determining morally
justifiable decisions. Kant gave intellectual substance to the golden rule by his categorical
imperative, which implies that what is right for one is right for all (Patterson & Wilkins, 2005).
He explained that a principle of command is an imperative and an imperative which commands a
certain behavior unconditionally, without regard to any special intention is categorical (Kant,
1963). As a guide for measuring moral actions, Kant’s duty-based categorical imperative states,
“Act on that maxim which you will become a universal law (Christians, Fackler, et al., 2011).”
The categorical imperative can also be expressed as, “Act as if the maxim which guides your action
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could by your will be transformed into a general law of nature” (Kant, 1963, p. 159). Lee Anne
Peck and Guy S. Reel (2013), in Media Ethics at Work: True Stories from Young Professionals,
noted that Kant’s categorical imperative asks us to act in a way that everyone would agree upon;
thus, everyone, following laws, would live in a free and equal society. If a person determines that
his or her decision could be applied universally, meaning the decision would be acceptable,
everyone may apply the decision as standards of behavior. For example, a maxim is a principle
that everyone can agree upon. Therefore, “Do not plagiarize,” for instance, could be considered a
maxim to keep in the media profession and it should be universal (Peck & Reel, 2013, p. 12). A
principle becomes acceptable when others acknowledge it, test it on their own situations, and if it
works the way it should, it becomes fully acceptable or applied universally.
Kant argued that the obligation of the morally acceptable conscience is to do duty for the
sake of duty (Christians, Fackler, et al., 2011). Kant (1963) wrote, “The concept of duty contains
that of a good will coupled with certain restrictions and obstacles, which let the good will shine
forth so much brighter.” According to Kant, only a good will is moral, and a good will is
determined by duty – not desire (Peck & Reel, 2013). Therefore, journalists believe that it is their
duty to serve society by followings the principles of journalism, which can be found in a code of
ethics. To report information accurately and fairly is a journalist’s duty. In Immanuel Kant, author
and professor of philosophy at the University of Tübingen Otfried Hӧffe illustrated three ways of
fulfilling moral duties. First, one can perform his duty while being ultimately guided by selfinterest (Hӧffe, 1994). This is the case for a businessman who, for fear of losing his customers,
gives honest advice even to inexperienced buyers (Hӧffe, 1994). Second, Hӧffe (1994) explained
that one can act in accordance with duty due to an inclination toward the duty, as is the case when
one helps someone in need for reasons of sympathy. Finally, the author argues that one can accept
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his duty purely “out of duty.” If what is morally acceptable is done, then a person’s conscience
has done its duty and the person who obeyed the morally acceptable also did his/her duty.
According to Kant’s theory, what is morally acceptable must be done even under the most extreme
conditions (Christians, Fackler, et al., 2011). People should do what is morally acceptable
regardless of the consequences that may follow because it is their duty as moral agents. People
adhere to what they believe is their duty - deontology.
Kant’s Application to Bahamian Journalists
Similarly, journalists have to do what is morally acceptable according to their profession
and code of ethics. According to Merrill (1994), Kant would tell journalists to have some a priori
principles, rules, or maxims to which they feel duty-bound to follow. These would be absolute
rational principles that serve as guides to ethical behavior (Merrill, 1994). As mentioned earlier,
Kant believes moral choices should be based on duty or on what one ought to do because one has
a duty to humanity to do so (Englehardt & Barney, 2002). According to Merrill (1994), Kant
would say that when a journalist, for example, is dedicated to duty to a maxim or ethical rule, that
person is freed from all natural motives and considerations that will in a sense imprison him or her
in a ceaseless lockstep of moral relativity and consequence prediction. Therefore, having a priori
journalistic principles, freely and rationally accepted, will liberate the journalist and lead to ethical
actions (Merrill, 1994). For example, in the following case study, Bahamian journalist and former
radio talk show host Obie Wilchcombe decided to uphold the journalistic principle that journalists
should protect their sources, after he was asked to reveal the identity of a source who provided him
with information. This can also be considered as a Kantian principle because Kant encourages
people to do what is right even under the most extreme conditions. According to Kant, a person
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should do something because it is the right thing to do, not because it appears the consequences
will be favorable (Englehardt & Barney, 2002):
In 2000, former More 94.5 FM radio talk show host and former senator Hon. Obie
Wilchombe was sentenced to four days in prison after he refused to identify the person who
gave him a note left by convicted murderer and suicide victim John Higgs Jr. Wilchcombe
read the note on his talk show and as a result, he was brought before the court and
questioned about the identity of the person who gave him the note. After refusing to reveal
his sources, the Coroner sentenced Wilchcombe to four days in prison on the grounds that
he refused to answer the question put to him by the Coroner. Several articles in The Nassau
Guardian stated that Wilchcombe was sentenced because he refused to reveal the location
of a meeting he had with a strange man who allegedly gave him the note written by Higgs.
According to Wilchcombe, he was protecting his sources and upholding the principle that
journalists do not have to reveal their sources. After Wilchcombe’s sentencing, many
journalists in The Bahamas were outraged and felt that their profession was being
threatened. Wilchcombe said that he was prepared to go to jail rather than reveal his
sources. (Sources: Fred Mitchell Uncensored.com – February 6, 2000 & The Nassau
Guardian – February 15, 2000 & February 4, 2000)
According to Merrill (1994), Kantian journalists would not act so as to bring about some kind of
consequence; rather, they would simply act in accordance with duty to a guiding principle. He
explained that Kant believed only an action taken out of self-imposed duty could be ethical and
that any consideration of consequences either to self or to others would nullify the action’s moral
substance. Therefore, Wilchombe was acting in accordance to his duty as a journalist when he
refused to reveal his source, which is considered as the ethical dilemma. He acted in accordance
to the journalistic principle, which gives journalists a right to protect their sources. This was
Wilchcombe’s duty to protect his source. Even though Wilchcombe was sentenced to jail, his
source was protected as a result of the principle he followed. According to Merrill (1994), Kant
would say that when a journalist, for example, is dedicated to duty to a maxim or ethical rule, that
person is freed from all natural motives and considerations that will in a sense imprison him or
her in a ceaseless lockstep of moral relativity and consequence prediction. He added that if
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journalists follow their rationally accepted principles, then they are ethical; if not, they are
unethical.
Mill - Utilitarianism
The doctrine of basic utilitarianism says the best course of action is the one that creates the
greatest benefit for everyone affected (Peck & Reel, 2013). John Stuart Mill was the best known
nineteenth century British philosopher and founder of the utilitarianism theory (Merrill, 1994).
The most influential work of Mill was his Utilitarianism, published in 1861 (Merrill, 1994). In
this book Mill outlined his ideas about the “greatest happiness of the greatest number” as a moral
principle, which was to be known as the principle of utility (Merrill, 1994). According to Mill
(1957) in Utilitarianism, the creed which accepts as the foundation of moral “utility” or the
“greatest happiness principle” holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote
happiness (p. 10). By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain: by unhappiness,
pain and the privation of pleasure (Mill, 1957). Mill’s principle of utility can also be interpreted
as, “Seek the greatest happiness for the aggregate whole” (Christians, Fackler, et al., 2011, p. 15).
The utilitarian doctrine is that happiness is desirable and the only thing desirable as an end; all
other things being only desirable as means to that end (Mill, 1957). Therefore, journalists can
apply Mill’s utilitarianism theory to their ethical decision-making by determining which course of
action would bring about the most happiness, or the greatest good to the greatest number of people.
Mill (1957) argued that no reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except that
each person, so far as he believes is to be attainable, desires his own happiness. This, however,
being a fact, people have not only all the proof which the case admits of, but all which is possible
to require, that happiness is a good, that each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the
general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons (Mill, 1957). Happiness has
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made out of its title as one of the ends of conduct and, consequently, one of the criteria of morality
(Mill, 1957). According to Plaisance (2009), Mill argued that pleasure alone is desired for its own
sake and constitutes the sole source of moral goodness. All actions then, must be evaluated on the
basis of how much overall pleasure they produce (Plaisance, 2009). Unlike Kant’s duty based
theory, which encourages people to follow principles, rules and maxims to guide their actions,
Mill’s theory encourages people to guide their actions based on the pleasure of seeking the greatest
happiness for the greatest number of people. Pleasure in Mill’s context did not mean the
satisfaction of vulgar impulses and animalistic desires; Mill argued that “virtue” also is desired as
a pleasing pursuit by more refined individuals (Plaisance, 2009, p. 9). Virtue, according to the
utilitarian doctrine, is not naturally and originally part of the end, but it is capable of becoming so:
and in those who live it disinterestedly it has become so and is desired and cherished, not as a
means to happiness, but as a part of their happiness (Mill, 1957). Mill also sought to show how
various pleasures should be ranked on more than just a qualitative basis (Plaisance, 2009). Mill
(1957) explained that some pleasures are more desirable and more valuable than others therefore,
it would be absurd that, while estimating all other things quality is considered as well as quantity.
Quality is essential to ethical decision-making and Mill believed quality should be factored into
the calculation of the greatest amount of happiness (Peck & Reel, 2013). For example, he said the
act of reading poetry was better (quality-wise) than playing “push-pin,” a silly game of the time,
although lots of people played push-pin (Peck & Reel, 2013, p. 14). Therefore, Mill’s theory goes
beyond the catchphrase “the greatest good for the greatest number” because quality is a factor
(Peck & Reel, 2013).
Utilitarianism is an ethical viewpoint and a notion well developed in philosophy
(Christians, Fackler, et al., 2011). There are many varieties of the utilitarianism theory, but they
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all hold in one way or another that we are to determine what is right or wrong by considering what
will yield the best consequences for the welfare of human beings (Christians, Fackler, et al., 2011).
Unlike Kant’s theory that tell people to act without considering consequences, Mill’s theory would
tell people to consider the consequences of their actions. According to Englehardt & Barney
(2002), utilitarianism is a branch of consequentialism that declares that an action, intention, or
principle should be judged by the overall immediate outcomes. In other words, something is good
if and only if it has, or tends to have good effects (Englehardt & Barney, 2002). The authors
explained that happiness, for example, would be the end result of good consequences, while
unhappiness would be the end result of bad consequences. As this theory relates to journalism,
utilitarian journalists might declare that deception (of sources) is often justifiable in the service of
the audience’s need for information, arguing that virtually any method of gathering information
from those who would hoard it in order to protect their power is justifiable (Englehardt & Barney,
2002). However, the authors added that most ethicists would agree that deceiving audiences is
rarely justified. They asserted that Kant would argue that it is right to always tell the truth and it
is right to avoid deceiving people. Utilitarians on the other hand, might justify deceiving people
when a greater public good is served by providing audiences with useful information (Englehardt
& Barney, 2002). In the utilitarian’s view, Christians, Fackler, et al. (2011) noted that the morally
right alternative produces the greatest balance of good over evil. All that matters ultimately in
determining the right and wrong choice is the amount of good promoted and evil restrained
(Christians, Fackler, et al., 2011). Therefore, Merrill (1994) explained that there are two varieties
of utilitarianism: act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. According to act utilitarianism, when
trying to determine what is the right thing to do, one should ask which act will bring about the
greatest happiness or good in a particular situation (Merrill, 1994). He expressed that in rule
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utilitarianism, which stems from Mill, decisions are made according to the rules we believe will
promote the greatest good for everyone. However, Christians, Fackler, et al. (2011) argued that
the principle of utility is still standard, but at the level of rules rather than specific judgments. The
act utilitarian may conclude that in one specific situation civil disobedience obtains a balance of
good over evil, whereas the rule utilitarian would seek to generate a broadly applicable moral rule
such as “civil disobedience is permitted except when physically violent” (Christians, Fackler, et
al, 2011, p. 15).
According to Merrill (1997), Mill can teach modern journalists many values, including (1)
that the happiness, good and welfare of others must be considered; (2) that freedom leads to the
general good by providing more avenues for action; (3) that knowledge is always incomplete and
a constant effort is needed to get it; and (4) that the freedom to choose and express opinions is
necessary if human potential is to be reached. Firstly, in a democracy, a journalist’s duty is to
serve the public, and in fulfilling this duty, the public’s welfare is considered. As discussed earlier,
the media promotes democracy by educating voters, protecting human rights, promoting tolerance
among social groups, and ensuring that governments are transparent and accountable (Coronel).
Secondly, a democracy cannot function without a free press, and in the earlier discussion on
democracy, it was mentioned that governments are not effective without a free press because the
press makes public officials aware of the public’s discontents and allows the government to rectify
its errors. Thirdly, a journalist’s duty involves a constant effort to seek information that would
provide knowledge to educate the public. As mentioned earlier, journalists provide the public with
information, which is essential to the health of democracy because it ensures that citizens make
responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Lastly, the
public has the freedom to express their freedom because the media provides a forum for public
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discussion and debate. Mill’s theory is teaching journalists to consider the public when making
decisions because the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people is the decision that
would make society happy. Christians, Fackler, et al. (2011) said although happiness is an end
few would wish to contradict, utilitarianism does present difficulties. It depends on making
accurate measurements of consequences, when in everyday affairs the result of choices is often
blurred vision, at least in the long term (Christians, Fackler, et al., 2011). According to Merrill
(1994), utilitarians make their ethical decisions on the basis of perceived consequences that would
bring happiness.
Mill’s Application to Bahamian Journalists
Mill’s theory of utilitarianism can be applied to media ethics in The Bahamas because some
Bahamian journalists are placed in situations where they have to make decisions to report stories
that would bring happiness to the “greater number of people” (public). The journalist’s decisions
have to sometimes be made in situations where he or she is restricted by editors who may be
disinterested in the story or have no desire to report stories that would bring happiness. In the
following case study, an anonymous Jones Communications Network news reporter faced a
dilemma after the editors refused to publish a story the reporter wrote about a boy surviving a
tragic car accident. According to the news reporter, she was disappointed because she went to a
great extent to write the story, which she thought would bring hope and happiness to the boy’s
family and others who read it. However, the editors refused to publish the story because the boy
did not die:
A former Jones Communications Network news reporter, in 2010, wrote a story on a young
man who stole his father’s car and got into a serious accident. The car was destroyed and
the young man actually survived the horrific accident. The reporter took photos of the
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accident and interviewed the young man’s family. The story was written and never
published in the newspaper, The Bahama Journal, neither was it broadcast on Love 97.5
FM, which are owned by Jones Communication Network. The reporter said she asked the
editors “why the story wasn’t published,” after she invested so much time and work to
ensure that the story was done perfectly. The editors told the reporter that “the story wasn’t
published because the young man didn’t die.” According to the reporter, “it was ridiculous
to have to wait until someone dies for a story to be considered as news.” The reporter said
this story would have “brought hope to someone because it was an inspirational story that
would uplift someone who was going through a similar situation.” Even though the story
was not published, the reporter stayed in contact with the young man’s father every day
until he was released from the hospital. The reporter expressed that “the editors believe
only negative stories such as the death of a person, should be broadcast on television and
published in the newspaper. The editors must realize that not everyone is interested in
hearing negative news.”
(Source: Interview with anonymous former Jones
Communications Network Reporter – January 10, 2014)
If the editors applied Mill’s theory to this case, the story would have been published because the
role of journalism in a society includes uplifting the human spirit through the dissemination of
stories about courage, hope and brotherly love. Mill noted that utilitarianism is a kind of synthesis
of Christianity and hedonism (Merrill, 1994). Christianity, according to Merrill (1994), urges a
person to love his or her neighbor and hedonism urges a person to love pleasure. Mill explained
that in utilitarianism, if an action maximizes pleasure among people, then it is moral, and the theory
says that it is a person’s duty to serve a quantitative standard of value (Merrill, 1994). Therefore,
the story would have been published if Mill’s theory was applied because not only would the news
reporter and the boy’s family be happy, the public would also gain happiness from the story
because the boy survived a life threatening accident. Mill would have individuals sublimate
personal happiness to the happiness of the whole (Merrill, 1994). Mill believed that pleasure is
the only desirable end, and the only proof that something is desirable is the fact that people desire
it, and every person’s pleasure (or happiness) is a good to that person, so the general happiness is
the largest good of all (Gordon, Kittross, & Reuss, 1996). Therefore, Bahamian journalists can
justify their decisions based on Mill’s theory if the outcome of their decision results in the greatest
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happiness for the greatest number of people. But, if a journalist is in a situation where Mill’s
theory does not work and Kant’s theory is also inapplicable, he or she can consider Rawls’ theory
of justice and fairness.
Rawls – Justice & Fairness
John Rawls, a Harvard philosopher, coalescing and rearranging the ideas of leading
thinkers of the past, provided a concept of justice that is often cited by media and ethicists as
helpful to journalists (Merrill, 1994). Unlike Kant who emphasizes on duty and Mill who seeks
happiness for the greatest number of people, Rawls’ theory can show journalists how to care for
the most vulnerable in society. Rawls’ popular book A Theory of Justice (1971) provides a view
of justice as fairness, which would be accepted by free and rational people from positions of
equality in which everyone is ignorant of their place in society – class positions, social status,
natural assets and abilities, intelligence, and the like (Merrill, 1994). According to Rawls (1971),
fairness means being just or right.
Rawls (1999) said, “My aim is to present a conception of
justice which generalizes and carries to a higher level of abstraction the familiar theory of the
social contract.” He explained, “In order to do this we are not to think of the original contract as
one to enter a particular society or to set up a particular form of government” (Rawls, 1999, p.
152). Rather, the guiding idea of the theory of justice is that the principles of justice for the basic
structure of society are the object of the original agreement (Rawls, 1999). Rawls argued for two
principles, equal liberty and democratic equality, which he believed lie at the heart of a just society.
The equal liberty principle states that each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive
basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others (Blocker & Smith, 1980). Basic liberties
include political liberty, freedom of speech and assembly, the right to hold personal property, and
freedom from arbitrary arrest (Rawls, 1971). According to the principle of democratic equality,
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social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) to the greatest benefit
of the least-advantaged and (b) attached to the offices and positions open to all under conditions
of fair equality of opportunity (Blocker & Smith, 1980). The formulation of the principles
presupposes that, for the purposes of a theory of justice, the social structure may be viewed as
having two more or less distinct parts (Rawls, 1999). “Thus we distinguish between the aspects
of the social system that define and secure the equal basic liberties and the aspects that specify and
establish social and economic inequalities” (Rawls, 1999, p. 53). According to Rawls (1999),
important among the basic liberties are political liberty (the right to vote and to hold public office)
and freedom of speech and assembly; liberty of conscience and freedom of thought; freedom of
the person, which includes freedom from psychological oppression and physical assault and
dismemberment (integrity to the person); the right to hold personal property and freedom from
arbitrary arrest and seizure as defined by the concept of the rule of law. The second principle
outlined by Rawls (1999) applies, in the first approximation, to the distribution of income and
wealth, and to the design of organizations that make use of differences in authority and
responsibility. While the distribution of wealth and income need not be equal, it must be to
everyone’s advantage, and at the same time, positions of authority and responsibility must be
accessible to all (Rawls, 1999). He explained that one applies the second principle by holding
positions open, and then, subject to this constraint, arranges social and economic inequalities so
that everyone benefits.
Rawls’ theory of justice and fairness challenges the idea of traditional liberal democracy,
and the idea of more conservative, free enterprise capitalism (Plaisance, 2009).
Having a
conservative, free enterprise capitalism involves the exclusion of the government from a private
company’s affairs. As it relates to the media, the government should have no control of the media
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and allow them to operate freely within a liberal democracy. Rawls seeks to achieve social justice,
with the highest social value placed on the needs of the most vulnerable in society. Rawls argues,
“We inevitably seek to protect the weaker party and to minimize risks” (Christians, Fackler, et al.,
p. 17). The vulnerable in society (weaker party) are referred to as the least-advantage and
according to Rawls (1999), this group includes persons whose family and class origins are more
disadvantaged than others, whose natural endowments (as realized) permit them to fare less well,
and whose fortune and luck in the course of life turn out to be less happy, all within the normal
range and with the relevant measures based on social primary goods.
To assist with the
interpretation of his theory, Rawls constructed the veil of ignorance, which was designed to
eliminate any opportunity for negotiators to try and angle for agreement on policies that they know
would benefit them at the expense of others (Plaisance, 2009). According to Rawls, the veil of
ignorance is implicit to Kant’s ethics (Merrill, 1994). Rawls said the principles the Kantian acts
on are not chosen because of the actor’s social position or natural endowments or because of the
kind of society in which the ethical dilemma occurs; for Kant, as for Rawls, what is chosen
(according to the categorical imperative) is a principle of conduct applying to a person because of
his or her nature as a free and equal rational being (Merrill, 1994). However, Rawls’ theory
stresses the word “equal.” The veil of ignorance also models the conditions of anonymity and the
exclusion of threat advantage. Rawls’ (1971) explained that the veil of ignorance ensures that no
one is advantaged or disadvantaged in the choice of principles by the outcome of natural chance
or the contingency of social circumstances. Since all are similarly situated and no one is able to
design principles to favor his particular condition, the principles of justice are a result of a fair
agreement or bargain (Rawls, 1999). In such situation of equality, a journalist, for example, would
determine the just thing to do by determining the fairest option (Merrill, 1994). The journalist
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would make the ethical decision divorced from any vested interests and by dispassionately
considering what is fair (Merrill, 1994). Such a theoretical technique would, presumably, protect
the interests of the most vulnerable or weakest of the parties involved (Merrill, 1994). The veil of
ignorance is a hypothetical condition imposed on people brought together to come up with basic
principles for their society that everyone will have to live by once the veil is lifted (Plaisance,
2009). When contracting parties make their agreement behind a veil of ignorance, they know
nothing about the particular individual each represents on his/her own, which includes the
individual’s gender, skin color, interests and temperament, or experience (Pogge, 2007). Plaisance
(2009) added that behind the veil, the negotiators have no particular knowledge about their own
backgrounds or personal details (e.g. sex, race, ability, social status) that would set them apart
from others and they are also ignorant about what their personal life goals may be. Because the
negotiators have no knowledge about each other, they become vulnerable because they have no
understanding about themselves and their future. The vulnerable can be minors who do not have
a full understanding about themselves and the elderly who have lost their understanding about life.
Therefore, the decision can be made to protect people like this.
Rawls’ Application to Bahamian Journalists
Plaisance (2009) further explained that behind the veil the negotiators have “general
knowledge” about how the world works, and they are informed about psychology, physics,
economics, and so on (p. 88). For example, in The Bahamas there is a concern for the media to
protect crime witnesses. In the following case study, the public became outraged after NB12
television station decided to show the face of a young man who was a witness to a sensitive
shooting. The dilemma arose because some members of the public felt that NB12 placed the
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witness’ life at risk by showing his face on television and there was a possibility of retaliation in
connection with the shooting:
On January 3, 2014 a gunman opened fire on patients at the Public Hospitals Authority
Community Counselling Assessments Centre on Market Street in Nassau. Police said that
one man was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The Nassau Guardian reported that
witnesses claimed that a second man was shot during the incident and ran from the scene
but police could not confirm this. However, NB12 television station, the sister company
of The Nassau Guardian, interviewed a young man, who witnessed the shooting; the media
outlet identified him as ‘Travis.’ Due to the sensitivity of this shooting, many people
became outraged because NB12 showed the young man’s face in the interview. Some
members of the public felt that NB12 should have blurred the witness’ face so he could not
be identified. Witnesses involved in murder cases risk their lives in The Bahamas because
there may be a retaliation if they are identified. (Sources: The Nassau Guardian – January
4, 2014 & YouTube Video – ‘National Advisory Council on Crime’ – NB12 Jan. 3, 2014
Newscast)
If Rawls’ theory is applied, the most vulnerable in society in this situation would be the
witness and journalists would seek to protect his identity. The most vulnerable party receives
priority in such cases, which can be children, the elderly, the disabled, or in this case someone
whose life could be at risk if they are identified. The media should not publish information to
harm such persons in the society because they are the most vulnerable and such persons for
example, a child, may not have a full understanding of the information published and the
consequences it can have on his or her future. According to Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport
(2013), the veil of ignorance means to treat all members of society equally, as if you did not know
who had a stake in an issue. Rawls would enjoin the journalist to ignore the differences of race
and class (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013). Therefore, in The Bahamas the media should
be careful about their portrayal of minority groups, such as Haitians and Jamaicans, which can
lead to prejudice and stereotyping.
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Benhabib – Ethic of Care
Seyla Benhabib was a political philosopher who sought to supplement universalism, an
impartialist ethic based on Kant, with an ethic of care that feminists theorists say is essential if
everyone’s moral standards are expected to reflect how they live their lives (Plaisance, 2009). For
example, if a man believes in love and the importance to show agape love to everyone, then he is
expected to show love through his actions. Agape love is as unconditional, unselfishness, otherregarding care, and other-directed love.
However, Benhabib’s internationalist perspective
provides a useful middle way approach that seeks to take the best of Kant’s call for universal
ethical standards as well as feminist criticisms that his worship of reason and the premium he
placed on impersonal claims of justice too often trump important relationship values such as
empathy, care, and cooperation (Plaisance, 2009). Benhabib argued that people ought to be treated
as “concrete,” where each individual is a special case with his or her peculiar history, identity, and
emotional responses that should be respected in and of themselves (Plaisance, 2009, p.12). This,
Benhabib argued, means everyone must place priority on a very different set of ideals, which
includes responsibility, care, bonding, and sharing (Plaisance, 2009). Benhabib’s argument arose
because too often male Enlightenment thinkers have talked of the moral rights of individuals as if
people are theoretical models, which generalized everyone into a rational being (Plaisance, 2009).
However, Tom Cockburn (2005) in his research Children and the Feminist Ethic of Care, said
Benhabib argued that without the necessary epistemic information about “concrete” other, as
opposed to Rawls’ (1999) notion of a “generalized other”, no coherent test of universalizability
can be carried out (p. 76). According to the principle of the “generalized other”, each individual
is a moral person endowed with the same moral rights, is reasoning and acting, has a sense of
justice, and possesses a vision of the good (Cockburn, 2005, p. 76). The “concrete other” on the
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other hand, begins with the assumption that every moral person is a unique individual, with his or
her own life history, dispositions, needs, and limitations (Cockburn, 2005, p. 76). Importantly, the
“concrete other” is firmly located within the context of relationships to others (Cockburn, 2005, p.
76). Within conceptions of the “generalized other”, the everyday moral interactions with concrete
others are “bracketed off” and placed within the devalued private realm (Cockburn, 2005, p. 76).
However, women and children’s activities become invisible to the universal moral theory
(Cockburn, 2005).
Cockburn (2005), explained that both children and adults are at times
autonomous and at other times fragile and dependent. Because children and adults can become
fragile and dependent, journalists should exercise care in their reporting and, for example, not
invade the privacy of individuals without consent. Therefore, Benhabib argued this concept by
assuming the concrete other (Cockburn, 2005). According to Benhabib (1992), neither justice nor
care are primary; they are each essential for the development of the autonomous, adult individual
out of the fragile and dependent human child. Not only as children, but also as concrete embodied
beings with needs and vulnerabilities, emotions and desires we spend our lives caught in the ‘web
of human’ affairs’, in Hannah Arendt’s words, or in networks of ‘care and dependence’ in Carol
Gilligan’s words (Benhabib, 1992). Benhabib further argued that this means we must place
priority on a very different set of ideals from our own, which are responsibility, care, bonding, and
sharing (Plaisance, 2009). According to Benhabib, if we govern our actions by these ideals we
confirm not only the humanity of those with whom we interact, but also their human individuality
(Plaisance, 2009). Humanity and individuality are concepts that would guide a journalist’s
decision-making because journalists have a job to help with the advancement of human beings by
providing them with information that would assist with their intellectual development.
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Benhabib (1992) stated, “Women’s moral judgment is more contextual, more immersed in
the details of relationships and narratives” (p.77). According to Cockburn (2005), Benhabib
placed emphasis on contextualism, which is of crucial importance to the sociological study of
children. It is not a sign of weakness or deficiency, but a manifestation of moral maturity that sees
the self as being immersed in a network of relationships with others (Benhabib, 1992). Thus, the
respect in each other’s needs and the mutuality of effort to satisfy them sustain moral growth and
development (Benhabib, 1992). Cockburn (2005) explained that children’s worlds (like the worlds
of adults) occur within networks of relationships with parents, teachers, friends, peers, siblings,
etc. Therefore, it is important to recognize children as significant actors within such networks and
any judgments of rights, needs, or protection must place children within such networks (Cockburn,
2005). The author added that failure to do so, by recourse to abstract principles, will result in an
impoverished treatment of social networks. Contextualism recognizes the life world of children
in the present and pertain to specific questions about children’s immediate rights, needs, and
identities based within the context of their social networks (Cockburn, 2005).
Benhabib’s Application to Bahamian Journalists
Benhabib’s ethic of care is easily applied to media ethics because responsibility, care,
bonding. and sharing are taken into consideration when making media related ethical decisions.
The media are responsible for sharing accurate information with the public and must care for the
public who are their readers and viewers when making ethical decisions. As mentioned earlier,
the responsibilities of the media in a democracy include supplying political information that voters
base their decisions on, identifying problems within a society and serving as a medium for
deliberation, and discovering errors and wrongdoing by those in authority (Fog, 2004). In addition,
the media promotes democracy by educating voters, protecting human rights, promoting tolerance
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among social groups, and ensuring that governments are transparent and accountable (Coronel).
Ultimately, the responsibilities of a journalist, along with the media’s responsibilities, include
being honest and fair in the presentation of news, speaking for the downtrodden, and being
sensitive to the needs of individuals who become story subjects or sources (Elliott, 1986). In The
Bahamas instances have occurred in the media in which children involved in cases of sexual abuse,
were identified and there were also stories in which incorrect information was reported. Therefore,
Benhabib’s ethic of care can be applied to media ethics in The Bahamas to address issues that
involve caring, sharing and a journalists’ responsibility to the public. In the following case study,
The Tribune and The Freeport News faced a dilemma where both newspapers decided to publish
photos of a two-year-old boy who died as a result of alleged sexual abuse:
In May 2013 photos of two-year-old Peter Emmanuel Higgs were published in The Tribune
and The Freeport News. Higgs died while he was with his father. The Tribune’s article
stated that reliable sources said that Higgs received severe injuries in his buttocks area.
According to the article, Higgs’ father David Stuart was arrested and is assisting police
with investigations into this case that has allegations of sexual abuse. (Sources: The
Tribune & The Freeport News – May 3, 2013)
If Benhabib’s theory was applied, The Tribune and The Freeport News would refuse to publish the
name and photo of the two-year-old boy because they would be acting out of care and
responsibility to protect the child. According to Plaisance (2009), Benhabib agrees that journalists
should aspire to a “universal” notion of justice, which is supplemented by an emphasis on caring
for others and acknowledging the realities of individual lives (p. 74).
Socrates – Truth, Independence, & Social Responsibility
Sometimes journalists may be faced with an ethical situation in which they are unable to
apply Benhabib’s ethic of care. In some situations Kant’s duty theory and Mill’s utilitarianism
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may also be inapplicable. When these theories are not working for journalists, they can consider
applying Socrates’ theory to their situation.
Socrates’ theory places emphasis on truth,
independence and social responsibility, which are essential for journalists. For the journalist who
aspires to knowledge, understanding, serious thought, and self-understanding, and who seeks
answers to controversial questions, the Greek philosopher Socrates would most likely be a primary
guide (Merrill, 1994). Socrates stressed the importance of recognizing one’s ignorance and
persistently making a journey of thought, forever questioning, until one arrives at knowledge that
is essential for a full and meaningful life (Merrill, 1994). Socrates tried to convince the Athenians
that each person was responsible for his or her own moral actions and that unethical behavior came
from ignorance, or lack of knowledge (Peck & Reel, 2013). For Socrates, education is what people
require for themselves, going beyond formal training, through continual thinking, probing,
questioning, and conversing with serious and intelligent companions and acquaintances (Merrill,
1994). Socrates’ theory can be illustrated through the role of journalists in democratic countries
who have the responsibility of educating the public with factual information, which helps in
bringing solutions to societal problems. However, the government of Athens saw Socrates’
philosophy differently (Peck & Reel, 2013). As a result, Socrates was imprisoned and sentenced
to death for allegedly corrupting Athens’ youth with his ideas and introducing false gods (Peck &
Reel, 2013). In The Death of Socrates author Emily Wilson (2007) pointed out the charges against
Socrates, which stated, “Socrates is guilty because he does not respect the gods that the city
respects. Instead, he introduces new deities. He is also guilty of corrupting the young” (p. 20).
Before Socrates’ sentence could be executed, he drank hemlock and died (Merrill, 1994).
Socrates’ student Plato, who wrote many of Socrates’ philosophical teachings, explained
Socrates’ situation in the dialogue Crito (Peck & Reel, 2013). Because Socrates did not write
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“lecture notes,” Plato wrote many dialogues with Socrates as the main character (Peck & Reel,
2013, p. 8). In the dialogue Crito, Socrates friend Crito tried to persuade him to escape prison, but
Socrates refused and explained his reason to his friend (Peck & Reel, 2013). According to Wilson
(2007), during Crito’s visit, Socrates explained his decision not to allow his friends to ferry him to
safety by emphasizing his duty to obey the city’s laws, regardless whether they were just or unjust.
Crito offered several inducements to Socrates to leave, some of which are compelling (Wilson,
2007). Crito admitted that he was concerned for his own reputation and worried about what people
would say if they learned that he could have saved his friend from death and did not do it (Wilson,
2007). Socrates asked Crito what kind of message he would be sending to the people of Athens if
he escaped from jail (Peck & Reel, 2013). Could he truly teach virtuous behavior somewhere else,
somewhere outside of Athens (Peck & Reel, 2013)? He would be a hypocrite if he did so, and
what message would Socrates be sending to his two sons (Peck & Reel, 2013)? Similarly,
journalists are faced with situations like Socrates where they have to make decisions to uphold
their professional principles or turn against their standards. However, Crito argued that Socrates
would behave wrongly if he submits to death because he has a wife and young children who would
be left destitute if he dies (Peck & Reel, 2013). But, Socrates insisted that death is not to be feared
by the person dying and he must conform to the city’s decision, whether they are just or not
(Wilson, 2007). Socrates died for truth, but he also died in obedience to his own personal religious
deity (Wilson, 2007). Like Socrates, there are some journalists who would rather go to jail, instead
of revealing their sources when pressured by the courts to do so. Like Socrates, who died for truth
and his personal beliefs, such journalists sacrifice time in jail to show that they are upholding what
they believe in, which is their right to protect their sources. In this dialogue, Plato emphasized
Socrates’ principles of independence and justification for one’s actions and social responsibility,
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which are all important principles upon which media professionals should agree (Peck & Reel,
2013). “Socrates believes that if he remained in prison and is executed, he would actually enhance
Athen’s morality” (Peck & Reel, 2013, p. 8). Socrates used his own independent reasoning to
reach this conclusion, and justified his decision, which he believed was socially responsible (Peck
& Reel, 2013).
Plato was one of the Athenians who learned Socrates’ technique for finding truth, which is
known as the Socratic method (Peck & Reel, 2013). Merrill (1994) explained that looking for
truth is at the core of the Socratic method, which is a persistent and rigorous questioning (called
the elenchus method) that pushes deeply into the hidden meaning of ideas and concepts. Merrill
(1994) added that for Socrates this was not just an idle exercise, but one that forces members of a
communication situation to seek a common understanding of the terms they use. Its hope of shortcircuiting misunderstanding is certainly a worthy goal for the modern journalist (Merrill, 1994).
Socrates believed that thinking and talking about morality were of the utmost importance: virtue
was, for him, the central goal of human life and human happiness (Wilson, 2007). “His basic
teachings were simple: Know thyself, he urged his students; realize that only one thing you know
is that you know nothing; seek knowledge constantly, for only knowledge is virtue” (Merrill, 1994,
p. 16). Socrates also urged his students to examine their lives, which meant questioning and testing
one’s fundamental beliefs (Wilson, 2007). “He argued that failure to look honestly at one’s own
life was to betray one’s very humanity” (Wilson, 2007, p. 36). Socrates also believed that human
beings can count as “wise” in a third, limited sense if they understand their own ignorance in
comparison with divine enlightenment (Wilson, 2007, p. 37). In this interpretation, Socrates
viewed himself as the only person in the world who came anywhere near to divine wisdom,
according to Wilson (2007). The author pointed out that Socrates’ views about knowledge and
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wisdom were deeply paradoxical by any standards and he thought no one could teach another
person to know the truth. Yet, the author said, knowledge was more or less the only thing worth
having, since knowledge alone can make a person both happy and good.
Socrates’ Application to Bahamian Journalists
Socrates set knowledge at the center of human behavior (Wilson, 2007). “He claimed that
‘Nobody willingly does wrong’ and argued that whenever people behave badly, to each other or
to themselves, it is because they do not know the truth about what they should do” (Wilson, 2007,
p. 46). In The Bahamas More 94.9 FM radio talk show host Ortland H. Bodie Jr., of Real Talk
Live has numerous incidences of his unethical practices, as mentioned earlier in the introduction.
Perhaps, Bodie does not have a code of ethics to follow and probably More 94.9 FM did not
provide Bodie with a code. However, if Bodie would embrace Socrates’ philosophy to find
knowledge and the truth about the ethical principles of journalists, he would minimize the amount
of times he provided false information to the public without fact-checking. According to Merrill
(1994), when journalists acquaint themselves with Socrates’ philosophy, it will show the
importance of using reason, understanding oneself, constantly seeking knowledge, and having a
sense of humor. The starting point for living a moral life, for Socrates, is recognizing and
understanding one’s own prejudices, biases, and spiritual values (Merrill, 1994). Only then can a
person proceed to the important business of decreasing prejudices and increasing spiritual values
(Merrill, 1994).
Before journalists can come to any conclusion about journalistic ethics or
purpose, Socrates would tell the journalists that they must be able to understand their basic
concepts (Merrill, 1994).
Even though Socrates’ theory focuses on truth, independence and social responsibility,
which are all qualities of a journalist, it is not enough to draft a code of ethics for journalists. Also,
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none of the additional theorists mentioned (Kant, Mill, Rawls, and Benhabib) address all of the
needs of a journalist, therefore their theories have to be used collectively if Bahamian journalists
would consider drafting a code of ethics in the near future. However, the theories discussed will
be applied to more ethical cases involving Bahamian journalists in the following section to support
the case for a code of ethics.
Case Studies at Work
Throughout the history of mass media in The Bahamas, many incidents have been recorded
concerning media ethics. The National Archives of The Bahamas (also known as the Department
of Archives) have several documented cases of journalists who were held in contempt of court and
sued for libel, dating back to the 1800s. Such cases along with the additional case studies presented
in this research, demonstrates the need for a code of ethics in The Bahamas. The analysis of case
studies also makes it clear that Bahamian journalists would benefit from a code of ethics.
Nevertheless, there are some Bahamian journalists who adhere to an internationally accepted
journalists’ code of ethics, who are well-respected in society and do whatever it takes to get a story,
which shows their dedication to their career. For this research several cases were found indicating
how the lack of a nation-specific code of ethics is affecting Bahamian journalists (see Chapter 1
& Appendix A).
As a journalist, when faced with an ethical dilemma, it is important to make ethical
decisions based on the ethical standards of the profession. Sometimes a journalist may want to
cover a newsworthy story, but, because of the barriers public figures and public officials can
present at times, the journalist can be placed in a position in which an ethical decision about
pursuing the story has to be made. In the following case study former Nassau Guardian news
reporter Vanessa Rolle-Clark gave an account about an ethical dilemma she encountered in 2003
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with police officers while covering a story at the Internal Security Division of the Royal Bahamas
Police Force. Clark’s dilemma began when she decided to enter the property of the Internal
Security Division of the Royal Bahamas Police Force unidentified as a news reporter. While on
the property Clark snooped around taking photos of a scene where police officers were evicted
from the housing facilities on the property. However, Clark’s dilemma continued after she was
caught by police officers who arrested her and threatened to put her in jail if she refused to reveal
her source:
I was doing a story inside ISD (Internal Security Division) and they arrested me, took the
chip out of my camera, threatened to put me in jail unless I named the source of my
information. Well, I never named my source, went back to the spot (outside the gate this
time) with a good camera and a real photographer...wrote everything that happened to me
in the lead story the next day. The Commissioner of Police sent me a letter of apology and
my chip back. I had to do what I had to do to get my story.
(Source: Vanessa Rolle-Clark - Facebook Comment, November 21, 2013)
(See Appendix A for further details)
In this case, Clark argued that she decided to pursue her story even though she was arrested
and threatened to name her sources because she had to uphold her duty as a journalist. Clark was
independent and diligent while pursuing her story despite being faced with such circumstances.
However, Clark’s decision can be justified with Kant’s deontological ethics. According to Kant’s
duty principle, the only action that can be ethical is the one taken out of self-imposed duty (Merrill,
1997). Kantian journalists, like Clark, would not act to bring about some kind of consequences,
instead they would simply act out of a sense of duty to some principle determined ahead of time
(Merrill, 1997). Journalists who follow the ethics of deontology are not concerned with all the
possible consequences that might result from a story because they are irrelevant to good journalism
(Merrill, 1997). As Clark mentioned, she had to do what was necessary to get her story, even
though it involved her sneaking her way onto ISD property. (see Application of Ethical Theories
for further explanation)
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In another case study, Oswald Brown, a former news reporter at The Tribune, was faced
with an ethical dilemma when he was arrested by police in his pursuit of a photograph for a story
he covered on the Beatles’ visit to Nassau. Brown described what happened that day after he got
into an altercation with a police officer as he persisted to take his photograph:
As a young reporter with The Tribune in the 1960s, I was known to be fearless in my
diligence to get a story. I also took photos and was actually arrested one time when a police
attempted to stop me from getting a photo of The Beatles while they were shooting a film
in Nassau. I had a swollen jaw, but I got my photo. Freedom of the Press must be protected
at all cost. (Source: Oswald Brown - Facebook Comment, November 21, 2013)
Consequently, Brown’s encounter with a police officer caused him a swollen jaw, but
because of his diligence and persistence he was able to obtain a photo of The Beatles. Brown’s
decision to pursue his photograph can be justified with Kant’s theory. Kant believes moral choices
should be based on duty or on what one ought to do because one has a duty to humanity to do so
(Englehardt & Barney, 2002). In this case, Brown’s duty to humanity was to obtain a photo that
would be published in The Tribune for the public. Kant’s theory states that “we do something
because it is the right thing to do, not because it appears the consequences will be favorable”
(Englehardt & Barney, 2002, p. 13). Brown’s consequences included a swollen jaw, but
consequences do not matter for Kantian journalists, only their duty to the society matters (see
Application of Ethical Theories for further explanation).
Also in The Bahamas, some cases discovered by the author indicate that there is a problem
with the government trying to control the information disseminated by the press within this
democratic society. The government owns the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas and it
has a great influence on the information disseminated on ZNS television and radio stations, which
are a part of the corporation. However, there are times when the government tries to control the
information that is broadcast on private radio and television stations and in private newspapers.
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According to Allison Bethel McKenzie, executive director of the International Press Institute, in
an article she wrote, reports of government pressure on the media continues in The Bahamas. In
the article, McKenzie noted that Oswald Brown, who was also a former editor of the Freeport
News (privately owned), was fired in 2011 for an editorial he wrote criticizing former Prime
Minister Hubert Ingraham. Similarly, other English-speaking Caribbean countries are also faced
with pressure from the government trying to hinder the press’ freedom. In 2004 Odette Campbell,
head of the news department, at the Grenada Broadcasting Network (owned by the Caribbean
Communications Network and the Government of Grenada) resigned in protest after being
suspended for objecting to government threats to prosecute any media, which reported on the
corruption of former Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, alleging that he collected a bribe payment
(Reporters Without Borders). The Grenada Today reported that Campbell came under fire for her
stance on broadcasting the story about Mitchell’s corruption, on the basis that the media should be
free to publish newsworthy stories without fear or favor, irrespective of which political party is
affected. When situations like this occur, private and public media owners and journalists have to
make ethical decisions and decide whether they should report what is newsworthy or listen to the
government that would often tell them not to report a certain story or to exclude certain details
about a story. During an interview with the author, an anonymous private media owner, who is
also a veteran journalist and a participant in this study, gave an account of an incident in which the
Bahamian government invited all media owners to a very important meeting and told them not to
report a newsworthy story about the government’s new diplomatic relations with People’s
Republic of China until they are told to do so. The veteran journalist was faced with an ethical
dilemma by making a decision to broadcast information revealing that The Bahamas discontinued
diplomatic relations with the Republic of Taiwan and began relations with the People’s Republic
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of China. The journalist made this ethical decision after being warned by the government that the
information should not be reported until the government gives instructions to do so:
In 1997, when Janet Bostwick was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, she called the leaders
of the media together at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and said to us that The Bahamas
was discontinuing diplomatic relations with the Republic of Taiwan and was opening
diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. But they didn’t want us to report
the story until a certain time. Some private media owners and others said, “Ok, we will
respect that and we wouldn’t report it.” I said we can’t do that! I told Bostwick if The
Bahamas has already discontinued relations with Taiwan then that it is news and I’m not
going to follow her instructions. She (Bostwick) then jumped on the phone and called the
Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham. He was the prime minister at that time and she told him I said
that I’m not following to the government’s instructions not to report the story. I told her
to tell the prime minister that I’m not following the instructions because the story is news.
I refused to allow the government to dictate to me when I should put something on the air.
(Source: Interview with anonymous private media owner – January 8, 2014)
In this case, the private media owner knew the responsibility of journalists in a society so
the decision was made to report the information because the public has a right to know that The
Bahamas was discontinuing diplomatic relations with Taiwan and opening relations with China.
If the media owner had a code of ethics, he would have been able to explain to the other media
owners and the government the reason for his decision and the other media owners may have also
decided to report the story. A code of ethics allows journalists to understand their duty to society,
which gives journalists the courage to practice without fear of the government, public officials and
public figures. For this reason, Kant’s theory can be applied to this case, but Mill’s utilitarianism
is also applicable to justify the media owner’s decision. Mill’s theory of utility encourages
journalists to make decisions that would seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number of
people. Journalists who follow Mill’s theory do what is best for their society, their community,
and their organization (Merrill, 1997). In the case, the private media owner decided to report that
The Bahamas discontinued relations with Taiwan to begin relations with China because the
information was newsworthy and the public was the greatest number who would benefit, or obtain
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happiness. The information was extremely important and had to be reported to the public
immediately. Mill holds that actions are right in proportion to the degree of happiness they bring
(Merrill, 1997). (see Application of Ethical Theories for further explanation)
Libel and defamation are the foundation of Bahamian media laws, and journalists can be
sued easily for such infractions. According to a representative at the Supreme Court of The
Bahamas, journalists can be held in contempt of court for several reasons, which include reporting
false information about a case that is before the court, reporting information about a case that was
discussed outside the courtroom, being disrespectful to a judge, refusing to obey the judge’s orders,
and for refusing to reveal anonymous sources when asked, which relates to a case before the court
(personal communication, August 14, 2014) (see Chapter 1- Background Information).
Throughout the years, many journalists have been held in contempt of court and sued for libel.
Historical records show that journalists have been held in contempt of court since the 1800s for
their ethical practices and it is still occurring to this day. As discussed earlier in this project’s
background information, journalism ethics is different from law and constitutionally acceptable
laws relating to the publication of material allow for punishment after the fact, but not for prior
restraint (see Chapter 1 – Background Information). Without being a potential legal problem, the
published material or process of gathering information for a story can have long-lasting detrimental
effects on individuals or on the community (Cohen & Elliottt, 1997). Therefore, the published
material or process of gathering information for a story can still be ethically problematic (Cohen
& Elliottt, 1997). When held in contempt of court, a journalist can be sent to jail if he or she refuses
to comply with court orders, which may infringe upon the ethical standards of journalists. In the
following case study, former Nassau Guardian editor Alfred Edwin Moseley was faced with an
ethical dilemma when he was asked to reveal the source of an anonymous letter he published
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criticizing Chief Justice Roger D. Yelverton. Moseley refused to reveal the source of the letter,
which led to him being held in contempt of court and sentenced to prison:
In 1892, Alfred Edwin Moseley, editor of The Nassau Guardian, published a letter
criticizing Chief Justice Roger D. Yelverton, which led to a contempt of court lawsuit and
Moseley being sent to prison. According to the National Archives of The Bahamas, on
May 14, 1892, The Nassau Guardian published a letter that was highly critical of
Yelverton. The letter, signed “Colonist,” criticized Yelverton for refusing to accept a gift
of pineapples. Yelverton’s reaction to the letter was quick and decisive. He demanded
that Mosely reveal the author of the letter and retract the publication. The Nassau Guardian
reported that in response to Yelverton’s request, Moseley said he needed time for
consideration. Yelverton then said that he would allow Moseley to consider the matter
until 4 o’clock in the afternoon, according to the article. At a few minutes before 4 o’clock,
Mr. Moseley sent the following reply to Yelverton: “Mr. Alfred E. Moseley presents his
compliments to His Honour the Chief Justice and begs respectfully to inform him that he
must decline to give up the name of the author or the manuscript of the letter published in
The Nassau Guardian of Saturday last.”
Moseley’s refusal to comply with both requests angered Yelverton, and Moseley was
summoned to appear in court the next day. Yelverton retaliated by fining Moseley £40 for
publishing the letter and an additional £25 for not revealing the name of the writer.
Moseley was further ordered to pay all court expenses and be incarcerated until all debts
were paid. The public almost rioted as a result of this action, and a public meeting was
held at the Masonic Hall to express sympathy with Moseley. According to The Nassau
Guardian’s article, the public also expressed indignation at the outrageous treatment
Moseley received and took steps to assert the liberty of the press and to prevent the
recurrence of such transactions. However, upon the public’s appeal and that of Moseley,
Governor Sir Ambrose Shea, against the ruling of Chief Justice Yelverton, released
Moseley from prison to the great delight of the people.
According to the National Archives of The Bahamas, this case was not the first time that
an editor of The Nassau Guardian was charged with contempt of court. In 1845 charges
were brought against Nassau Guardian Editor Edwin M. Moseley for publishing
information in the newspaper that was offensive to members of the House of Assembly.
And, in 1867 he was charged for publishing a series of letters, which were damaging to
local merchant Thomas B. Thompson.
However, the 1892 case involving Alfred Edwin Moseley sparked much controversy in the
colony at that time. (Source: National Archives of The Bahamas, The Nassau Guardian –
May 21, 1892 & The Nassau Times – May 20, 1892)
In this case, the publishing of the letter was a matter of ethics and not law. When this case
occurred, Moseley had no code of ethics to help him with his decision-making. If he had a code
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of ethics, Moseley would have been able to use it to explain his decision to Yelverton and Shea.
A code of ethics would help to minimize the amount of times journalists are brought before the
courts and disrespected by public officials, public figures and society. To this day journalists are
still brought before the courts for incidents similar to Moseley’s case (see Obie Wilchcombe caseChapter 1). Obviously, The Bahamas has a potential for a prospective code of ethics because a
code of ethics would help to enhance the credibility of the profession, the social capital and
professionalism of journalists. In this case study, Moseley’s decision can be justified with Kant’s
theory on duty. Kant’s categorical imperative states, “Act only according to that maxim by which
you can at the same time will that it should become universal law” (Merrill, 1997, p. 65). Kantian
journalists, such as Moseley, subscribe to a priori rules and maxims that they feel duty bound to
follow generally (Merrill, 1997). Moseley followed the journalistic rule of protecting his source
by not revealing the source to Yelverton. Moseley stood for what he believed as a journalist,
regardless of the consequences he faced. According to Merrill (1997), the categorical imperative
implies that what is ethical for a person to do is what that person would have everybody do. Kant’s
theory provides guidelines ahead of time to take the agony of decision-making out of problematic
situations as they arise (see Application of Ethical Theories for further explanation).
Clark, Brown, the private media owner, and Moseley’s cases will be analyzed further in
the following section with the use of the Potter Box. As a tool for moral reasoning and ethical
decision-making, the Potter Box involves the application of ethical theories, which are applied to
a situation to help journalists make ethical decisions. It is a process approach to deciding on ethical
actions and it includes four stages: definition/situation, values, loyalties and principles (Straubhaar,
LaRose, & Davenport, 2013).
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The Potter Box Model of Reasoning
Developed by Ralph B. Potter of Harvard Divinity School, the Potter Box is an ethical
framework used to make decisions using four categories that are universal to all ethical dilemmas.
The four categories or dimensions of moral analysis include the situation/definition, values,
principles, and loyalties.
According to the Potter Box, moral thinking should be a systematic
process and how people come to decisions must be based on some reasoning. Moseley and the
other journalists mentioned in the case studies made ethical decisions, which could have been
based on their instinct or an international journalists’ code of ethics. Regardless of the method
they decided to use, their decisions can be analyzed with the Potter Box, a model of moral
reasoning (see Figure 3). The Potter Box helps people articulate precisely where their loyalties lie
as they make a final judgment or adopt a particular policy (Christians, Fackler, et al,, 2011).
The Potter Box is used frequently by communication ethics scholars and its four steps lead
a person to define the ethical situation or dilemma objectively and in detail, to identify values that
Figure 3. The Potter Box
The Potter Box was developed by Ralph B. Potter who was a professor of social ethics at Harvard
Divinity School. The Potter Box focuses on four dimensions of ethical reasoning. Each dimension
helps to clarify one aspect of the ethical problem at hand.
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relate to the situation, to inject moral philosophy as justification for a decision, and to choose to
whom or what one is ultimately loyal (Black & Roberts, 2011). The four steps can be completed
in any order, but for the sake of simplicity and to gain an understanding of the process, it is best to
begin at step one, which is the definition/situation. To reason through an ethical dilemma, one
should start with the definition/situation, identify values, make principles explicit and then decide
which loyalties are most important (Peck & Reel, 2013). At the first step, definition/situation, all
of the facts about the ethical situation are analyzed. The analysis of any ethical question begins
with assessing all relevant facts (Peck & Reel, 2013). “What do we know about the situation”
(Peck & Reel, 2013, p. 35)? For example, in designing a public campaign against drunk driving,
the media planners want to address a serious public safety problem by making the consequences
of drunk driving visible (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013). They consider featuring a
young woman who was disfigured in an accident caused by a drunk driver (Straubhaar, LaRose,
& Davenport, 2013). She is willing to have her image used and signs a release form (Straubhaar,
LaRose, & Davenport, 2013).
Step two of the Potter Box involves identifying values, and at this stage the merits of
different values such as moral, professional, logical, sociocultural, and aesthetic values are
compared. According to Peck & Reel (2013), at this step the decision-maker identifies his or her
most important values. For journalists, professional values can include, for example, the Society
of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, the Code of Practice of Caribbean Journalists, and the
Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalists and Media Organizations. However, being explicit about
the importance of particular values gives the decision-maker a concrete way to evaluate potential
actions (Peck & Reel, 2013). For example, will the shock value of the images deter potential drunk
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drivers (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013)? Will the images be sensationalistic violating
community sensibilities, going beyond moderation (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013)?
At step three, the principles, which are ethical philosophies or modes of ethical reasoning,
are applied to the situation.
Looking at your values through the lens of different ethical
philosophies can help you develop a range of possible actions (Peck & Reel, 2013,). Some of the
ethical philosophies (among many others) can include the Socratic method, deontology,
utilitarianism, and the ethic of care. For example, based on Mill’s utility principle or situation
ethics, one could argue that the greater good of public safety outweighs the lesser evil of bad taste
(Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013). Aristotle’s golden mean might argue against using an
extreme image, going beyond past practices (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013). “The
Golden Rule might make us hesitate to put the young woman through an ordeal that we would not
wish to suffer ourselves” (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013, p. 477). This helps in linking
concrete options to overarching principles, getting people to think about their own basic values
(Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013).
Finally, step four of the Potter Box involves the identification of loyalties to whom the
decision-maker has allegiances. Determining whom or what you are loyal to helps clarify your
thinking (Peck & Reel, 2013). Loyalties can include allegiances to yourself (decision-maker),
news organizations, media owners, stakeholders and the audience. For example, in journalism,
the first allegiance for a journalist would be to the public and other allegiances would include the
employer, industry, organizations, or co-workers. For further clarification, the Potter Box will be
applied to some of the case studies presented in this chapter to demonstrate how it works. But, the
Potter Box does not provide a solution to any ethical situation. It is just a simple process to help
a person weigh their options in a methodical manner. As stated by Straubhaar, LaRose, and
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Davenport (2013), the Potter Box is not a solution, rather it is a process that helps people think
about their options more clearly. It focuses on ethical or moral issues, not legal issues (Straubhaar,
LaRose, & Davenport, 2013). The benefit of the Potter Box is that it forces the decision-maker to
prioritize the values and stakeholders that are most important in a particular situation (Peck &
Reel, 2013).
Application of Ethical Theories
As previously mentioned, the ethical theories chosen for this research include Kant’s
categorical imperative, Seyla Benhabib’s “ethic of care,” John Rawls’ theory of justice and
fairness, Mill’s utilitarianism, and the Socratic method. In this section, some of the theories will
be applied to the previously discussed cases involving Clark, Brown, the private media owner, and
Moseley, as they are analyzed with the Potter Box. With the use of the Potter Box some of the
theories can be applied to the cases to determine how the journalists arrived at their decisions.
Potter Box – Clark’s Case
In the first case study, former Nassau Guardian news reporter Vanessa Rolle-Clark decided
to pursue her story at the Internal Security Division (ISD) of the Royal Bahamas Police Force even
though she was arrested by police officers. Using the Potter Box Clarke’s decision can analyzed
through the following steps:
Clarke’s Dilemma: Clark entered ISD’s property unidentified as a news reporter where she
snooped around and took photos for her story. Clark was caught by police officers, arrested, and
asked to reveal her sources, but she refused to do so. This case shows the potential consequences
of a news reporter covering a story on private property unidentified. The case also demonstrates
a journalist’s right to protect his or her sources, even when pressured to reveal a source.
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1. Situation: Clark received a tip from an anonymous police officer who told her that there
were police officers living at the police barracks and they were facing eviction. The
assistant commissioner of police wanted to evict some of the police officers who were
living at the barracks because they were not supposed to be there. However, the officers
refused to leave. After hearing about the eviction, Clark went to the police barracks
unidentified as a news reporter and took photos for her story. Clark was caught and arrested
by police officers. They took the memory card out of her camera and told Clark to reveal
her sources. She refused to reveal her sources and was later released. Clark went back to
the police barracks and this time she returned with a photographer who took photos of the
property from across the street. She wrote the story and in it she described everything that
happened to her. The story became headline news in The Nassau Guardian the next day.
2. Values: Clark applied her professional values to her decision. A journalist has a duty to
society and according to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, journalists
should seek the truth and report it. Another value applied to this situation comes from the
Radio Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics which states, “Journalists
should keep all commitments to protect a confidential source.”
3. Ethical Principle: Kant’s categorical imperative was applied to this situation. According
to Kant, a person should, “act on the maxim whereby he or she can at the same time will
that it should become a universal law.” An ethical maxim, for Kant, is an implied
obligation (Gordon, Kittross, & Reuss, 1996). A person should have some a priori maxims,
principles, rules and feel a profound duty to follow them (Gordon, Kittross, & Reuss,
1996). Therefore, a person should do such-and-such in accordance to a rule or principle,
no matter the consequences. Being ethical in Kant’s view, entails being guided by rules,
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universal laws, and moral principles that hold, without exception, everywhere (Gordon,
Kittross, & Reuss, 1996). As a result, Clark made her decision not to reveal her sources
based on the principle that journalists should protect their sources. Also, Socrates’ theory
can be applied to this case because Clark stood by her journalistic values and principles
and refused to reveal her source. Socrates, like Clark who was arrested, decided to stay in
jail out of respect for the country’s laws and the community of Athens. Socrates used
reflective reasoning to come to his independent, justified decision, and by refusing to hurt
the Athens community by breaking the law, he showed his sense of social responsibility
(Good, 2003). Even though Clark did not identify herself as a news reporter upon entering
ISD’s property, her actions are morally justifiable according to Socrates. She stood by the
journalistic principle, which encourages journalists to seek the truth and report it. Like
Socrates, Clark, showed her sense of social responsibility by refusing to reveal her source
because she did not want to hurt and disrespect her source in any way.
4. Clark’s Loyalties: The loyalties include Clark, The Nassau Guardian editors, the public,
the anonymous police officer (Clark’s source), and the government.
Potter Box – Brown’s Case
The second case study involves former Tribune news reporter Oswald Brown, who
encountered some challenges when he went to take a photo of the Beatles in Nassau. Brown’s
decision to get his photo can be justified through the Potter Box as follows:
Brown’s Dilemma: A police officer tried to stop Brown from taking a photo of The Beatles, which
led to an altercation between Brown and the police officer. However, the altercation did not
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discourage Brown because he persisted and took a photo of The Beatles. This case demonstrates
a journalist’s responsibility to diligently seek a story and uphold the press’ freedom.
1. Situation: Brown took a photo of The Beatles while they were filming in Nassau and as a
result, he was arrested and ended up with a swollen jaw after his encounter with a police
officer who tried to prevent him from taking the photo.
2. Values: Brown’s professional values as a journalist were applied as he followed the United
Kingdom’s National Union of Journalists’ Code of Conduct. The Codes says a journalist,
“at all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of
expression, and the right of the public to be informed.”
3. Principles: The principle applied here will also be Kant’s categorical imperative because
Brown was guided by the journalistic value to uphold freedom of the press and freedom of
expression. Kant’s duty-based categorical imperative asks us to act in a way that everyone
would agree upon; thus everyone, following laws, would live in a free and equal society
(Peck & Reel, 2013). Brown followed his journalistic value, which allowed him to take a
photo of The Beatles, even though he ended up with a swollen jaw as a consequence for
his actions. According to Kant, a person’s will is influenced by reason, which is controlled
(Peck & Reel, 2013). However, with Kant’s theory the consequences of a person’s actions
is not controlled (Peck & Reel, 2013). Kantian journalists make decisions regardless of
the consequences they may face.
4. Brown’s Loyalties: The loyalties in this situation include Brown, The Tribune, The
Beatles and their fans in The Bahamas, the Bahamian public, and the government.
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Potter Box – Private Media Owner Case
The third case study involved a private media owner who refused to allow the government
to control what his company broadcast. His decision is analyzed in the Potter Box as follows:
Private Media Owner’s Dilemma: After being told by the Bahamian government not to report
that The Bahamas discontinued diplomatic relations with Taiwan and opened relations with China,
the private media owner decided to broadcast the information. The private media owner said he
made this decision because the government should have no control over the content of newsworthy
information broadcast in the country. This case demonstrates the role and responsibility of the
media within a democratic society, even though the government tried to control the dissemination
of information.
1. Situation: All media owners in The Bahamas were invited to a meeting by the government
(The FNM was the government when this situation occurred in 1997) and told that The
Bahamas had discontinued diplomatic relations with Taiwan and was opening diplomatic
relations with China. Government officials told the media owners not to report this
information until they were told to do so. One private media owner refused to allow the
government to tell him what to broadcast. He left and reported the information.
2. Values: This private media owner was also upholding his professional values. His
decision followed the Radio Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics, which
declares, “Journalists should gather and report news without fear or favor, and vigorously
resist undue influence from any outside forces including, advertisers, sources, story
subjects, powerful individuals, and special interest groups.” The code also states that
journalists should recognize that their first obligation is to the public.
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3. Principles: Mill’s theory of utilitarianism can be applied to this case because the private
media owner sought the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. In this case
the public is the greatest number who benefited from the private media owner’s decision.
Mill believed that pleasure is the only desirable end, and the only proof that something is
desirable is the fact that people actually desire it, and every person’s pleasure (or happiness)
is a good to that person, so general happiness is the largest good of all (Gordon, Kittross,
& Reuss, 1996). With Mill’s theory, one should consider potential benefits and harm,
determine which action would benefit the most people (or harm the fewest), and choose
that (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013). The private media owner knew the
government warned him not to report the information and the prime minister was also
informed about the private media owner’s decision. However, the private media owner
had to weigh the benefits of informing the public against the government’s request not to
inform the public. By following Mill’s theory the private media owner upheld his
responsibility, as a journalist, to the public.
4. Private Media Owner’s Loyalties: The loyalties include the private media owner, the
private media owner’s company, the private media owner’s employees, and the public.
Potter Box – Moseley’s Case
The last case study involves Alfred Edwin Moseley, a Nassau Guardian editor, who
decided to publish an article written by an anonymous source that was highly critical of Chief
Justice Roger D. Yelverton. Moseley’s decision can be justified using the Potter Box.
Moseley’s Dilemma: After publishing an anonymous letter criticizing Chief Justice Roger. D.
Yelverton, Moseley was asked by Yelverton to reveal the source of the letter and to retract the
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publication. However, Moseley refused to do so. From this case study journalists can understand
the importance of protecting their sources, even when threatened with a prison sentence.
1. Situation: After Moseley published a highly critical letter of Yelverton, he was asked by
Yelverton to reveal the source of the letter and retract the publication. Moseley refused to
reveal the source of the letter and retract the publication. As a result, he was held in
contempt of court and thrown in jail.
2. Values: Moseley was also upholding his professional values. According to the United
Kingdom’s National Union of Journalists’ Code of Conduct, a journalist “protects the
identity of sources who supply information in confidence and material gathered in the
course of his or her work.” This is why Moseley refused to reveal the author of the letter
and retract the publication because he was protecting his source.
3. Principles: Kant’s categorical imperative can be applied because Mosely was following
the journalistic value to protect his source. Kant enthroned people as people, and his
second formulation of the categorical imperative insisted that every person should be
treated as a person and not as means to an end (Gordon, Kittross, & Reuss, 1996). A basic
respect for people and a deep valuation of their human dignity were the foundation of
Kant’s ethics (Gordon, Kittross, & Reuss, 1996). Kant is simply saying, “Don’t use
people” (Gordon, Kittross, & Reuss, 1996). The focus of Kant’s theory is to have a deep
respect for human dignity and act toward others in ways you would want everyone to act
(Gordon, Kittross, & Reuss, 1996).
In accordance to Kant’s theory, Moseley was
respecting his source and not trying to take advantage of the anonymous colonist. By this,
Moseley valued his source’s human dignity, even though Moseley’s consequences
included a prison sentence. In addition to Kant’s theory, Socrates’ theory can also be
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applied to Moseley’s case. Socrates was sentenced to death after he was convicted of
fraudulent charges (Chadwick, 2001). His friend Crito urged him to escape prison before
his unjust death sentence was carried out, but Socrates argued that even though his sentence
was unjust, it would be wrong if he tried to escape prison (Chadwick, 2001). Socrates
upheld his personal beliefs and values. Socrates said that if he escaped prison it would
flout the authority of the laws of Athens, in conformance with which he has lived his whole
life (Chadwick, 2001). To Socrates if he escaped prison, he would break the implicit
contract between him as a citizen and the state that requires individual obedience in
exchange for social protection and nurture (Chadwick, 2001). Socrates’ arguments stand
not only for the position that no selfish advantage, such as saving one’s life, is ever a good
enough reason for breaking the laws of one’s country; they also teach that disobeying the
law even in a just cause is unjustified (Chadwick, 2001). Like Socrates, Moseley upheld
his journalistic value to protect his source, despite being sentenced to prison. Socrates and
his friend Crito, felt that his sentence was unjust, and in Moseley’s case he and the public
felt that his sentence was unjust. Regardless of the unjust feelings in both cases, Socrates
and Moseley stood by their values and principles, which provided justification for their
actions.
4. Moseley’s Loyalties: Moseley was loyal to himself, The Nassau Guardian, the anonymous
author of the letter, Governor Sir Ambrose Shea, and the public.
With the use of the Potter Box all of the cases show how journalists made their decisions when
ethical situations arose. The various theories were applied, which provided a justification for the
journalists’ decisions. After examining the situations presented, the values and principles used,
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and the loyalties involved, a nation-specific code of ethics would be a useful measure to help
Bahamian journalists with their decision-making. If a prospective code of ethics is designed for
Bahamian journalists all of the theories used would provide justification for the various codes in a
nation-specific code of ethics. For example, Rawls’ theory would justify a code on anonymity and
Benhabib’s theory would justify the need to protect children in the media. Moreover, the potential
for a prospective code of ethics for The Bahamas was further examined with the help of practicing
Bahamian journalists and student journalists who revealed more information about this topic
through their surveys and interviews discussed later in this research.
Literature Review
Codes of ethics seek to achieve several objectives, including enhancing the dignity,
influence and reliability of the relevant profession in the eyes of the public, serving as a kind of
shield for professionals and preventing the imposition of external supervision and limitations on
the field and its practitioners (Himelboim & Limor, 2008). Media ethics is vital to the field of
journalism and many journalists depend on a code of ethics to help with their decision-making.
Adherence to a code of ethics can help to enhance the profession of journalists by increasing their
credibility and allowing them to be respected by public officials, public figures, and society. When
journalists do not have and adhere to a code of ethics, it results in a patchwork of inconsistent
practices, making journalists vulnerable to being challenged by the government and the law, as
well as some journalists failing to adhere to a code of ethics at all. J. Clement Jones, an honorary
vice president of the Guild of British Newspaper Editors, in his 1980 study Mass Media Codes of
Ethics and Councils, mentioned that many countries that lack a code of ethics are beginning to feel
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a need for them. For example, based on the case studies (see Chapter 1 & Appendix A) presented
throughout this study, The Bahamas is beginning to feel the need for a code of ethics. In some
instances, Jones (1980) claimed that these feelings come from external dissatisfaction over the
irresponsibility and triviality of the media; in others, they come from the media themselves,
seeking self-protection through self-discipline. For example, members of the Bahamian media are
now seeking self-regulation, and as stated earlier, The Bahamas Association of Journalists is in the
early stages of drafting a code of ethics for the organization, but the code has not been completed
at the time of this writing. According to Jones (1980), there is a third variation when those in
authority decide to exercise control over the media for their own ends. For example, in the case
of the private media owner discussed earlier (see Case Studies at Work), the Bahamian government
wanted to control the information that was disseminated on the airwaves by telling media owners
not to report that The Bahamas discontinued diplomatic relations with Taiwan and began relations
with China. The media owners were given further instructions not to report the information until
the government gave instructions to do so. An ethical code defines the rights of journalists, thereby
defending them from the owners of communication (Bertrand, 2000; Dennis & Merrill, 1991). In
keeping with social responsibility, with a code of ethics, the state is precluded from intervening in
media activity and content, while the media, in turn, impose restrictions and limitations on
themselves (Himelboim & Limor, 2008).
Apart from a code of ethics, journalists can use their instinct to make decisions. This
instinct or inborn moral sense, as Merrill (1997) calls it, is something that does not tell journalists
exactly what to do to be ethical, but it gives them clues and hints as to what their actions should
be. According to Merrill (1997), the moral sense is also known as a personal conscience, which
is a part of personalist ethics. He explained that personalist ethics involve actions that are intuitive,
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spiritual, or emotive, based mainly on some kind of feeling or insight of a more transcendental
nature. Personalist ethics also involves ethical actions stemming from personal insights connected
to a person’s conscience, which is the small inner voice, unassociated with rational determination,
providing answers to ethical questions. Gordon, Kittross, and Reuss (1996), refers to ethical
decision-making with the use of instinct, as intuitive ethics. According to the authors, it is a theory
that we know what is right and what is wrong without having any a priori rules or without doing a
lot of thinking before we act. They explained that intuitionism is closely related to what has been
called common-sense ethics, which draws on wisdom gleaned from large numbers of particular
cases. Intuitionism uses traditional moral rules that have seemed to satisfy moral conditions
throughout the ages, the authors added. However, Gordon, Kittross, and Reuss (1996) further
explained that common-sense morality, and also perhaps so-called intuitionism, recognizes the
need to abide by general rules that have proved to be useful. They expressed that having such
general rules in ethics is very close to what Immanuel Kant proposed as duty ethics. One develops
rules, maxims, or principles to which he or she is dedicated and obligated, the authors noted.
Unlike Kant, however, modern common-sense ethicists are flexible, and willing to follow moral
rules except when there are clear reasons for not doing so (Gordon, Kittross, & Reuss, 1996).
Studies have also shown that journalists can make decisions with the help of newsroom
socialization and gatekeeping. Journalists tend to share professional values and to desire those
values in their own work environment, and organizational cultures create patterns of meaning that
define appropriate action (Singer, 2004). The recruitment, socialization, and control of journalists
are structured to preserve “institutional mythology,” such as a commitment to objective reporting.
From a sociological perspective, articulation of such norms is important both as a form of ritual
solidarity and as a prescriptive expression of the way “we” do things or should do them (Singer,
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2004, p. 840). According to Singer (2004), journalists are socialized not just to feel part of a
particular group but also to do things in a particular way and to see that way as natural and
desirable. The author mentioned that media sociologists emphasized that news itself was a social
construction, a product of active negotiation with cultural resources and professional norms to
create a shared understanding of how news work is to be done. However, Ali and Fahmy (2013)
described gatekeeping as a selection process where ‘gatekeepers’ pick and choose which news
articles and/or visual images to run in the media. The ensuing content that is seen in traditional
media therefore tends to follow the organizations’ news routines and narratives (Ali & Fahmy,
2013). For example, studies on war reporting suggest that a variety of factors influence the war
journalists’ selection of particular news stories and the adoption of specific news gathering
practices (Kim, 2012). According to authors Pamela Shoemaker and Stephen Reese’s (1996)
hierarchical model of gatekeeping, mentioned in Kim (2012) five levels of gatekeeping forces,
represented
by
individual-level,
journalistic
routine-level,
organizational-level,
social
institutional-level, and social system-level forces, come into play in news gathering and selection
processes. Gatekeeping theory in the context of news has evolved mainly into a focus on the
decision-making process of editors, following Boston University professor David White’s (1950)
classic news gatekeeping study about Mr. Gates the newspaper wire editor (Kim, 2012).
Defining Ethics
Many professions benefit from a code of ethics and codes exist for different professions
such as doctors, lawyers, and journalists (Ward, 2010). “Ethics” comes from the Greek word,
ethos, meaning “character” or “personal disposition” (Ward, 2010, p. 11). In Ward’s (2010)
analysis, ethics refers to the manner in which people conduct themselves. He explained that the
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principles of ethics are brought together to form moral systems or codes of conduct, such as
utilitarian ethics and Buddhist ethics.
For example, he pointed out that the Bible’s Ten
Commandments is one such code. The Bible’s Ten Commandments are the Christians’ code of
conduct, which separates Christians from the rest of the world and serves as a barometer of their
allegiance to the Creator of the universe (Williams, J, 2013). Also, the Ten Commandments are
minimum standards of acceptable behavior for continuous living in God’s kingdom (Williams, J,
2013). Utilitarian ethics, according to British philosopher John Stuart Mill, holds that we should
“seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number” (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013, p.
475). Mill was concerned about what would bring the greatest good for society, which he defined
as benefiting the largest number of people (Christians, Rotzoll, & Fackler, 1991). According to
Buddhist teachings, as noted by the Buddha Dharma Education Association, the ethical and moral
principles are governed by examining whether a certain action, whether connected to body or
speech, is likely to be harmful to one’s self or to others and thereby avoiding any actions which
are likely to be harmful. Buddhism focuses on a skilled mind; for example, a mind that is skillful
avoids actions that are likely to cause suffering or remorse (Buddhist Studies - Buddha Dharma
Education Association). Also, the social contract theory developed by Thomas Hobbes, an English
philosopher, provides another illustration. Hobbes’ social contract is developed as an alternative
to consensus, which is a human impossibility, making it a contract that immediately transforms
the participants into subjects whose ethics are the product of obedience to authority (Jos, 2006).
The social contract theory suggests that there is a stateless society from which individuals wish to
escape by entering into a social contract. For Hobbes, as illustrated in Jos (2006), the social
contract is an unavoidable and necessary admission that consensus is not possible and that people
are so self-absorbed and fearful that only the coercive power of the state can stand between them
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and chaos. Therefore, the author indicates that Hobbes’ view can be said to embrace an ethic of
unconditional obedience. The social contract obliges all citizens to respect and obey the state, in
exchange for stability and security that only a system of political rule can provide. It is used to
demonstrate the value of government, the grounds for political obligation and authority over a
particular geographical area. Like a code of ethics, the social contract theory provides benefits for
the persons who choose to follow it and it brings value to authority. For a journalist, these benefits
include credibility, trustworthiness, and integrity. Codes of ethics are generally regarded as one
of the most important vehicles for developing a professional identity, shared norms, and a
commitment to ethical practice (Jos, 2006). The social contract theory functions like a code of
ethics for journalists because it provides a guideline for journalists to follow as it relates to their
profession and the enhancement of their professionalism is one of the benefits.
Although ethics uses principles, Ward (2010) expressed that ethics is best regarded as
praxis. He emphasized that ethics is a duty we practice, and we practice ethics when we weigh
values in making a decision. According to Patrick Lee Plaisance (2009) in Media Ethics: Key
Principles for Responsible Practice, media ethics is a form of inquiry concerned with the process
of finding rational justifications for journalists’ actions when the values they hold come into
conflict. For example, a journalist values the right to protect his anonymous sources, but the
journalist may be placed in a position in which he is asked to reveal his sources. In this situation,
the journalist has to find a rational justification for deciding not to reveal his sources. Like Stephen
J.A. Ward, in Global Journalism Ethics, Plaisance also believes that ethics helps with a person’s
decision-making. He argued that ethics refers to our efforts to articulate our reasons for putting
greater weight on some moral claims than others in certain dilemmas. Ethics also deals with our
struggle to justify a decision in a dilemma when various values of our belief system clash
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(Plaisance, 2009). Ethics allow journalists to justify their decisions to the public, public officials,
and public figures whenever a dilemma arises concerning a journalists’ work. Larry Z. Leslie, in
Mass communication ethics: Decision making in postmodern culture, holds a definition of ethics
different from Ward’s and Plaisance’s. Leslie (2004) believes that ethics are moral principles for
living and making decisions, similar to Aristotle, a philosopher, who emphasized the positive and
developed a full version of a virtuous and happy person (Merrill, 1994). As a field of philosophical
inquiry, ethics concerns itself with such concepts as good, right, wrong, duty, value, and
responsibility, among others (Leslie, 2004).
Historical Stages of Journalism Ethics
According to Ward (2010), the history of journalism ethics can be divided into five stages.
The first is the invention of an ethical discourse for journalism as it emerged in Western Europe
during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He reported that during this era, Gutenberg’s
printing press gave birth to printer-editors who created a periodic press of newssheets and newsbooks. This era is when the public became concerned about the dissemination of truthful
information as a result of the invention of the printing press and the publication of newssheets and
news-books. Despite their primitive newsgathering, and the partisan nature of their times, editors
assured readers that they printed the impartial truth based on matters of fact (Ward, 2010). The
printer-editors said they would only print information that was true and could be proven as true.
The second stage was the creation of a “public ethic” as the creed for the growing
newspaper press of the Enlightenment (Ward, 2010). The “public ethic” developed because the
public was concerned about the way news was disseminated at that time. According to Hazel
Dicken-Garcia (1989) in Journalistic Standards in Nineteenth-Century America, during the
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Enlightenment era, as the public became inured to expecting information to meet specific needs,
content that failed, for whatever reason, drew increasing criticism. The author pointed out that
readers criticized journalists for attacking each other and urged them during this era to end such
behavior. However, the journalists believed that it was their job to serve the public. Two elements
were central: the idea of a public and a legitimacy of its collective opinion (Ward, 2010).
Journalists during the eighteenth century believed that they were the public’s voices, and they held
that they were the Fourth Estate of the government. The origins of the term “fourth estate” to
describe the press are somewhat controversial (Elliot, 1986, p. 108). Most often the idea is
attributed to British politician Edmund Burke who, according to Thomas Carlyle in Heroes and
Hero Worship: The Hero as a Man of Letters (1839), wrote, “Burke said there were three estates
of parliament, but in the reporter’s gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far
than they all” (Elliot, 1986, p. 108). Because the statement was not found in Burke’s published
works, it is now believed that Carlyle inadvertently attributed the phrase to Burke rather than
British politician and historian Thomas Macauley, who mentioned it in his essays, Hallam’s
Constitutional History, tenth paragraph from the end, Edinburgh Review, September 1828 (Elliot,
1986). But in France, according to Elliot (1986), the three estates of the realm were the clergy, the
nobles, and the burghers. The author added that in France, lawyers were called the Fourth Estate.
However, journalists held that they were the fourth branch/fourth estate of the government because
they were the public’s voices and the ones who reported the government’s proceedings and
business to the public. Journalists in The Bahamas and the Caribbean are also considered as the
Fourth Estate because of their role in society. In the Handbook for Caribbean Journalists, Gloria
Biggs (1983) states that journalism “is the vehicle through which people learn about the news of
their fellow humans, their communities, their nations and their world. It is a vehicle through which
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people are upheld to understand the complex society in which we live.” Biggs (1983) points out
that journalists have a solemn responsibility to uphold the highest standards of their profession,
which involves approaching every subject with an open mind, striving for fair unbiased and factual
reporting, dedicating themselves to the general welfare, and resisting special pressures that may
be brought to bear upon them.
The third stage of journalism ethics was the evolution of this “public ethic” into the liberal
theory of the press, during the nineteenth century (Ward, 2010, p. 47). It was the philosophers of
the Enlightenment period who introduced ideologies of liberalism. Liberal theory included the
premise that a free press was necessary for the protection of the liberties of the public (Ward,
2010). Liberalism’s vision was that a free press would educate the masses and promote a liberal
society. Ward (2010) argues that at the height of the liberal press there was a rise in modern ethics
with an emphasis on rules and restraints. During this time the press began to modernize as they
became independent from political parties, and news and opinions were separated. This occurred
because journalists wanted to be objective and allow the public to make decisions on their own
without having an influence over a person’s decision. Basically, the journalists excluded their
opinions from the story and only reported what was true and factual. He also argues that journalists
created codes of ethics and associations in response to the withering belief in the liberal hope that
a free press would be a serious public informer. Codes of ethics and associations began to form to
prove to the public that the press would become the leader in the dissemination of news and
information. In the late 1800s, the writer explained that journalism ethics was born in an attempt
to respond to deficiencies in the idea of a free press and a marketplace of ideas. The solution was
ethics, the development of standards to evaluate how the press should use its freedom for the public
good (Ward, 2010). However, Biggs (1983) argues that journalism was founded and developed
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on a code that seeks to set standards for those who practice it and to establish the kind of behavior
that upholds the good name of the profession. Biggs (1983) also argues that the need for a code
of ethics sprang from the recognition of the immense power of the journalistic media.
These concerns paved the way for the fourth stage in journalism ethics history, which is
the elaboration of ethical standards and duties for the free press across the twentieth century (Ward,
2010). In this stage, journalists are able to build upon the codes of ethics that were already
established and they now had the opportunity to demonstrate the full benefits of a free press in a
society. Journalism associations in the United States began to formulate and adopt codes, and, as
a result, an elaborate set of newsroom rules developed to ensure that journalists adhered to
conventions of objectivity, story structure, and treatment of sources (Ward, 2010).
According to Ward (2010), the world has now entered into the fifth stage of journalism
ethics, which is an attempt to rethink ethics, to articulate the purposes and standards of a mixed,
interactive media of global impact. He argues that there is now a more complex challenge to
journalism ethics. He raises this question: “In a world dominated by freewheeling internet and
citizen journalists, does democratic journalism really need a restraining cautious ethics” (p. 49)?
Citizen journalists are performing some of the same roles as a professional journalist by gathering
and disseminating news via the Internet. However, there are ethical concerns regarding the
conduct of citizen journalists in relation to the information they share on the Internet. Even though
citizen journalists are not professional journalists, the information they share affects many people
in the same manner as professional journalist does. Professional journalists have more credibility
than citizen journalists and they are held more accountable for their work when compared to citizen
journalists. A code of ethics is necessary for a professional journalists who wish to distinguish
themselves from non-credentialed writers.
Codes of ethics demonstrates the level of
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professionalism and power of journalists. As stated by A. David Gordon, John M. Kitross and
Carol Reuss (1996) in Controversies in Media Ethics, codes help acquaint media neophytes with
some of the key ethical issues and principles they will face as practitioners, and can increase their
understanding of professional values.
History of Journalism Codes of Ethics in The Bahamas & Around the World
For many years Bahamian journalists have tried to establish associations and press clubs
that would have the responsibility of formulating a code of ethics, but such goals never flourished
effectively because the organizations only existed for a short period of time. According to Steve
McKinney, a veteran Bahamian journalist and CEO of Peace 107.5 FM, in a telephone interview
with the author, Bahamian journalists began establishing press clubs from the 1970s, but they
never survived (personal communication, August 12, 2014). McKinney explains that the press
clubs’ demise were mainly a result of a lack of commitment by the clubs’ members. An
anonymous tabloid veteran journalist, who participated in this study, agrees with McKinney
because she was involved in the early efforts to establish a press club. The veteran journalist told
the author in an email response that she along with Leon Turnquest, former editor of The Nassau
Guardian, and Larry Smith, a former journalist, initiated the idea of establishing a press club. “We
drew up the by-laws and tried to get other journalists involved, but there was simply no interest.
This continues to be the case today,” the tabloid veteran journalist said. She told the author that
she cannot explain the lack of interest and “perhaps local journalists do not feel that a press club
can do anything for them.”
McKinney was a member of The Bahamas Press Club, which began in 1996, but he said
the organization became inactive in 2009 as the membership dwindled and journalists lost interest.
When asked if The Bahamas Press Club had a code of ethics, McKinney said there is a possibility
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that the organization had one. The author of this research asked the same question via a telephone
interview to Anthony Newbold, former treasurer of The Bahamas Press Club, and he was also
uncertain about the organization’s code of ethics (personal communication, August 13, 2014). But
Newbold revealed to the author that he is in the process of resurrecting The Bahamas Press Club
with a new project called The Bahamas Press Club 2014. Newbold, who is also the director of the
BCB’s Parliamentary Channel, is currently meeting with members of the Bahamian media to
organize The Bahamas Press Club 2014, and he assured that the new organization has the
intentions of drafting a code of ethics for Bahamian journalists within its first year. During the
interview he stated, “My first goal is to get the media community to understand and believe in the
idea that an official organization representing the profession is desirable and necessary. My vision is
to see an organization that has earned the respect of the public with such credibility that when it speaks,
people really listen!” Newbold explained that the aims and objectives of The Bahamas Press Club
2014 are the following:
1. To monitor and ensure, as much as possible, a high quality, standard and
professionalism is maintained by those employed in media in The Bahamas, especially
the working press.
2. To ensure public access to pertinent information and to always work to guarantee
the accuracy of that information.
3. To always lobby public officials to account to the Bahamian public.
4. To establish a code of ethics to govern media professionals in The Bahamas; to
investigate complaints against media professionals in accordance with that code and
issue appropriate penalties.
5. To seek the passage and enactment of a working Freedom of Information Act in The
Bahamas.
However, the fourth objective might raise questions among media professionals because it seems
to turn the code of ethics into a series of laws and the press club into a police force. Professional
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journalists may also question why the press club should be given the power to control and exercise
punishment for their journalistic expressions that many insist the government should not have.
According to the tabloid veteran journalist, “a code of ethics will not alleviate unethical practices
unless there is a penalty attached.” For example, she said, “That penalty is usually a hefty fine for
damages levied by the courts as a result of court action taken by the offended party.” While officials
of the Bahamas Press Club 2014 believe enforcing a code of ethics with penalties is appropriate,
officials of the United States’ Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) believe otherwise. According
to an article in the Quill, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is voluntary and the
organization has no mechanism for investigating complaints or enforcing discipline on SPJ members
and other journalist. But the article explained that the SPJ code provides a framework to evaluate
ethical behavior and journalists along with the public are encouraged to hold news reports and
commentary up to ethical scrutiny. SPJ does not enforce its code because of the nature of journalism
and the need to preserve freedom of expression and an independent press (Quill).
Newbold assured that the new Bahamas Press Club 2014 will be different from the old
Bahamas Press Club established in 1996 because the new club has a clear focus on positive
activities designed to uplift the profession and create the kind of gravitas for an organization of
this nature. However, in 2012 The Bahamas Association of Journalists was established and as
mentioned earlier the organization is in the early stages of drafting a code of ethics. Therefore,
The Bahamas Association of Journalists and The Bahamas Press Club 2014 may be the
organizations to begin the history of a nation-specific code of ethics for all Bahamian journalists.
Moreover, it is important for Bahamian journalists to take a look at a world history of journalists’
codes of ethics and its development in various countries.
From the early 1900s, media ethics was a concern for journalists in many countries around
the world. Media ethics has a rich history in some countries such as the United States, Austria,
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Sweden, and the United Kingdom and it continues to evolve. At the beginning of the twentieth
century, many journalists began to establish professional organizations and create codes of ethics
for its journalists. This trend continued in many countries around the world, especially in the years
following World War II, because the need for a journalists’ code of ethics grew even more.
According to Brunn (1979) in Professional Codes in Journalism, in 1900 the first known written
ethical code was documented in Sweden. This code was not widely recognized across media
practitioners, and it took more than two decades before Sweden was ready to officially adopt one
of the first codes in the world (Brunn, 1979). According to Ward (2010), as the press gained its
freedom in the late 1800s, people became worried about the growing power of newspapers
controlled by press barons with strong commercial ties and there was growing criticism of the
sensational and “yellow” press. He added that it was no longer obvious that a free press was the
people’s tribune or that the free press made the public’s interest its chief concern. Therefore,
journalism ethics was developed to show the public that the press had standards that would work
for their good. One of the oldest known ethical codes was adopted in France in 1918, when the
Syndicat National des Journalists adopted a “Charter of Conduct” (Brunn, 1979, p. 17). According
to Brunn (1979), the idea for creating a code of ethics was given some attention during the first
International Press Conference in 1915. The author explained that during the second International
Press Conference in 1921, the idea was further developed when two prominent newspapermen,
Norwegian Ludvig Saxe and American James Brown, delivered papers on the question of
professional conduct. Brown suggested that an international Code of Ethics and Standards of
Practice should be prepared for use in journalism (Brunn, 1979). No international code was created
at the meetings, but the spark was ignited, and in several countries national codes were born and
adopted (Brunn, 1979). In 1923 Sweden’s National Press Club “Publicistklubben” adopted a code
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called “Rules for Publishing” (Brunn, 1979). Also, 1923 marked the birth of the first American
code, when the American Society of Newspaper Editors adopted “Cannons of Journalism” (Brunn,
1979). According to Ward (2010), by the 1920s, major journalism associations in the United States
had adopted formal codes that called for objectivity in reporting, independence from government
and business, and a strict distinction between news and opinion. The Society of Professional
Journalists had a written code since 1926, and it borrowed the American Society of Newspaper
Editors Cannons of Journalism until its own code was drafted in 1973 (Brown, 2011). In the
United States., the National Association of Broadcasters adopted a “Standards of Practice” rule in
1929, which was revised in 1939 and known as the Radio Code (Brunn, 1979). The American
Newspaper Guild adopted its Code of Ethics in 1934 (Brunn, 1979). These are some of the first
known journalism codes of ethics that were established around the world. Ward (2010) noted that
by the 1940s, journalists, scholars and others in the United States had constructed the social
responsibility theory of the press. The theory held that the press had an ethical duty to provide
accurate, comprehensive news and a forum for diverse voices, even if the voices differed from the
newspaper’s own views (Ward, 2010). Also by the 1940s, many journalists in the Eastern
countries of the world began to adopt a code of ethics. Brunn (1979) explained that in Japan,
Japanese journalists got their ethical codes in 1946, when the journalists’ organization Nihon
Shinbun Kyokai adopted a set of rules called Canons of Journalism, which covered only the printed
press. The author added that the editors in India issued a resolution on press principles in 1947,
which included rules on ethics. In Israel, the Association of Journalists in Tel Aviv adopted in
1958 a set of “Rules of Professional Conduct” as an interim code to avoid a strict press law (Brunn,
1979, p. 22). The author said the Israeli code was redrafted and adopted by the Israeli Press
Council in 1963. Also in 1963, the Council of Pakistani Editors signed a Code of Ethics under
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pressure from the military government, and it has been redrafted several times (Brunn, 1979). In
March 1965, the editors and owners of the press in Lebanon signed a Press Pact of Honour
consisting of both codes of ethics and conduct (Brunn, 1979). In Indonesia, where a strict Law of
the Press came into force in 1966, the journalists’ organization Persatuan Wartawan Indonesia
adopted a voluntary code Rules on Ethics in 1986 to avoid stricter regulations based on law (Brunn,
1979). In the Soviet Republic of Ukraine, the Ukrainian branch of the USSR Union of Journalists
adopted a Code of Ethics based on an act of the Supreme Court of the Ukrainian SSR, which had
ruled on journalistic ethics in 1973 (Brunn, 1979).
Many journalists in Eastern and Western
countries around the world were adopting codes of ethics during this era and today some codes are
still being revised to meet the standards of twenty-first century journalism.
While many journalists around the world were establishing press associations and creating
codes of ethics following World War II, journalists in The Bahamas were busy reporting on their
nation’s struggle for independence. The Bahamas was under British rule until it gained its
independence in 1973. The Bahamas is now a Commonwealth country. The Commonwealth of
Nations is an intergovernmental organization of fifty-three member states comprising of countries
that were ruled by the British Empire. Commonwealth countries such as Jamaica, the United
Kingdom, Canada and Australia created their codes of ethics following World War II. According
to Brunn (1979), journalists in Jamaica were among the first to react in the field of ethics when
World War II was over. The Press Association of Jamaica was established during the war and in
1945 adopted a Code of Conduct and Rules of Behavior for the press, radio and television (Brunn,
1979). In the late 1940s the British National Union of Journalists adopted a Code of Professional
Conduct (Brunn, 1979). The union included in its statutes (Rule 19) a provision that says: “a
member shall study and obey…the Code of Professional Conduct” and other paragraphs
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containing further ethical principles (Brunn, 1979). This statute made it mandatory for British
journalists to know and follow the Code of Professional Conduct and the ethical principles
associated with it. In the United Kingdom, the Institute of Journalists, one of the world’s oldest
organizations in the field of journalism, adopted a Code of Ethics in 1963 (Brunn, 1979). Also in
the 1940s the Australian Journalists Association got its Code of Ethics (Brunn, 1979). Later, the
Australian Broadcasting Commission established the Broadcasting Programme Standards, which
was revised in August 1979 (Brunn, 1979). The Canadian Association of Broadcasters established
its Code of Ethics in 1943 (Brunn, 1979). A code of ethics in these countries gave journalists the
tool they needed to help with their decision-making.
A Survey of Codes of Ethics in the Commonwealth Caribbean
Like some other Caribbean countries with a code of ethics for journalists, Jamaica’s Code
of Conduct of Rules for the Comportment of the Press, Radio, and Television points out that the
basic objectives of the journalistic profession in Jamaica are those of “service in the public interest
of the people and the country and the reaffirmation and defence of human rights and, generally, of
all honest cases” (Brunn, 1979, p. 84). The document’s preamble states that the privileges that
journalists may have must be exercised only in the undertaking of a service to the people, and it
specifies that if conflicts occur between journalists and the interests of the community, the latter
shall prevail (Brunn, 1979). Among the general norms stipulated in the document are some
elements that are prohibited.
The attack on one’s personal dignity, information about an
individual’s personal life, slander and defamation are prohibited (Brunn, 1979). Also prohibited
are offensive references having to do with race, color, faith, sex, nationality, or any form of related
discrimination (Brunn, 1979). With respect to political content, news must be avoided that creates
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subversion, contributes to the disunity of the people or simultaneously promotes violence or the
disruption of peace (Brunn, 1979). Jones (1980), says the Code of Conduct also prohibits Jamaican
journalists from publishing confidential statements unless clearly in the public’s interest. The
document also explains that journalists should refrain from insulting or libeling individuals,
institutions or groups and refrain from revealing or betraying the secrecy of news sources (Jones,
1980).
The Jamaica Gleaner Company is the largest local, privately owned mass media enterprise
in the Commonwealth Caribbean (Lent, 1977). The Jamaica Gleaner Company has a code of
ethics for its editorial staff, who are responsible for the company’s publications, which include The
Gleaner, the largest and one of the oldest newspapers in the Caribbean region. Among the topics
addressed in the company’s Editorial Code of Ethics and Professionalism are topics on
confidentiality, fairness, accuracy/delivering the reader experience, plagiarism, sources, and
discrimination. According to the Editorial Code of Ethics and Professionalism, journalists must
strive to include all sides relevant to a story and not exhibit bias in their news coverage (The
Gleaner). The Editorial Code of Ethics also states, “We will use unnamed sources as the sole basis
for published information as a last resort; this must be discussed with the supervising editor or
Editor-in-Chief” (The Gleaner). As illustrated in the Editorial Code of Ethics, journalists at the
Jamaica Gleaner Company are committed to seeking and reporting the truth, serving the public
interest, staff development, fair play, maintaining independence, and acting with integrity (The
Gleaner).
In 2010, the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) and the Media Association of Jamaica,
along with other Jamaican media professionals, implemented a revised code of ethics to replace
the 1965 PAJ Code of Ethics (Press Association of Jamaica). The revised code of ethics is known
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as the Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalists and Media Organizations. The code of practice
places emphasis on the coverage of children and children involved in criminal cases, grief and
trauma, privacy, and listening devices. According to the Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalists
and Media Organizations, “Journalists shall not interview children under the age of eighteen on a
subject involving the personal welfare of the child, in the absence of and without the consent of a
parent or other adult who is responsible for the children (except under special circumstances when
it is clearly in the interest of the child)” (Press Association of Jamaica). Additionally, “The press
should not identify children under the age of eighteen who are involved in cases concerning sexual
offences, whether as victims or as witnesses or defendants in a trial” (Press Association of
Jamaica). The Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalists and Media Organizations also noted that
journalists must show respect for grief and trauma resulting from violent crime, accident, or
tragedy, and must act with empathy and discretion when carrying out inquires (Press Association
of Jamaica). Also, the code of practice explained that persons in shock or in deep grief should not
be interviewed or photographed unless it is demonstrably in the public interest (Press Association
of Jamaica). The original draft of the Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalists and Media
Organizations was based on the model of the Code of Practice of the Press Complaints
Commission of the United Kingdom (Press Association of Jamaica).
Guyana is another Caribbean country that has a code of ethics for journalists. According
to Brunn (1979), at the end of 1974 the organization of journalists in Guyana adopted a Declaration
of Principles in Journalism, which is a combination of the International Federation of Journalists
(IFJ) declaration of 1954 and the Munich declaration. But in 2001, according to Lennox Grant
and Wesley Gibbings (2009) in An Election Handbook for Caribbean Journalists, actions were
taken to regulate Guyanese media as a result of the media’s behavior during the elections that year,
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which impacted the electoral process. Grant and Gibbings (2009) noted that self-regulatory actions
involved media organizations in Guyana signing a code of conduct, which was done for the
purpose of the 2001 elections. Unfortunately, the Media Code of Conduct failed dismally during
the election campaign, and it was ignored or violated far more than it was complied with (Grant &
Gibbings, 2009). But Guyana did not lose hope in the need for a code of ethics. Therefore, in
2006 as another election approached, media organizations met and drafted an improved model of
self-regulation (Grant & Gibbings, 2009).
As a result, thirty nine media owners and
representatives signed their adherence to the Code of Conduct for the Media for Reporting and
Coverage for Guyana Elections 2006, which was designed for media owners, publishers, editors,
and journalists (Grant & Gibbings, 2009). According to the code’s preamble, Guyanese media
pledges to “contribute to the holding of a free and fair election, ensuring the success of this
democratic process” (Grant & Gibbings, 2009, p. 54). The code of conduct states that the media
must provide a truthful, comprehensive, accurate, balanced, and fair account of events (Grant &
Gibbings, 2009). The code also states that the media should hold themselves free from any, or all,
control and direction from any political parties officially registered to contest the elections (Grant
& Gibbings, 2009). Additionally, the code of conduct encourages the media to serve as a forum
for the exchange of public comment, opinion, discussion and criticism in a fundamentally fair,
balanced and reasonable manner to promote principles of tolerance and respect for human dignity
(Grant & Gibbings, 2009).
In 2002 the Code of Practice of Caribbean Journalists was drafted in view of the creation
of the Eastern Caribbean Press Council, which was establish in January 2003 (Media Wise). The
Code of Practice of Caribbean Journalists is also modeled after the Code of Practice of the Press
Complaints Commission of the United Kingdom (Press Association of Jamaica). The Code of
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Practice of Caribbean Journalists was adopted by Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean in January
2003 (Press Association of Jamaica).
English-speaking countries included in the Eastern
Caribbean are Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St.
Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, British Virgin Islands, and Anguilla (see Figure 4). As
mentioned in the preamble of the Code of Practice of Caribbean Journalists, all members of the
press have a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards and the code is the
cornerstone of the system of self-regulation to which the industry is committed (Media Wise). The
Code of Practice of Caribbean Journalists places similar emphasis on some of the same topics
addressed in the Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalists and Media Organizations. The Code of
Practice of Caribbean Journalists states, “Journalists and newspapers have a moral obligation to
protect confidential sources of information. Care must be taken in the selection of sources and
information presented must be thoroughly verified” (Media Wise).
The code also states,
“Journalists shall not obtain material by using clandestine devices or publish such material unless
justified by the public interest” (Media Wise). Caribbean journalists who adhere to the code
believe the right to freedom of expression and the right to access information carry obligations that
require journalists to perform with intelligence, objectivity, accuracy, and fairness (Media Wise).
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A media code of ethics was proposed in 1997 by the government of Trinidad and Tobago
(Press Reference). It was a part of a government document entitled, "Toward a Free and
(Source: Caribseek)
Figure 4. - Eastern Caribbean Countries
The Code of Practice of Caribbean Journalists was adopted by Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean
in January 2003. English-speaking Eastern Caribbean countries include Antigua & Barbuda,
Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, British
Virgin Islands, and Anguilla.
Responsible Media" (Press Reference).
This code required journalists and newspapers to
"endeavor to highlight and promote activities of the state and the public, which aim at national
unity and solidarity, integrity of Trinidad and Tobago, and economic and social progress" (Press
Reference). However, this code came under much scrutiny by the Trinidad and Tobago press and
was eventually shelved (Press Reference). Many journalists felt that the ultimate goal of the
government's new code was not to improve the freedom of the press, but rather to place journalists
and newspapers under stricter scrutiny of the government (Press Reference).
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In 2001, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), headquartered in Trinidad
and Tobago, was established and implemented a code of ethics for media professionals in the
Caribbean (ACM Constitution). One of ACMs purposes is to collaborate with national media
associations and related media organizations in promoting professional and ethical standards,
safeguarding and promoting the rights and privileges of media in all Caribbean countries (ACM
Constitution). According to ACM’s Code of Ethics, members should refrain from writing,
publishing, broadcasting news, information, or comments not based on facts or designed to
misinform. Members should also refrain from fabricating or plagiarizing news or engaging in the
practice of self-censorship to suppress essential information (ACM Constitution).
As for The Bahamas, the author of this research discovered that the Broadcasting
Corporation of The Bahamas (BCB), also known as ZNS, adopted the United States Society of
Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics. In a telephone interview, Sandra Knowles, a human
resources representative at the BCB, said the SPJ Code of Ethics is the only ethical code on the
record for journalists at ZNS. It was also discovered that The Bahamas Association of Journalists,
established in 2012, is in the early stages of creating a code of ethics for the organization, but
nothing has been done in this regard at the time of this writing. Storr, who is also a founding
member of The Bahamas Association of Journalists, explained that the organization has an
incomplete draft of a code of ethics. As mentioned previously, The Bahamas Press Club 2014,
has an aim to draft a code of ethics after the club’s launch. However, Bahamian journalists and
media practitioners interviewed by the author prior to this research gave no indication as to whether
they use the ACM code of ethics or any of the other known codes of ethics throughout the
Caribbean, such as the Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalists and Media Organizations.
Further research should also be done to examine the effectiveness and the enforcement of the
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known codes of ethics in the English-speaking Caribbean such as the ACM code of ethics, the
Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalists and Media Organizations, and the Code of Practice of
Caribbean Journalists because of the ethical concerns regarding Caribbean journalists.
Freedom of Information and Press Freedom in the English-Speaking Caribbean
Many English-speaking Caribbean countries (listed in Chapter 1- Background
Information) face challenges with regard to the access of information and government control of
the media. In the study Caribbean Journalism’s Economy: Advancing Democracy and the
Common Good, Storr (2013) mentioned that despite the passage of freedom of information acts
(FOIA) in most of the English-speaking Caribbean countries, obtaining information remains a
great challenge. The influence of political systems on Caribbean media through government
regulations is a growing concern for democracy in the region (Storr, 2013).
Caribbean
governments play an active role in the control of media through imposing media laws such as libel
and defamation (Storr, 2013). The International Press Institute (IPI) has an initiative in the
Caribbean calling on governments in the region to repeal the criminal defamation and insult laws,
such as libel (International Press Institute). A statement issued by IPI noted that media outlets
across the wider Caribbean may be subjected to a panoply of repressive measures, from jailing and
persecution to the widespread scourge of insult laws and criminal defamation, which are
sometimes used by the powerful (e.g. government) to prevent critical appraisal of their actions and
to deprive the public of information about misdeeds (International Press Institute). The political
structure is centralized, with political power resting in the hands of the prime minister and his or
her governing party (Storr, 2013). This allows the governing party to maintain a high level of
control over the media (Storr, 2013). These systems were inherited from the British, whose media
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environment is also controlled by its political structure (Storr, 2013). For example, in The
Bahamas, the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (BCB) is owned and controlled by the
government. The Bahamian government provides funding for the BCB and the prime minister has
the power to control the information broadcast, especially if the information does not support the
government’s political agenda. In the article titled The PLP, Victimisation, and ZNS, written by
former governor general and journalist Sir Arthur Foulkes, when Prime Minister Perry Christie
appointed Calsey Johnson as chairman of the BCB, he sent a clear signal to the public about what
kind of national radio and television he wanted at ZNS. According to Foulkes, for 25 years, 1967
to 1992, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government failed to free the airwaves for private
broadcasting and abused ZNS shamelessly and repeatedly. Foulkes also noted that the BCB was
treated as if it belonged to the PLP, and Johnson was one of the allies who kept guard and severely
restricted access to ZNS by the official opposition and others who had views that were not in
accord with the PLP. During this era, according to Foulkes, opposition politicians had to submit
their convention and election speeches forty-eight hours in advance, so that their speeches could
be vetted by Johnson before they could be aired on ZNS. In addition, Foulkes said, “Opposition
politicians were called in and had to endure the humiliation of sitting in front of Mr. Johnson or
some other PLP commissar who told them what they could and could not say in their speeches!”
As mentioned earlier, the airwaves became free for private broadcasting under the Free National
Movement (FNM) government in 1992, but there are still concerns regarding the government’s
control of the media in The Bahamas.
British media scholar Oates (2009) identifies the
relationship between the political system in the United Kingdom and the media, particularly
broadcast media, as intense (Storr, 2013). This descriptor also applies to the relationship between
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the media and politicians in these former British colonies (Storr, 2013). Some Caribbean editors
and journalists have even characterized this relationship as hostile (Storr, 2013).
John A. Lent in his 1982 study Mass Media and Socialists Governments in the
Commonwealth Caribbean, gave an analysis of the government-media relations in Guyana,
Grenada, and Jamaica, which showed that the countries’ national media systems faced many
problems under their past socialist governments.
Some of the problems resulted from the
fundamental distrust of socialism on the part of the conservative media, which are tied to big
business interests (Lent, 1982). For example, in the 1970s, the government of Forbes Burnham
virtually took over Guyanese mass media, purchasing newspapers, nationalizing broadcasting, and
harassing the opposition with legislative, economic, and physical sanctions (Lent, 1982). By the
end of the decade, the government, by then socialist, owned both dailies, Guyana Chronicle and
the Citizen, both radio stations, and the new television service (Lent, 1982). Governmental policy,
usually enunciated by Christopher Nascimento, minister of state in the prime minister's office,
stated explicitly that media were national resources whose ownership could not be left to chance
(Lent, 1982). During this era, the Guyanese government also went to the extent to issue regulations
that required licenses for the importation of printing equipment and newsprint. According to Lent
(1982), the opposition newspaper Mirror was the intended victim for such government regulations,
and suffered tremendously because of the restrictions associated with the regulations. For
example, in 1971 the Mirror placed an order with East Germany for a rotary offset press; the order
was canceled by the government, which claimed there could not be importation from a socialist
nation (Lent, 1982). When the Mirror tried to import such a press from the United States, the
government promulgated an order that a newspaper needed an import license to obtain printing
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material or newsprint from abroad (Lent, 1982). A license was issued to the Mirror; but before the
press arrived, the license expired and was never renewed (Lent, 1982).
In Grenada, as illustrated by Lent (1982), under Maurice Bishop’s leadership, the
Grenadian government harassed the oppositionist bi-weekly newspaper Torchlight and claimed
that Torchlight carried a “libelous” story saying a member of the national government was
involved in a communist plot to overthrow Antigua’s government (p. 387). The harassment began
in April 1979 when Bishop said Torchlight "jumped on the bandwagon by attempting to discredit
the people's revolution" (Lent, 1982, p. 387). After the May 6 issue, Bishop said the newspaper
had a number of "malicious and distorted articles" politically dangerous to national security (Lent,
1982, p. 387). However, on October 13, 1979, the twenty-year-old Torchlight was closed and
ordered not to publish any other newspapers (Lent, 1982). According to Lent (1982), it appeared
that the government was most incensed by a story that appeared on October 10, which alleged that
government discrimination against the Rastafariansect, which the newspaper predicted, would go
to the streets to demonstrate (Lent, 1982). The Rastafarians turned the tables on the Torchlight,
demonstrating in front of its building against the newspaper and the government (Lent, 1982). On
October 13 "civilian supporters" of the People's Revolutionary Government demonstrated against
the Torchlight, and at that time the newspaper was closed (Lent, 1982).
In another illustration of government-media relationships, Lent (1982) pointed out that in
Jamaica, both Norman Manley and Edward Seaga governments were accused of tampering with
freedom of expression (Lent, 1982). Throughout the Manley administration (1972-1980), and
especially during the 1980 election, the conservative, independently owned Daily Gleaner was the
center of the controversy (Lent, 1982). As Manley's People's National Party (PNP) moved steadily
to the left, and in the process alienated the business class, the Gleaner became increasingly critical
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of Manley’s government. For example, according to Lent (1982), the Gleaner revealed a strong
editorial bias against the brand of social and cultural transformation Manley sought. Also, the
frequent reporting of adverse articles concerning Jamaica in the foreign press pointed to the
Gleaner’s partiality (Lent, 1982). However, under Seaga’s rule, the issue was the role of
journalists within the government-owned Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, Jamaica Daily News,
and Agency for Public Information (API) (Lent, 1982). Seaga was responsible for the Ministry of
Information, Broadcasting and Culture, and sought revenge on the government media, which he
felt had done him an injustice (Lent, 1982). Seaga was bent on getting rid of a number of
journalists (Lent, 1982). Between November 1980 and January 1981, four API staff members
were fired without cause, and six others, including some supervisory staff, were transferred to
other sections of public service not related to journalism (Lent, 1982). At the JBC, journalists
were called to account for what the government termed as "inaccurate and distorted" stories,
followed by dismissals of three members of the public affairs department (Lent, 1982). When the
deputy general manager, Claude Robinson, objected to submitting a program to review, he was
fired (Lent, 1982). In early 1981 sixteen others were fired at the JBC, bringing the total public
media employees fired, suspended, or transferred to thirty-three (Lent, 1982).
According to Storr (2013), print media, private entities in all the English-speaking
Caribbean countries except Belize, which has a mix of private and government ownership, evolved
with restrictive media laws, libel and defamation. These laws remain a bane in the practice of
journalism throughout the region and have become more insidious with the opening of these
markets (Storr, 2013). Storr (2013) explained that some Caribbean journalists complained that
these laws, inherited from the British, restrain them from criticizing elected officials and other
public figures. For example, Caribbean journalist Wesley Gibbings believes these restrictive laws
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prohibit journalism from protecting and advancing democracy (Storr, 2013). This is hindering
journalists’ rights in a democracy, when compared to democratic countries such as the United
States, because their freedom is limited and they can face libel lawsuits if the elected official
dislikes the criticisms made. Unlike the United States’ constitution, the constitutions of these
countries, except Trinidad and Tobago, do not guarantee freedom of the press (Storr, 2013).
Instead, the constitutions in four Caribbean countries, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, and Jamaica,
identify a vague freedom of expression (Storr, 2013) (see discussion on Freedom of Expression
and Free Press in Chapter 1 – Background Information). However, Trinidad and Tobago’s
constitution specifically identifies the rights of a free press but has done very little to encourage
freedom of the press (Storr, 2013). In 2012 the constitution was downgraded by Freedom House,
a non-profit international organization that monitors press freedom, for its abusive treatment of
journalists (Storr, 2013).
Important Elements of a Journalists’ Code of Ethics
Various media observe different ethical codes, which tend to be similar since they reflect
the three guiding principles for journalists that were formulated by Poynter Institute of Media
Studies (Black et al., 1993). The guiding principles are the following: (1) Seek the truth and report
it fully as possible, (2) Act independently, and (3) Minimize harm (Nassanga, 2008). Therefore,
most journalistic codes of ethics emphasize the concepts of accuracy, fairness, objectivity, privacy,
conflict of interest, confidentiality, accountability, and independence.
Such concepts are
considered as important elements of a code of ethics and they can be considered for a prospective
code of ethics for Bahamian journalists. Most codes concentrate on matters that deal with the
provision of reliable information and on distortion, suppression, bias, sensationalism, and the
invasion of privacy (Nassanga, 2008). Some codes also include provisions for the protection of
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the independence of journalists from undue pressure as well as the protection of a source’s
confidentiality (Nassanga, 2008). But the most common concepts, accuracy, fairness, objectivity,
privacy, and conflict of interest will be discussed further.
Accuracy. Accuracy is at the heart of journalism and one of the most important elements of a
code of ethics. Fred Brown, former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists
and former chair of its ethics committee, expressed that the principles of accuracy and fairness
stand at the very heart of journalism’s “prime directive,” which is to provide an accurate
representation of an event or issue (Brown, 2011, p. 48). John C. Merrill (1997) in Journalism
Ethics: Philosophical Foundations for News Media mentioned that accuracy adds to truth, is a part
of truth, and is extremely important in journalism in that it is a rather easily detectable aspect of
truthful reporting. Accuracy is the presentation of the correct information, such as direct quote,
and it is an essential responsibility of journalists and news organizations (Brown, 2011). Merrill
(1997) added that accuracy means getting the exact facts, figures, and spelling names correctly.
People should be quoted accurately, names should be spelled correctly, addresses should be given
precisely, and facts and statistics should be reported correctly (Merrill, 1997). According to Brown
(2011), accuracy means getting it right and it is an essential responsibility of individual journalists
and news organizations. Accuracy was chosen as an important element of a journalists’ code of
ethics because it is vital for journalists to report the actual facts or information, rather than what
people think, expect, or fashion by themselves. Being accurate would allow journalists to avoid
reporting false information. Dale Jacquette (2007) in Journalism Ethics: Moral Responsibility in
the Media, argues that journalists are morally committed to providing accurate information in the
public interest, which is the fundamental principal of journalistic ethics. Jacquette (2007) further
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explained that it is morally obligatory for journalists, to the best of their abilities, to provide
accuracy in reporting the news and to avoid both deliberate and inadvertent falsehoods. Accuracy
is necessary because audiences deserve, and in most cases still pay for, a reasonably accurate and
unbiased picture of the world they live in (Brown, 2011). Every effort should be made to ensure
that statements of fact are correct and that information is presented in context (Brown, 2011). In
most democratic countries where freedom of the press is guaranteed, it is crucial for journalists to
provide accuracy to avoid telling deliberate lies because a lie can destroy a person’s character and
ruin a journalist credibility. Inaccuracies lead to the lessening of credibility for the media (Merrill,
1997). According to Straubhaar, LaRose, and Davenport (2013) in Media Now: Understanding
Media, Culture and Technology, in conventional news media, prevailing journalistic ethical
principles about the accuracy of information are quite strict. Journalists do not fabricate evidence,
make up quotes, create stories or events, or manipulate misleading photographs, any of which may
deceive the public (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport 2013).
Fairness.
According to Brown (2011), fairness means pursuing accuracy with vigor and
compassion and reporting information without favoritism, self-interest or prejudice.
Hazel
Dicken-Garcia (1989) in Journalistic Standards in Nineteenth-Century America indicated that
fairness also means a journalist is obligated to present all sides of an issue. Straubhaar, LaRose,
and Davenport (2013) argued that fairness is important because journalists and editors constantly
make choices about what they cover. They can advance certain companies, people, and causes
over others by the decisions they make on whom and what to cover, and whom to quote first and
how much to quote (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013). Brown (2011) also posited that
accuracy and fairness also mean portraying individuals and issues with a basic sense of open-
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mindedness, avoiding biased reporting, stereotypical portrayals and unsubstantiated allegations.
For example, stereotypical portrayals should be avoided because groups of people such as women
can be portrayed negatively. The media can sometimes portray women as sexual figures and
second-class citizens, which should be avoided by journalists.
Fairness was chosen as an important element of a code of ethics because it involves the
journalists’ ability to see other points of view, tolerate them, and the ability to restrain from
expressing their own views. According to Jeffrey Olen (1988) in Ethics in Journalism, fairness
begins when journalists, at all times, show respect for the dignity, privacy, rights, and well-being
of people encountered in the course of gathering and presenting the news. Showing respect for
people is to recognize them as autonomous beings, who are individuals with their own goals and
purposes, their own reasons for acting, and the ability to weigh these reasons, decide what they
take to be the right thing to do and then act accordingly (Olen, 1988). But even more, showing
respect is to treat people as autonomous beings, refusing to interfere with their autonomy as long
as they do not interfere with the autonomy of others (Olen, 1988). To ignore or violate the rights
of others, or to take advantage of them, or treat them unfairly in any way, is to show disrespect
(Olen, 1988). However, journalists should always show respect for their sources and the society
they serve. As mentioned in The American Society of Newspaper Editors Statement of Principles,
“Journalists should respect the rights of people involved in the news, observe the common
standards of decency, and stand accountable to the public for the fairness and accuracy of their
news reports” (Cohen & Elliott, 1997, p. 142).
According to Merrill (1997), British historian and media critic Paul Johnson
suggested five commandments that relate to fairness in the media: a willingness to admit
error, a respect for words, an overriding desire to discover and tell the truth, a consideration
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of consequences, and an urge to educate. Journalists are sensitive and defensive, quick and
eager to point out the errors of others, but are often reluctant to shine a light on their own
failures and errors. Therefore, one aspect of being fair is to admit, and when possible, to
correct errors. Media that refuse to admit and correct error evidence arrogance. Words are
powerful, and the careless or improper use of them can be extremely unfair both to the
substance of the story and to the various parties involved in the story. As a result, reporters
must learn to choose words carefully in order to project the exact meaning and image that
is intended. A desire to discover and tell the truth comes when a reporter refuses to accept
glib explanations, first impressions, or surface events, but goes on to obtain by all ethical
means possible, the actual core of the story. It is impossible to consider fairness without
thinking to some degree about consequences. If journalists consider the consequences of
providing factual information and decide whether the consequences are bad or harmful,
they must then make the difficult decision to conceal or reveal the information. For a
journalist, being fair involves providing useful and accurate information in a meaningful
context, with the purpose of educating a person. Journalists want to provide valid, not
erroneous, views of various aspects of reality. Therefore, the desire to educate should
mirror the complexity of the story.
Ruth Chadwick (2001) in The Concise Encyclopedia in Ethics and Politics in the Media
explained that fairness can be achieved at its best by adhering to the standards of objectivity. This
means journalists must demonstrate dispassionate evenhandedness, with personal biases subjected
to self-policing that will protect against their infecting news content (Chadwick, 2001). But at the
heart of objectivity is non-judgmental reporting, which is largely a function of intellectual
discipline (Chadwick, 2001).
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Objectivity. According to Lee Wilkins and Clifford G. Christians (2009) in The handbook on
mass media ethics, one of the pillars of modern journalism ethics is objectivity. Objectivity,
according to Merrill (1997), has come to mean disinterested, fair, and balanced. Elliot D. Cohen
& Deni Elliott (1997) in Contemporary Ethical Issues: Journalism Ethics, defined objectivity as
(1) being nonpartisan, in the sense of not advocating a position on controversial issues; (2)
maintaining balanced partisanship, as when a newspaper provides a fair representation of opposing
partisan viewpoints, either in general or regarding particular issues; (3) maintaining value
neutrality, in the sense of stating facts without making value judgments; or (4) not distorting facts
and understanding. First, to be nonpartisan is to avoid taking a stand on controversial issues
(Cohen & Elliottt, 1997). Second, the idea of balanced partisanship is applicable to an entire news
forum (newspaper, media program etc.) and to news organizations (Cohen & Elliottt, 1997). As a
result, objectivity here means avoiding one-sidedness in the range of partisan positions
represented, either in general or regarding particular issues (Cohen & Elliottt, 1997). Third,
objectivity as value neutrality is possible to some extent but, more importantly is often undesirable
(Cohen & Elliottt, 1997). Value judgments are made both in choosing topics to report and
determining the content of the reports (Cohen & Elliottt, 1997). Fourth, objectivity as the absence
of all cognitive distortions may be impossible and perhaps unclear in meaning (Cohen & Elliott,
1997). Merrill (1997) explained that objectivity forces journalists to be fair, accurate, thorough,
balanced, dispassionate, uninvolved, unbiased, and unprejudiced. Objectivity was chosen as an
element of a journalists’ code of ethics because it relates to accuracy and fairness. The search for
journalistic excellence is accompanied by perennial concerns about how to distinguish factual
reporting from reform-oriented advocacy, illuminating analysis from concealed bias, and honest
from dishonest forms of partisanship (Cohen & Elliott, 1997).
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Some journalists believe the concept of objectivity is antiquated, due to at least three factors
which will be examined below (Wilkins & Christians, 2009). The first factor is a corrosive
skepticism about objectivity (Wilkins & Christians, 2009). Journalistic objectivity connotes a
relationship between symbol and reality, with virtual correspondence of meaning, or harmonizing,
being the result (Merrill, 1997). Objectivity can, semantically conjure up completeness of
knowledge, or it may suggest natural informational limitations kept to a minimum by the attitude
of the communicator (Merrill, 1997). The second factor is a cynicism about the ethics of profitseeking news organizations (Wilkins & Christians, 2009). Cohen & Elliott (1997) pointed out that
journalists are blamed by conservatives for having a liberal slant, by liberals for permitting
distortions caused by business interests, and by politicians for being overly negative to current
government officials (Cohen & Elliott, 1997). Therefore, journalists are often criticized for failing
to be objective and the tone of the criticisms call into question their competence, honesty, fairness,
and integrity. Finally, the third factor is a belief that non-objective journalism is best for an
“interactive” media world populated by citizen journalists and bloggers (Wilkins & Christians,
2009). Merrill (1997) argued that it is impossible for professional journalists to be objective in the
sense of relaying to the audience the totality or fullness of reality or the actual event. Merrill
(1997) explained that a reporter trapped in the inadequacy of language and personal psychological
and ideological conditioning, cannot perfectly objectify anything in communication. Reporters
strain reality through their perceptual filters and it always comes out with some distortion (Merrill,
1997).
But journalists believe that journalism should be objective. In the United States, the
Society of Professional Journalists in its 1987 Code said that objectivity “serves as a mark of an
experienced professional” and that “it is a standard of performance toward which we strive”
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(Merrill, 1997, p. 120). The United States Society of Professional Journalists is used as an example
because the United States is a democratic country, and in democracies including The Bahamas,
the media serves as the society’s watchdog supplying political information that voters base their
decisions on. However, in the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics, which was revised
in 1996, objectivity was eliminated. The 1996 code and current code, which was revised in 2014,
encourages journalists to “be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting
information” (SPJ 1996 Code of Ethics). However, Belsey and Chadwick (1992) argued that
journalism cannot be objective, for that presupposes that an inviolable interpretation of the event
as action exists prior to the report. Instead of being objective, many journalists believe that having
standards for fairness and accuracy are more appropriate. Some journalists also argue that true
objectivity in journalism is impossible and news reporters must seek balance (present both sides)
in their stories, which fosters fairness. Merrill (1997) noted that objectivity in journalism is a
diligent attempt to convey reality in words or pictures. But according to Merrill (1997), it is
impossible to be objective in the sense of relaying to the audience the totality or fullness of reality
or the actual event. Merrill (1997) argued that the most rational way to conceive of objectivity is
to think of it as a goal or an ideal toward which to strive, knowing, of course, that it can never be
reached. For the journalist, this is similar to the first and highest level of truth, the transcendental
level (Merrill, 1997). This transcendental level of truth is the all-encompassing truth, the complete,
overshadowing truth that goes beyond the potential grasp of a human being (Merrill, 1997). And,
naturally, the transcendental truth cannot be found or communicated (Merrill, 1997). Such an
objectivity does indeed exist, out there in reality, but it cannot be trapped or captured in its fullness
by even the most perceptive and diligent reporter (Merrill, 1997).
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In support of Merrill’s argument on transcendental truth, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel
(2001), in The Elements of Journalism: What News People Should Know and the Public Should
Expect, argues that truth is too complicated for us to pursue, or perhaps it does not even exist
because we are all subjective individuals. However, society requires journalists to pursue the truth
(Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2001). Kovach and Rosenstiel (2001) pointed out that this “journalistic
truth” is more than mere accuracy. It is a sorting-out process that develops between the initial
story and the interaction among the public, newsmakers, and journalists over time (Kovach &
Rosentiel, 2001). According to Merrill (1997), this is the second level of truth, the potential truth.
Merrill (1997) explained that the potential truth is composed of aspects of transcendental truth that
can possibly be grasped by human perception, research, and rationality. The journalist can, if
diligent and persistent enough, obtain potential truth, or portions of it, for inclusion in a story
(Merrill, 1997). Merrill (1997) argued that this level of truth is never reached completely by
journalists, but can serve as an ideal or goal. Kovach and Rosenstiel (2001) explained that
journalism exists in a social context, where citizens and societies depend, out of necessity, on
accurate and reliable accounting of events to function. They develop procedures and processes to
arrive at what might be called “functional truth” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2001). For example, police
track down and arrest suspects based on facts (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2001). However, this is what
journalists are after, according to Kovach & Rosenstiel (2001), a practical or functional form of
truth. It is not truth in the absolute or philosophical sense, but journalists can, and must, pursue
truth in the sense by which they operate every day (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2001). According to
Merrill (1997), this is the reported truth, which is the part of the selected truth that the journalists
actually reports. The reported truth is only part of the accumulated data that the journalist has
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perceived, or has as raw material (Merrill, 1997). It is the part of truth that journalists can control,
and the reported truth gives an image of an event in reality (Merrill, 1997).
Privacy. Privacy is another important element of a journalists’ code of ethics. According to
Chadwick (2001), the right to privacy is the right to be let alone. The right to privacy is the claim
that society is obligated to adopt laws and promote practices that shield against unwanted intrusion,
disclosures, and publicity, and against interferences with matters of personal decision-making and
conscience (Chadwick, 2001). Chadwick (2001) noted that most commonly privacy refers to the
inaccessibility of a person’s personal information, personal property, and personal decisionmaking to others (Chadwick, 2001). Privacy was chosen as an important element of a code of
ethics because most of the decisions about ethics that journalists make in regards to their job deals
with individual privacy and the extent to which journalists have the right to invade such privacy.
Merrill (1997) pointed out that privacy is a complex concept, and the journalist who wants to be
fair will take care not to intrude into the lives of private individuals. Special care should be taken
not to invade the privacy of persons in times of anxiety, tragedy, and sorrow (Merrill, 1997).
According to Andrew Belsey and Ruth Chadwick (1992) in Ethical Issues in Journalism and the
Media, privacy and alleged invasions of privacy by the media are central issues in the ethics of
journalism.
However, Belsey and Chadwick (1992) argued that a politician’s level of privacy from the
media is different when compared to a local member of society. Politicians are considered as
public officials and while in office they are accountable to society. According to Olen (1988), a
local member of society need to worry little if at all about the media invading his or her privacy.
The local member of society may see his or her name in a newspaper only in connection with
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matters of public record (Olen, 1988). For example, the local’s name may appear in the newspaper
if he or she participated in sporting activities at school or if the local was filmed while looking at
a burning building (Olen, 1988). Olen (1988) pointed out that such events are public and
newsworthy and any coverage of events that include locals as participants or spectators does not
constitute an invasion of privacy. Therefore, the privacy of politicians as it relates to the media is
different because the private lives of politicians are investigated to determine their qualifications
for office. Chadwick (2001) argued that politicians are accountable to the general public for their
official acts and misconduct while in office. Like politicians, other public officials may be required
to disclose financial and medical information to the public so that their qualifications and
suitability for office can be judged (Chadwick, 2001). Chadwick (2001) explained that the price
of accountability for politicians and public officials for office is very high and can include
justifiable, but humiliating privacy loses. For example, a politician who has his or her “secret
love nest” exposed in the press is not a victim of an invasion of privacy because of their public
accountability (Belsey & Chadwick, 1992). Politicians wield power in society and all aspects of
the exercise of power must be open to public scrutiny because this is the only way to avoid
corruption in public life (Belsey & Chadwick, 1992). Belsey and Chadwick (1992) explained that
politicians are entitled to privacy, but they are not entitled to the right to abuse privacy. Because
of their power, politicians must be accountable to the public for their actions and if they are found
violating the law, the public has the right to know. Therefore, it is the journalists’ responsibility
to inform the public of the politicians’ behavior. As illustrated by Chadwick (2001), the public’s
right to know is in essence a right to be well-informed. The right to know is the claim that society
is obligated to adopt laws and promote practices that channel useful and important information to
the general public (Chadwick, 2001). The public’s right to know include:
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1. The right to know how government conducts itself
2. The right to know how government officials and candidates for government office
conduct themselves
3. The right of access to information contained in government files and records
4. The right to important information, both about current events and issues, and about
the history and achievements of the past, insofar as they bear on current events and
issues
5. The right to know the opinions and ideas of fellow citizens
6. The right to know how public figures conduct themselves
7. The right to know how businesses and other nongovernmental entities receiving
government aid or affecting the public welfare conduct themselves
(Chadwick, 2001, p. 253)
Chadwick (2001) explained that the public’s right to know as it relates to the seven points play an
important role in democratic political systems. According to Cohen and Elliott (1997), access to
information enhances the role of the press and the effectiveness of speech in general, whether free
speech is justified in terms of producing truth, making democracy possible, or enhancing
individual well-being and autonomy. Access to information enables citizens to make sound
independent judgments about matters of personal and collaborative concern that are required by
responsible citizenship (Chadwick, 2001).
Chadwick (2001) explained that the Society of
Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) Code of Ethics places the right to know and the right to privacy on
a seesaw and attempts to balance them by requiring a presumption in the favor of personal privacy
that can be overcome in the business of journalism by the weighty public’s right to know
(Chadwick, 2001). The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics asserts the vital
importance of the public’s right to know and it demands the protection of privacy (Chadwick,
2001). The SPJ code require journalists to minimize harm, observing that “ethical journalists treat
sources, subjects, and colleagues as human beings deserving respect” (Chadwick, 2001, p. 260).
Therefore, respecting privacy is one way to respect people as human beings (Chadwick, 2001).
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Conflict of Interest. Conflict of interest defined by Cohen and Elliott (1997) is a situation in
which a journalist’s professional choice could result in financial or personal gain. Conflicts of
interest occur when journalists are distracted from doing their jobs by other pursuits in which they
have a stake (Cohen & Elliottt, 1997). Bruce M. Swain (1978) in Reporters’ Ethics noted that
conflicts of interest on the part of journalists can be the most insidious obstacles to their truthful
reporting. Swain (1978) explained that while working on a story, a journalist may be influenced
in ways the readers or editor have no way of suspecting, which include loyalties endangered by
cooperation on previous stories, personal philosophies, friendships, investments, outside jobs, or
the lure of being considered an expert or an insider. But the most obvious conflict of interest
occurs when stories seek to buy positive coverage (Cohen & Elliottt, 1997). According to
Straubhaar, LaRose, and Davenport (2013), advertisers and sponsors hope that junkets, intended
to influence media coverage, will attract the attention of reporters or influence how a subject is
portrayed. A junket is an expense paid trip intended to influence media coverage (Straubhaar,
LaRose, & Davenport, 2013). For example, a resort operator might pay for travel writers to visit
in hopes of getting a favorable story into a newspaper or magazine, free advertising, which may
entice visitors (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013). In addition to junkets, freebies, gifts
from sources and news subjects, are tempting for journalists (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport,
2013). Freebies include free gifts such as dinners, T-shirts, books, and passes to sports events or
the theater (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013). According to Straubhaar, LaRose, and
Davenport (2013), the problem with junkets and freebies is that the journalists are not experiencing
the event as regular customers who have to pay fees and haggle with managers. Additionally,
journalists who are feeling good from having been lavishly wined and dined are reflecting
positively on the free experience instead of objectivity (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013).
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Therefore, conflict of interest was chosen as an important element of a code of ethics because it
can compromise journalistic objectivity and result in biased news stories. Journalists should
understand the importance of avoiding conflict of interest in order to maintain objectivity and
fairness in their reporting. According to the article Conflicts of Interests in Broadcasting published
by the Columbia Law Review (1969), conflicts of interest in the dissemination of news raise
serious problems concerning the preservation of objective news reporting by television and radio.
Cohen and Elliott (1997) explained that conflicts of interests are avoidable and many news
organizations and professional organizations have rules or standards to preclude journalists from
becoming involved in stories that might result in financial or personal gain or loss. For example,
the Associated Press Managing Editors Code of Ethics states, “Newspapers should accept nothing
of value from news sources or others outside the profession. Gifts and free or reduced-rate travel,
entertainment, products and lodging should not be accepted. Special favors and special treatment
for members of the press should be avoided” (Meyer, 1987, p. 251). The SPJ Code of Ethics states,
“Journalists must be free from obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know the
truth. Gifts, favors, free travel, special treatment or privileges can compromise the integrity of
journalists and their employers. Nothing of value should be accepted” (Cohen & Elliottt, 1997, p.
92). However, Olen (1988) argued that the acceptance of gifts can create a feeling of obligation,
and if such obligations conflict with a journalist’s job-related obligations, they should be avoided.
Similarly, Olen (1988) pointed out, political or commercial activity can give someone a public role
as spokesperson for an identifiable interest, and if that role conflicts with the journalist’s jobrelated obligations, such activity should be avoided. Straubhaar, LaRose, and Davenport (2013)
explained that most publications have strict rules against all freebies and junkets. For example,
when journalists are given gifts, before or after stories, the gifts are returned, citing company
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policy, or given to charity (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013). Such practices tend to avoid
conflicts of interest.
The Media’s Responsibility to Society
According to Merrill (1997), the Hutchins Commission, which conducted a study on
journalistic responsibility, came up with five requirements for the American press if it is to be
responsible to the society in which they work and live. In 1947 the Hutchins Commission
published a report known as A Free and Responsible Press (Merrill, 2007). Merrill (2007) noted
that in order to be responsible, according to the Hutchins Commission, the press should refrain
from its basic negative and sensational orientation. The commission suggested that the press
should engage in more self-criticism and welcome more external criticism (Merrill, 2007). The
Hutchins Commission was founded in the United States at the end of World War II by Robert
Maynard Hutchins, a chancellor at the University of Chicago, along with twelve commissioners
who studied the American press and found it to be socially irresponsible and made suggestions for
its improvement. Robert Schmuhl (1984) in The Responsibilities of Journalism noted that before
1947, the press had been widely faulted for the lack of social responsibility. Schmuhl (1984)
pointed out that some of the perceived shortcomings of the press during that era.
The press, according to Schmuhl (1984), has done the following:
1. Has wielded enormous power for its own ends. Its owners have propagated their own
opinions, especially in matters of politics and economics, at the expense of opposing
views;
2. Has been subservient to big business and at times has allowed advertisers to control
editorial content;
3. Has resisted social change;
4. Has often paid more attention to the superficial and sensational than to the significant
in its coverage of current happenings;
5. Has endangered public morals;
6. Has invaded the privacy of individuals;
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7. Is controlled by one socio-economic class, loosely described as the “business class,”
which makes access to the press difficult for newcomers and thereby endangers the free
and open market of ideas. (Schmuhl, 1984, p. 40-41)
Therefore, the first requirement the Hutchins Commission came up with according to
Merrill (1997), was that the media should provide a truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent
account of the day’s events in a context that gives them meaning. The first requirement added, as
Merrill (1997) pointed out, that the media should be accurate, should not lie, should separate fact
from opinion, and should report in a meaningful way internationally. Schmuhl (1984) argues that
the goal of accuracy, of striving to discover and disseminate the truth about public affairs, was not
invented by the Hutchins Commission. It is, and has been for many decades, part of the journalist’s
conventional wisdom (Schmuhl, 1984).
Fact and opinion are separated in most American
newspapers (Schmuhl, 1984). Objectivity was no longer a goal of the press in 1947 because it
became fetish (Schmuhl, 1984). According to Schmuhl (1984), the commission held that it was
no longer enough to report the facts truthfully. Instead, it is now necessary to report the truth about
the facts (Schmuhl, 1984).
However, the first requirement of the Hutchins Commission is relevant to media in the
Caribbean because it is paramount for Caribbean journalists to be accurate and provide a truthful,
comprehensive, and intelligent account of the daily news. According to Gloria N. Biggs (1983) in
the Handbook for Caribbean Journalists, inaccuracy in writing will lead to mistrust and nothing
undermines a newspaper, radio or TV station more than a reputation for being inaccurate. Biggs
(1983) argued that a journalist who is careless and makes mistakes repeatedly will never develop
into a good journalist.
Biggs (1983) assured Caribbean journalists that accuracy calls for
concentration and lapses in concentration leads to mistakes. She warned Caribbean journalists that
when there is doubt about information they should persevere until they find the correct information
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and when journalists cannot find the correct information, it should be left out of the story (Biggs,
1983). Caribbean journalists Grant and Gibbings (2009) noted that the basic journalistic tenets of
accuracy, impartiality, and sound judgment are important assets within the framework of
democratic elections. Therefore, good reporting means good journalism (Grant & Gibbings,
2009).
Secondly, according to the Hutchins Commission, the media should serve as a forum for
the exchange of comment and criticism (Merrill, 1997). According to Schmuhl (1984), this means
that newspapers, news agencies, and other media should try to present all significant viewpoints
on public issues, including viewpoints that happen to be unpopular or in conflict with their own.
Therefore, the media should allow the public to freely express its opinions about the issues
discussed in the news. Merrill (1997) explained that the commission also noted that the media
must publish ideas contrary to its own “as a matter of objective reporting” and identify sources of
information, for this is “necessary to a free society” (p.17). This requirement of the Hutchins
Commission is relevant to this research because Wesley Gibbings (2009), who is also the president
of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, in his article The Case for Media Self-Regulation
in Guyana, pointed out that journalists are relied upon, under conditions of media self-regulation,
to exercise their rights in an ethical manner. Gibbings (2009) stated that Caribbean journalists can
do so by providing a platform for public criticism and compromise, and striving to make news and
information interesting and relevant. Caribbean journalists can also exercise their rights in an
ethical manner by keeping news comprehensive and proportional, and being willing to exercise
personal conscience (Gibbings, 2009).
Thirdly, according to the Hutchins Commission, the media should project a representative
picture of the constituent groups in the society (Merrill, 1997). With this in mind the media should
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avoid stereotypical portrayals of groups of people in society such as African-Americans and give
them a true representation of who they are. Schmuhl (1984) argued that what the Hutchins
Commission had in mind was a voluntary undertaking by the press to portray more faithfully than
in the past the true condition and aspirations of such ethnic minorities as Blacks, Hispanics, and
Asians. However, this requirement applies to this research because as illustrated by Grant and
Gibbings (2009), Caribbean journalists should refrain from ridiculing, stigmatizing, or demonizing
people on any grounds including gender, race, class, ethnicity, language, religion, age, place of
origin, sexual orientation, and physical or mental ability. This requirement includes the avoidance
of ethnic or religious abuse by readers, listeners, in letters, columns, or feedback programs, or
during live or recorded broadcasts (Grant & Gibbings, 2009).
According to the fourth requirement of the Hutchins Commission, the media should present
and clarify the goals and values of the society (Merrill, 1997). As explained by Elaine E.
Englehardt and Ralph D. Barney (2002) in Media and Ethics: Principles for Moral Decisions, this
requirement refers to a communitarian goal that members of the press found hard to fulfill.
Englehardt and Barney (2002) further explained that some editors and reporters believed it was
not within their purview to explain goals and values for a society. However, Straubhaar, LaRose,
and Davenport (2013) argued that this requirement was an appeal to avoid pandering to the lowest
common denominator, with sensationalism, for example. According to Merrill (1997), the media
are educational instruments and must assume a responsibility to state and clarify the ideals toward
which the community should strive. Deni Elliott (1986) in Responsible Journalism explained that
the educational role of the media involves refinement and testing of the political, religious, and
moral ideas and ideals that people use to shape their individual and corporate lives. The
educational role of the media follows the tradition of a town meeting (Elliott, 1986). Therefore,
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public discussion is the only viable way of refining and disseminating the public’s thoughts on
societal matters, and the refinement of thought on such matters is an absolute precondition for wise
public policy in a democratic state (Elliott, 1986). However, this requirement of the Hutchins
Commission can be applied to this research because Biggs (1983) stressed to Caribbean journalists
that effective communication means reaching out to the audience: readers, listeners, and viewers.
Biggs (1983) explained that reaching out to the audience through effective communication
involves superior broadcasting techniques, effective language use, good picture use, headlinewriting, graphics and arrangement or layout of the material. Also, as noted by Biggs (1983),
Caribbean journalists should add clarity to their stories because it is essential that stories be written
and spoken clearly, since there is only one chance to be understood during a newscast.
Finally, the last requirement of the Hutchins Commission states that the media should
provide full access to the day’s intelligence (Merrill, 1997). Schmuhl (1984) explained that access
is the heart of the matter because the press’ access to the government’s store of information allows
the press to provide its audience with access to the day’s intelligence. Straubhaar, LaRose, and
Davenport (2013) pointed out that this requirement has been interpreted as prying open
government secrets and presenting scientific discoveries. Headlines presented in the news daily
are considered as the day’s intelligence, which includes all of the news reported in one day with
reliable government information. However, there is a need for the “wide distribution of news and
opinions” (Merrill, 1997, p.17). Elliott (1986) assured that the press functions as a utility, a conduit
of information about what is happening, and operates as the society’s bulletin board. The press
announces meeting times and places, births, deaths, marriages, weather, and traffic patterns
(Elliott, 1986). Such announcements are important information the society needs to know (Elliott,
1986). It is the media’s responsibility to provide the entire public with newsworthy information
157
because the public has the right to know what is taking place in the country and around the world.
The media are vital to the public because their channels (e.g. radio and television) are the only way
the entire public could be informed at the same time. As a powerful tool of communication, the
media can inform the public via television, radio, newspaper, and the internet about the same topic
all at the same time. This requirement of the Hutchins Commission is also relevant to this research
because Caribbean journalists also have a responsibility to provide a full access to the day’s
intelligence, which includes government information and other important public information.
Biggs (1983) pointed out that the public responsibility of Caribbean journalists should be guided
by the prevailing social system and desire to serve all sections of society. Almost daily in every
Caribbean country there is an imbalance in news bulletins through the overuse of governmental
information, foreign news of little relevance, and far too many urban oriented stories (Biggs,
1983). Therefore, Biggs (1983) explained that Caribbean journalists should acquire a genuine
interest in people and their lives, a disciplined mind, and the capacity for clear, logical thinking.
But, social responsibility is usually established in terms of public order, moral standards, safety,
of the state and institutions, rights of others, fairness, and good taste (Biggs, 1983).
However, the requirements of the Hutchins Commission, as noted by Straubhaar, LaRose,
and Davenport (2013), inspired the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. The code
tries to anticipate situations and offer guidance on how to deal with them (Straubhaar, LaRose, &
Davenport, 2013). If journalists follow the society’s guidelines, many ethical missteps could be
avoided (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2013).
158
Benefits of a Code of Ethics
Therefore, a code of ethics benefits the profession, the public, and social power of
journalists. According to A. David Gordon, John M. Kittross, and Carol Reuss (1996) in
Controversies in Media Ethics, codes of ethics can provide an ideal standard by which the media
industry can measure its own performance and, on a personal level, against which individual
practitioners can evaluate their own values and performance. For both the media industry as a
whole and for individuals within it, codes can also help keep attention directed toward principles
that are particularly important as guidelines to appropriate behavior. However, Chadwick (2001)
mentioned that a relationship to a code of ethics gives journalism its professional status.
Journalism’s aims and achievements are judged according to ethical ideas such as truthfulness,
accuracy, and objectivity (Chadwick, 2001). And, more and more of these ideas are being
articulated in formal codes of ethics (Chadwick, 2001). Belsey and Chadwick (1992) argued that
a code of ethics may also benefit the profession itself, by enhancing perceptions and giving its
members more reason to place confidence in each other’s integrity. It is important for other
journalists to have confidence in their colleagues’ integrity because they may need to reference
some of their colleagues work in their own stories, which would allow them to trust that their
colleague is reporting the correct information. But gaining the public’s confidence is more
important for journalists.
However, it is members of the public who are most usually identified as benefiting from
the existence of codes of conduct (Belsey & Chadwick, 1992). Members of the public benefit
from a journalists’ code of ethics because they receive factual information allowing them to make
personal judgments about issues presented in the news. As noted by Gordon, Kittross, and Reuss
(1996), codes of ethics serve as an important purpose by setting standards against which conduct
159
can be measured and evaluated, which is important for the media and society. Ethics was needed
to reassure the public during the nineteenth century that they would benefit from the press’ code
of ethics because the press is there to serve them and help with their understanding of what is
taking place in their country and around the world. According to Chadwick (2001), the service of
journalism is to provide access to information about society and to the public. It seems that
journalists have a direct responsibility to the public rather than to their employer (Chadwick,
2001). Codes of ethics help to protect the public from unethical performance and the media from
unreasonable public demands (Gordon, Kittross, & Reuss, 1996). Ethics was born to benefit the
public’s interest and to provide a clearer understanding of the responsibilities of a free press.
Therefore, codes for journalists have three beneficiaries (Belsey & Chadwick, 1992). The
first are readers of the newspaper or periodical for which the journalist works (Belsey & Chadwick,
1992). Besides newspaper readers, other first beneficiaries include television viewers and radio
listeners. They benefit by obtaining factual information about government and societal issues.
Gordon, Kittross, and Reuss (1996) argued that codes of ethics protects the audience toward whom
mass communication is directed from any irresponsible, anti-social or propaganda use of the
media. The second beneficiaries are individuals from whom the journalist obtains material (Belsey
& Chadwick, 1992). These beneficiaries are considered as the journalist’s sources, and they
benefit because their information is given public attention and their voices are heard. However,
one of the goals of a code of ethics, according to Gordon, Kittross, and Reuss (1996), is keeping
open all channels of communication, both from above and from below, to make sure that the public
gets the information needed in a self-governing society and to ensure that ordinary people can
always register their opinions through the media. Finally, there are the beneficiaries whose story
a journalist is investigating (Belsey & Chadwick, 1992). In this case, as noted by Gordon, Kittross,
160
and Reuss (1996), a code of ethics protects people working in media from being forced to act in
ways which are irresponsible, humiliating or in any manner contrary to the dictates of their
consciences.
The Process of Drafting and Developing a Code of Ethics
Drafting a code of ethics can take some time and it can be done by an individual journalist
or a team of journalists. According to journalist Becky Tallent, in a 2006 Quill article, when Steve
Smith, editor of the Spokane Spokesman Review, wanted to revise the company’s code of ethics to
include blogging, he appointed page editor Doug Floyd to begin the work. They also hired Gordon
Jackson, a communications professor at Whitworth College and the newspaper’s former
ombudsman to assist (Tallent, 2006). The team also brought in facilitators from the Poynter
Institute and the American Press Institute to have discussions with staff and readers about the
newspaper’s ethics (Tallent, 2006). The newspaper also held brown bag staff lunch meetings and
other meetings to gather input about the code (Tallent, 2006). “Smith said the taskforce, to be
appointed from across the newsroom, assigned to the project will review the first draft” (Tallent,
2006). This effort by Smith and managing editor Gary Graham, to revise the newspaper code of
ethics, caused them to be faced with the same issue SPJ Ethics Committee faced in 1996, which
was to revamp the code of ethics to include new issues while keeping traditional journalistic
concepts such as accuracy and honesty in view (Tallent, 2006).
In 2014 SPJ revised its 1996 code of ethics. According to Kevin Z. Smith, chairman of
SPJ ethics committee, following a robust and thoughtful discussion about the code’s future during
a town hall meeting at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in Anaheim, California, there was
an agreement that it was time to move forward with a revision of the code of ethics (Smith, 2013).
161
Persons involved in the revision of SPJ’s code included the ten principle members of the ethics
committee, the managing editor of standards for the Associated Press, journalism professors, a
media ethicist, and journalists from within and outside the SPJ (Smith, 2013). A survey was also
setup so that journalists could suggest what should and should be included in the code (Smith,
2013). Outreach efforts were also made to ensure that every SPJ chapter, professional and
collegiate, held some level of discussion on the code (Smith, 2013). The revised code was voted
upon and approved on September 6, 2014. The article SPJ Updates Code of Ethics highlights
some of the significant changes made to the code. The new code applies to all forms of journalism
and the people who work within them (SPJ). The idea of transparency is introduced and it
acknowledges the importance of corrections, engaging the public in discourse over journalism
issues, and it tells journalists they should uphold the highest ethical standards in all engagements
with the public (SPJ).
The code also added language that tells journalists that a legal right to
publish is not the same as a moral obligation to do so (SPJ). “It attempts to separate the legal v.
ethical arguments that arise often in ethical debates” (SPJ). The SPJ code added a list of other
changes, which includes more precise reasons for granting anonymity and a more hardline
approach to checkbook journalism (SPJ). “Before, it merely said ‘Avoid bidding for news.’ Now
it says ‘... do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether
paid or not’” (SPJ).
In 1910, the "Code of Ethics for Newspapers" was adopted by the Kansas Editorial
Association (Hill, 1922). The Code was largely the individual work of the late W. E. Miller, a
country editor living at St. Mary’s, Kansas (Hill, 1922). As interesting as the Kansas Code, is the
discussion and argument printed by Mr. Miller at the time of the code's adoption (Hill, 1922). Mr.
Miller saw in the efforts then being made in Congress to restrict postal rights of newspapers, an
162
indication that newspapers were guilty of offenses against public interest (Hill, 1922). He outlined
these offenses under three headings: (1) influencing reports to serve the interest of larger
advertisers; (2) influencing reports to serve political ambitions; and (3) offenses against the
sensibilities of more enlightened people while influencing the reports to sate the morbid appetite
of those less enlightened (Hill, 1922). The Kansas Code is in two general divisions: first, for the
publisher; second, for the editor (Hill, 1922). Under the heading, "For the Publisher," there are
four general headings to cover advertising, circulation, estimating (every small Kansas newspaper
office has its job shop), and news (news under this heading being considered from the publisher's
standpoint) (Hill, 1922). For example, under news the code states, “We condemn against truth:
(1) The publication of fake illustrations of men and events of news interest, however marked their
similarity, without an accompanying statement that they are not real pictures of the event or person
but only suggestive imitations” (Hill, 1922).
In 2012 the Yemen Journalist Syndicat sought to establish a code of ethics and professional
conduct for its journalists (Al-Shorfa). More than 150 journalists met to work on the first phase of
the initiative, in collaboration with the United Stated Agency for International Development
(USAID). The second phase, enrolled 80 journalists in workshops to produce recommendations
on the conduct of the press in Yemen (Al-Shorfa). Workshops were also held to write the code
The YSJ held a two-day workshop in Sanaa, where 20 male and female journalists representing
various media outlets received training and participated in focus groups to come up with
recommendations for the code (Al-Shorfa).
The recommendations along with others were
translated into a code at the syndicate's fifth General Congress in March 2013 (Al-Shorfa).
In 2009 Bahrain journalists drafted a code of ethics as part of a drive to stamp out media
bias and corruption (Gulf Daily News). The draft version of the code outlines six tenets that
163
journalists should adopt (Gulf Daily News). The six basic tenets of the code of ethics state
that journalists and news organizations should: seek the truth and report it; be fair and impartial in
their reporting and writing; avoid the appearance and reality of a conflict of interest; make
independent news judgments; encourage transparency as a way to foster public trust; and advance
ethical journalism and foster equal opportunity in the profession (Gulf Daily News). The draft was
drawn up during a two-day Bahrain Code of Ethics for Journalists workshop (Gulf Daily News).
The workshop was led by Irex Middle East and North Africa project director Matthew Shelley,
Bahrain Journalists Association (BJA) President Isa Al Shaiji and David McCraw, a
former journalist and vice-president and assistant general counsel of the New York Times
Company and leading attorney for the New York Times (Gulf Daily News). McCraw used the
recommendations put forward during the workshop to develop the code of ethics (Gulf Daily
News). The updated draft was referred back to the BJA, which developed the code based on
feedback from journalists and other interested parties (Gulf Daily News). The final draft was
ready a few months later (Gulf Daily News). According to McCraw, the code was not mandatory,
but a series of recommendations that journalists should adopt voluntarily. According to Al Shaiji,
the draft was published in newspapers and journalists were able to provide comments on the code
(Gulf Daily News). Al Shaiji also noted that a committee was setup to receive the comments and
once the final code was drawn up, journalists were invited to sign it (Gulf Daily News).
Australian journalists decided to draft a new code of ethics, grounded in the concept of
journalistic accountability, in 1995 (The Age). The old code focused on five imperatives: honest
presentation of all essential and available facts; fair and honest behavior in gathering material;
respect for all confidences received; resistance of improper influence; respect for people's privacy
and individual characteristics such as race, religion and sexual preference (The Age). The
164
new draft code preserves these, but also spells out obligations that are only implicit in the old code:
increased emphasis on accuracy and fairness (The Age). Journalists are now obliged to try to give
"right of reply" to a person who is the subject of a damaging report (The Age). Journalists are also
exhorted to "urge the fair correction of errors" (The Age). The new draft addresses the ethical
challenges arising from technology that allows pictures, soundtracks and photographic images to
be manipulated in a way that is undetectable by the audience (The Age). The new draft obliges
the journalist to disclose any payment made for interviews, pictures or information (The Age).
Greater emphasis was placed on the attribution of material and the new draft states that plagiarism
is stealing (The Age). It is also in this area of attribution that the draft deals with confidentiality
of sources (The Age). It says: "Keep confidences in good faith" (The Age).
When the Burma Interim Press Council announced its draft of a fifteen-point code of ethics,
four working committees were created to perform the tasks of resolving disputes and complaints;
drafting the code of ethics and laws; finance and management; and information and public
relations, and drafted its constitution (BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific). Suggestions were welcomed
from journalists on this draft and only the applicable suggestions were added to the final code
(BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific).
The code of conduct focuses on issues essential to ethical
journalism, including accuracy, unbiased reporting and journalistic independence. It also addresses
correction of mistakes, protecting sources and avoiding defamation and plagiarism, and
urges journalists to follow such standard practices as identifying themselves before acquiring
information (BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific).
165
Journalists Examine their Ethical Challenges and the Need for a Code of Ethics
Many studies have been done on the ethical challenges of journalists around the world and
the need for a code of ethics to assist journalists with their decision-making. Elhai’s (2004) study
on the ethical practices and corruption in Bangladeshi journalism was an attempt to find out the
attitudes, perceptions, and practices about ethical dilemmas, particularly conflict of interest of
Bangladeshi journalists. Based on a survey of 333 Dhaka-based journalists, in-depth interviews,
and focus group discussions, the study found that journalists’ ethical standards are poor and that
many indulge in corrupt practices. Seventy five percent of the survey respondents reported that
their news organization did not have any ethics and standards guidebook (Elhai, 2004). The survey
also indicated that 94 percent of respondents felt that a written guideline would be helpful in
making ethical decisions. The study also discovered that an initiative for the elimination of
corruption from Bangladeshi media is the introduction of a written code of conduct followed by
ethics education for journalists. Journalists should be made aware of what constitutes ethical
behavior and why they should avoid situations where professional standards conflict with personal
interests. A code of ethics, followed by ethics education, may encourage journalists to openly
discuss ethical issues in the newsrooms, at least for the sake of improving their own credibility and
survival (Elhai, 2004).
Written codes of ethics at television stations in William, Loop, and Hutchinson’s et.al
(2010) study were used to solve difficult problems and disciplinary actions resulting from ethics
violations. In the study 500 television station assignment editors were surveyed to determine the
presence and impact of both written and universal code of ethics. In agreement with Elhai (2004),
stations with codes provided voluntary (12 percent) or required (29 percent) training sessions
(William, Loop, and Hutchinson’s et.al, 2010). Also the study showed that assignment editors can
166
use written codes of ethics for many reasons. For example, 39 percent of respondents claimed to
consult their code at least once a month. Of respondents, 25 percent said their codes were used to
critique reporters, and 53 percent used the code to resolve ethical dilemmas at least once a month
(William, Loop, and Hutchinson’s et al., 2010). Written ethics codes reinforced the importance of
ethics and accountability for reporters’ unethical behaviors.
In Hanitzsch’s (2005) study, 385 Indonesian journalists were surveyed by means of faceto-face interviews to establish their basic demographic and social characteristics as well as their
views on professional values.
Findings showed that Indonesian journalists disapprove of
unscrupulous practices of reporting, but many of them justify and practice corruption during their
everyday work (Hanitzsch, 2005).
The percentage of journalists who justified the practice of
‘‘check book journalism,’’/that is, ‘‘paying people for confidential information,’’/is an interesting
feature of Indonesian journalism (Hanitzsch, 2005, p. 503). More than two-thirds of the journalists
interviewed saw no ethical problems with this method of obtaining confidential information. Even
though Indonesia has no strong tradition of investigative reporting, the percentage that justifies
paying people for information is even higher than in Great Britain (65 percent; Henningham and
Delano, 1998). This is not surprising, given that in Indonesia corruption is a matter of course in
everyday life, making journalists very familiar with bribery in reporter-source interactions.
Although a significant number of journalists in Indonesia justified and practiced bribery during
their everyday work, it is worth noting that corruption in journalism is not limited to Indonesia,
but is actually a common practice in many developing countries and even in industrialized nations
(Peters, 2003).
Journalists in Kuwait were investigated to determine how the ethical injunctions against
gift acceptance, or solicitation are internalized and actualized in journalism practice in that country.
167
Kuwaiti journalists were surveyed and interviewed on their attitude toward gratification. Results
indicate a breach of this ethical recommendation. Reasons for this include the lack of media ethics
education and training among journalists and the absence of ethical guidance by media owners. A
total of 200 Kuwaiti journalists were surveyed and five interviewed. The study found that 55
percent of the survey respondents were aware that their colleagues generally asked for inducements
and 43.5 percent claim that for sure they know a colleague who had accepted it, while 30 percent
affirmed that they have personally done so (Onyebadi & Alajmi, 2014). The study also found that
67 percent of the surveyed journalists regard accepting gratification as a matter of personal choice,
not something contrary to media ethics. But only 32 percent regarded its acceptance as an act of
professional misconduct (Onyebadi & Alajmi, 2014).
Overall, the literature review provided information to justify reasons as to why a code of
ethics is needed in a society and it gave an overview of Caribbean countries that have a code of
ethics. Important elements of a code of ethics and the process of developing a code of ethics were
also discussed. This information provides support for organizations like The Bahamas Press Club
2014 that anticipates drafting a code of ethics for Bahamian journalists. In addition, the studies
demonstrate how the ethical challenges of journalists were examined with the use of surveys and
in-depth interviews, which are the chosen research methods for this study.
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Chapter 2
Method
The goal of this project is to discover which code of ethics Bahamian journalists use,
whether a nation-specific code of ethics, a regional code of ethics, or an international code of
ethics. If the majority of journalists indicate that they do not use a code of ethics, this study will
suggest ways to improve media ethics in The Bahamas, which includes drafting a nation-specific
code of ethics. However, this study was also conducted to suggest the causes that contribute to
the unethical practices of some journalists. As a result of the analysis of case studies presented
throughout this study, it is clear that Bahamian journalists would benefit from a code of ethics.
The research methods for this study include interviews and a survey. The interviews and
survey are a part of this research because it is important to have local journalists participate in a
study that is about their ethical standards and practices. Results offer a reflection of Bahamian
journalists’ views concerning media ethics in The Bahamas. A survey was chosen as a research
method because it involves the collection of information from a sample of individuals through
their responses to questions. Also, surveys are efficient because many variables can be measured
without substantially increasing time or cost. Surveys are themselves part of the fabric of
contemporary life and provide critical information to decision-makers in government and business,
and polls and their results are widely discussed by the general public (which often seems to
overstate and resent their influence) (Tourangeau, 2004). Survey data can be collected from many
people at a relatively low cost, and depending on the survey design, relatively quickly. Surveys
are useful for measuring perceptions, attitudes and beliefs. Specifically, here the researcher asks
Bahamian journalists about their perceptions of attitudes toward professional code of ethics. The
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interviews were more open-ended than the survey and allowed journalists and journalism students
the opportunity to provide their opinions on the topic; thus, together they would determine whether
Bahamian journalists use a nation-specific, regional, or international code of ethics. Interviews
were chosen as a method because they allow people to convey to others a situation from their own
perspective and in their own words. Research interviews are based on the conversation of everyday
life. They are conversations with structure and purpose that are defined and controlled by the
researcher (Kvale, 1996).
Before this research could begin, the author obtained approval from the Institutional
Review Board (IRB) at Point Park University. This approval was necessary because, as stated in
Point Park University’s IRB Policy, research involving human and non-human subjects, must be
conducted in accordance with established ethical and professional standards, and all such research
must be approved by the University’s Institutional Review Board. The subjects involved in this
research are the journalists who participated in the survey and interviews. According to the policy,
the purpose of the IRB is to protect the rights, welfare, and dignity of all human and non-human
subjects recruited to participate in research conducted under the auspices of Point Park University.
Research Questions
From the literature review, it is obvious that little scholarly research has been done on
media ethics in The Bahamas. The literature shows that journalists can benefit from a code of
ethics. From the studies, the ethical challenges of journalists were examined and according to
Elhai’s (2004) study, Bangladeshi journalists indicated that they had no ethics and standards
guidebook. The majority of journalists in that study said a written guideline would be beneficial
in their ethical decision-making. Therefore, based on the ethical challenges faced by journalists
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internationally and their regard for a code of ethics, the following research questions were created
to examine Bahamian journalists:

RQ 1: To what extent do Bahamian journalists acknowledge, access and utilize existing
professional codes of ethics?

RQ 2: Would Bahamian journalists prefer to create a code of ethics that addresses the
specific political and cultural milieu of The Bahamas? Or would adoption/endorsement of
a pre-existing professional code be sufficient?

RQ 3: How might a nation-specific Bahamian code of ethics differ from widely-accepted
existing codes, if at all?

RQ 4: What other measures might be appropriate for Bahamian journalists in pursuing
ethics and professionalism in their work?
Participants
A total of 35 professional journalists and journalism students participated in this study.
Professional journalists and journalism students were chosen as participants because the author
wanted to collect a variety of views regarding the current state of media ethics in The Bahamas.
Also, this group was chosen because of their diverse media backgrounds, and having such
journalists participate can suggest their interest in accepting their responsibility to the public and
the case for code of ethics. Participants in the survey included male and female Bahamian
journalists who are currently employed in The Bahamas at local television, radio, and newspaper
outlets. The journalism students were not invited to participate in the survey, instead they
participated in the interview. The author decided to allow the students to participate only in the
interview because the survey questions were suited for professional journalists with experience in
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the field. The student journalists do not have the experience of the professional journalists who
participated in the survey; therefore, the author wanted keep the response separate. According to
Anthony Newbold, director of the Parliamentary Channel at the Broadcasting Corporation of The
Bahamas, it is estimated that there are 100 professional journalists in The Bahamas. Seventy-two
professional journalists were invited to participate in the survey. They were selected from the
major newspapers, radio and television stations. The survey participants were between the ages
of 25 and 60. Twenty-three journalists responded to the invitation and agreed to participate in the
survey, which represents approximately 23 percent of professional Bahamian journalists.
However, no more than 18 professional journalists answered any individual question. Obviously,
the estimated 100 journalists were not invited to participate because there are some journalists who
are freelancers and there are many professional Bahamian journalists working in public relations.
It was difficult contacting the freelance journalists and the journalists who work as public relations
practitioners were not invited to participate because this study was designed for journalists working
at news organizations. In addition, journalists and public relations practitioners do not use the
same code of ethics. The survey method was chosen because it is an effective method for data
collection with the use of a questionnaire.
A total of 17 journalists were invited to participate in the in-depth interview. Only 17 were
invited because some of the journalists were recommended to the author by College of The
Bahamas professor Paola Alvino and the others were selected by the author based on their
contribution to journalism in The Bahamas. Seven veteran journalists responded to the invitation.
Veteran journalists in this study are experienced journalists with more than 15 years in the field of
journalism. They range between the ages of 38-60. The other 10 interviewees (four males and six
females) were senior undergraduate journalism students at The College of The Bahamas. The
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students range between the ages of 20-25. However, only five out seven veteran journalists agreed
to participate in the interview. All of the students responded to the invitation and participated in
the interview. The goal of the interview was to obtain information from journalists and journalism
students concerning their perception of media ethics in the country. Survey questions are included
as Appendix B. Interview questions are included as Appendix F. Journalists in this study were
surveyed and interviewed because these were the same methods used in Onyebadi and Alajmi’s
(2014) study on journalists in Kuwait who were investigated to determine how the ethical
injunctions against gift acceptance, or solicitation are internalized and actualized in journalism
practice in that country.
Survey
Recruitment. The author contacted the news directors of all major newspapers, radio and
television stations throughout The Bahamas, via email, by telephone, and face-to-face to inform
them about the research. Following this first contact, a formal invitational letter (see Appendix C)
was sent to the news directors via email. Each news director then received a follow-up email
asking for the email addresses of the journalists at their media outlets. Because most of the
journalists are publically known, some of their email addresses were found online on their
companies’ website. For the journalists whose email addresses are not published online, their
news directors sent their email addresses to the author via email. The targeted survey participants
were journalists at major media companies and their affiliates, which include the Broadcasting
Corporation of The Bahamas, Jones Communications Limited, The Tribune Limited, and The
Nassau Guardian. The media companies are the parent companies of the major television stations,
radio stations, and newspapers in the country. The Punch was also targeted. Neither of the two
journalists employed by The Punch participated. Some small privately owned radio stations and
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Family Island newspapers were also targeted, including GEMS 105.9 FM and the Abaconian. No
small privately owned television stations headquartered on the Family Islands disseminate news.
The media companies were targeted because they all disseminate news and their journalists are
involved in regular ethical decision-making. Media companies not involved in the dissemination
of news were not targeted for the survey. It was the author’s hope that the survey would reveal
whether The Bahamas had a nation-specific code of ethics, which code of ethics journalists use,
and potential solutions for the unethical practices of journalists. With the use of multiple choice
questions for the survey, journalists were able to select responses that suggests their acknowledged
solutions for the unethical practices of journalists.
Procedure. An online survey was conducted among journalists from major television,
radio, and newspaper companies throughout The Bahamas. The survey was hosted through Free
Online Surveys (www.freeonlinesurveys.com), and a link to the survey was sent to the email
addresses of all survey participants separately. Only the author knew the names and email
addresses of the journalists who participated in the survey. The journalists’ names and email
addresses were kept confidential because the online survey was private and only the author was
able to monitor the survey and access the results. According to Free Online Surveys, the data
collected in each survey belongs entirely to its creator (the author) and will remain confidential.
According to their extensive privacy policy, which is accessible on their website, Free Online
Surveys does not share the email addresses of the survey participants with anyone. The survey (see
Appendix B) was distributed to 72 journalists via email and 23 agreed to participate and provided
responses to the questions. Journalists were allowed to complete the survey from February 28,
2014 to April 4, 2014. Before the survey began journalists were asked to fill out an online consent
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form in which they agreed to participate in the research. The survey consisted of 25 questions
pertaining to media ethics in The Bahamas. This survey allowed both qualitative and quantitative
measures. Qualitative measures include open-ended questions and quantitative measures include
close-ended questions. The open-ended question allowed journalists to provide their own answers
pertaining to media ethics and the close-ended questions provided multiple choice answers for
journalists. This allowed journalists to provide a balanced view on media ethics in The Bahamas
and demonstrate the need for a code of ethics. The survey had questions involving codes of ethics
from other countries, but the journalists were not asked to read the codes of ethics for evaluation.
Interviews
Recruitment. Eight veteran journalists were contacted via email and invited to participate
in the interview. The eight journalists were among the veteran journalists who were recommended
to the author by Professor Paola Alvino. They were selected based on their experience and
contribution to the field. Seven veteran journalists responded and five agreed to participate. A
formal invitational letter (see Appendix D) and consent form (see Appendix E) were attached to
the email. Professor Paola Alvino also suggested to the author the possibility of including the
senior journalism students at the College of The Bahamas to participate because they are studying
media ethics in the country. The author agreed, and Alvino served as the primary contact between
the students and the researcher. Alvino allowed the students to respond to the interview questions
as a part of their assignment, which involved writing a code of ethics for The Bahamas. The
students’ participation was a good exercise, according to Alvino, because it allowed her to see
where there were gaps in the students’ knowledge on media ethics (personal communication,
March 14, 2014). The students were chosen because the College of The Bahamas is the only
186
tertiary institution in the country with a journalism program. Alvino also received the formal
invitational letter and consent form for the students. Alvino was not interviewed as a participant
for the study, but she served as a source of information for this project. With the interviews, it was
the author’s hope to discover how Bahamian journalists make ethical decisions and determine
whether participants agree that a nation-specific code of ethics is needed in the country.
Procedure. The interview questions were created based on the possibility that there may
not be a code of ethics and one may be needed. Over the course of months, veteran journalists and
student journalists were interviewed on their views about media ethics in The Bahamas and their
concerns about the future of journalism in the country. Five veteran journalists were interviewed.
Two were interviewed in person, one over the telephone and the other two via email. All of the
student journalists were interviewed via email. The interviews with the veteran journalists began
in December 2013 and ended in November 2014. The student interviews began in February 2014
and ended in March 2014. The author was not present consistently in The Bahamas from
December 2013 to November 2014 to conduct in person interviews with all of the interviewees.
Therefore, some of the interviewees found it more convenient to engage in an email interview,
even though it is not the best way to conduct an interview because tone of voice and sarcasm are
not properly assessed. If the email interviews were not considered, the research would consist of
only three interviews. The interviewees remained anonymous and before the interviews began,
each was asked to complete a consent form. The consent form was an official agreement of the
interviewees’ participation in the study and it showed the interviewees’ acknowledgement to
remain anonymous. The telephone interview and the in person interviews lasted for about an hour.
All of the interviewees were asked to answer 12 questions (see Appendix F) about media ethics in
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The Bahamas. Some of the interview questions asked journalists to evaluate codes of ethics in
other countries. Therefore, the journalists who were interviewed in person were given a copy of
the codes of ethics to evaluate, but the journalists who were interviewed via email were not given
a copy of the codes to evaluate. The email interviews had to access the codes of ethics on their
own for evaluation. One of the female interviewees, who is a veteran journalist, shared some of
her personal ethical experiences as a journalist in The Bahamas; this interview was also used as
case studies for this project to demonstrate her ethical dilemmas as a journalist.
References
Kvale, S. (1996). Interviews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Tourangeau, R. (2004). Survey research and societal change. Annual Review,
DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.142040.
188
Chapter 3
Results
Survey Participants
Twenty-three journalists provided responses, but some provided “no answer” to certain
questions. Therefore, the results (e.g. percentages) were calculated by the total number of
responses for each question. According to the results, ten (55.5 percent) of the respondents hold
bachelor degrees, two (11.1 percent) have master’s degrees, two (11.1 percent) associate’s degrees,
two (11.1 percent) have served apprenticeships, and two journalists (11.1 percent) do not have
university degrees and did not serve apprenticeships. The journalists are employed at various print
and broadcast companies throughout The Bahamas.
Eight participants (44.4 percent) are
employed at a print medium (newspaper), seven (38.9 percent) are employed at a broadcast
medium (radio/television), one participant (5.5 percent) is employed at both print and broadcast
companies, and two participants (11.1 percent) are employed as multimedia journalists. However,
the majority of surveyed journalists (61.1 percent) indicated that they are not members of any
professional media organizations. Six journalists (33.3 percent) indicated they are members of
The Bahamas Association of Journalists, and one journalist (5.6 percent) indicated that he or she
is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Black
Journalists, and the Radio Television Digital News Association.
Research Question 1: To what extent do Bahamian journalists acknowledge, access and
utilize existing professional codes of ethics?
Survey Responses
189
Twelve journalists (75.0 percent) who were surveyed revealed that they use their instinct
to help with their decision-making when faced with ethical dilemmas (Table 4). This instinct or
“inborn moral sense,” as Merrill (1997) calls it, is something that does not tell journalists exactly
what to do to be ethical, but it gives them clues and hints as to what their actions should be.
Apart from using their instinct, three journalists (18.8 percent) revealed that they use the Society
of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics to help with their decision-making. One journalist (6.2
percent) revealed that he or she used the British Broadcasting Corporation Code of Ethics.
Interview Responses
Three student journalists who were interviewed added that Bahamian journalists use their
own personal code of ethics driven by their conscience and the regulations of their employers that
may have a code of ethics or policies to help journalists with their decision-making. The veteran
tabloid journalist said a person’s value system is determined by their family environment and
because of this, she was taught to be honest, forthright, and fair, which are ethical traits she sought
to project throughout her journalistic career. This veteran journalist added that there is no code of
ethics in place for Bahamian journalists other than the guidelines generally taught in journalism
school, which tells journalists to present the facts accurately and with clarity; try to cover all sides
of an issue; avoid libelous statements; evaluate the source and validity of their information
carefully before using it, and do not reveal names if requested not to do so. Another veteran
journalist said Bahamian journalists use the internationally recognized tenets of journalism, which
focuses on topics such as truth and objectivity as their code of ethics. Seven student journalists
also agreed that Bahamian journalists use internationally accepted codes of ethics, which includes
the tenets of journalism, known in democratic countries. The veteran journalist further explained
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that some Bahamian journalists use codes of ethics from the United States and Britain. This
journalist, who is also a private media owner, said his journalists are expected to adhere to the
British standard of journalism, instead of the American standard of journalism. According to the
veteran journalist, the British standard refers to language use and writing style. The veteran
journalist added that his journalists are expected to use the internationally recognized tenets of
journalism, known in democratic countries, along with the company’s policies to guide their
decision-making. “I would expect them to spell words for instance, the way the English spells
words not the Americans,” he said. “I think the Americans have adopted sloppy journalism and
there are a whole lot of people who are dominating American media now who are not journalists.”
The veteran journalist further explained that American television stations are concerned about
ratings and the news reporting on some stations such as CNN and MSNBC has turned into
“infotainment”.
Some scholars refer to infotainment as an overall decrease in journalistic
standards, or a spillover of tabloid news values and topics to quality news (Jebril, Albaek, &
Vreese, 2013). Infotainment is also described as an overall trend of paying less attention to
politics, economics and society compared to sports, entertainment and scandals (Jebril, Albaek, &
Vreese, 2013). However, the veteran journalists added that media in The Bahamas is not
concerned about ratings and infotainment. That is why many Bahamian media companies make
it mandatory for journalists to adhere to the British standard of journalism. According to another
respondent, the British standard of journalism is still prevalent in The Bahamas because at The
Tribune, and throughout its existence, most of its editors and managing editors are from Britain.
As a result, these British editors brought their skills to train Bahamian journalists to practice
journalism the way the British do, which involves following the British journalism standard.
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Table 4.
Journalists were asked, “When faced with an ethical situation, which code of ethics do you use to
help with your decision-making?” As illustrated, 12 journalists (75.0 percent) said they use their
instinct to make decisions. Three journalists (18.8 percent) said they use SPJ Code of Ethics and one
(6.3 percent) said he or she use the BBC Code of Ethics.
Research Question 2: Would Bahamian journalists prefer to create a code of ethics that
addresses the specific political and cultural milieu of The Bahamas? Or would
adoption/endorsement of a pre-existing professional code be sufficient?
Survey Responses
The survey asked, ‘Should Bahamian journalists adopt a ‘ready-made’ code of ethics from
another country or a media organization? If so, which organization’s media code of ethics would
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be most suitable for The Bahamas to adopt?’ According to the survey, five journalists (31.3
percent) said The Bahamas should adopt the BBC’s code of ethics. Two journalists (12.5 percent)
said The Bahamas should adopt the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Two
additional journalists (12.5 percent) said The Bahamas should adopt the New York Times Code of
Ethics.
One journalist (6.25 percent) indicated that The Bahamas should adopt the Radio
Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics. When examining and comparing the
suggested codes of ethics, they all discuss some of the same topics such as truth, accuracy, fairness,
anonymous sources, privacy, accountability and independence.
But further results show that a total of 10 journalists indicated that The Bahamas should
adopt a ‘ready-made’ code of ethics from another country. However, six (37.5 percent) said The
Bahamas should not adopt a “ready-made” code of ethics (Table 6). Overall, 12 journalists (75.0
percent) agreed that a code of ethics that addresses the specific political and cultural milieu of The
Bahamas would be more appropriate for Bahamian journalists (Table 5). But, four journalists (25
percent) disagreed that a code of ethics that addresses the specific cultural milieu of The Bahamas
would be more appropriate for Bahamian journalists.
Interview Responses
In addition, six student journalists said the BBC code of ethics is not suitable for The
Bahamas because of the cultural differences between both countries, and the challenges journalists
face in The Bahamas are not similar to those in Britain. The students suggested that Jamaica’s and
Haiti’s code of ethics would be more suitable for The Bahamas because they are both Caribbean
countries with similar societies, and the journalists in those countries face similar situations as
Bahamian journalists. Even though the Bahamian media laws are still British, a veteran journalist
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said, The Bahamas should look at the BBC’s code of ethics as a model, use some of its ideas and
contextualize them into a code of ethics that is nation-specific for The Bahamas. “We cannot copy
and paste (BBC code of ethics). It doesn’t work,” the veteran journalist said.
Table 5.
Journalists were asked, “Would a code of ethics that addresses the specific political and cultural milieu of The
Bahamas be more appropriate?” In response, 12 journalists (75.0 percent) said a code of ethics addressing the
specific political and cultural milieu of The Bahamas is appropriate. Four journalist (percent) said it is not
appropriate.
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Table 6.
According to the survey, six journalists (37.5 percent) indicated that The Bahamas should not adopt a
“ready-made” code of ethics. Five journalists (31.3 percent) indicated that The Bahamas should adopt the
BBC code of ethics. Two journalists (12.5 percent) said the country should adopt SPJ code of ethics. Two
other journalists (12.5 percent) said the country should adopt The New York Times code of ethics and one
journalist (6.3 percent) indicated that RTDNA code of ethics should be adopted.
Research Question 3: How might a nation-specific code of ethics differ from widely-accepted
existing codes, if at all?
Interview Responses
While a code of ethics must address the tenets of journalism, which includes truth,
objectivity etc., a code of ethics for The Bahamas will also address more sensitive areas where
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some Bahamian journalists seem to be having issues with, for example, the need to protect children
involved in cases of incest, and other sex crimes, and children who are accused of committing sex
crimes and other crimes. The need to protect children is a part of some international codes of
ethics; therefore, a nation-specific code of ethics for Bahamian journalists would address some of
the same topics featured in some international codes of ethics. According to a veteran interviewee,
a nation-specific code of ethics for The Bahamas should discuss issues of privacy and issues
concerning how to cover certain members of society especially, the most vulnerable, children and
senior citizens. The code of ethics should also address self-censorship and the need to control selfcensorship so it does not influence or limit the practice of journalism in The Bahamas, the
interviewee added.
Additionally, the sensationalism of news and the need to provide comprehensive coverage
of a story should be a part of the code of ethics, according to the interviewee. “We hardly have
good coverage of any important societal issue and the media doesn’t cover it as it should. Even
with crime, we get the sensationalized story for example, the Fox Hill shooting (a drive-by
shooting that took place in the Fox Hill community in 2013),” the interviewee said. Providing
comprehensive or in-depth reporting is important to journalism because it allows the audience to
understand the story and make judgments and decisions on their own. Comprehensive reporting
allows the journalist to examine societal problems and find experts on problems such as crime,
who can help them understand and contextualize a fuller meaning of the problem so that the public
can understand the problems and how they affect society. Part of the responsibility of journalists
in a democratic country is their ability to give people solutions. “You can’t just report the story,”
the interviewee said. “You (journalists) have a greater role here especially in postcolonial societies
like The Bahamas.” Crime is a concern for every country, and The Bahamas is no different, and
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there are other issues the country faces. However, it is the journalists’ responsibility to make the
public aware of such issues, which would provide knowledge and help bring about solutions for
the problems.
The student journalists also noted that a code of ethics for The Bahamas should also address
cronyism, nepotism, and maintaining impartiality during general elections. Journalists should
avoid cronyism and not allow it to influence their relationship with government officials and
members of parliament. Nepotism refers to favoritism granted in politics or business to relatives.
Bahamian journalists should avoid nepotism because The Bahamas is a small close-knit society
and sometimes a journalist can be placed in a position where he or she has to cover a story
involving a family member or close friend. In a situation like this, the journalist should avoid
favoritism, be transparent, and report all of the information in the story involving their family
member or friend, whether the information is good or bad because the journalists has a duty to
disseminate information to the public. Or, the news director can reassign the story to another
journalist, who is not related to persons involved in a story, when such situations involving
cronyism and nepotism arises. The student journalists also agreed that a nation-specific code of
ethics should address general topics such as accuracy, fairness, and objectivity, along with other
topics including a journalist’s opportunity to reply or make an apology, harassment, grief and
trauma, protection of sources, discrimination, conflict of interest, children and minors involved in
sex cases, listening devices, witness payment in criminal cases, and crime victims.
Survey Responses
The topics addressed in a code of ethics vary from country to country, and most codes of
ethics have some of the same topics. A nation-specific code of ethics for The Bahamas should
also include some of the topics addressed in an international code of ethics. Thirteen journalists
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(81.3 percent) who participated in the survey indicated that a code of ethics for Bahamian
journalists should address topics such as integrity, fairness, independence, accuracy, objectivity,
privacy, and adherence to fact. Anonymity is another topic that can also be addressed in a nationspecific code of ethics for The Bahamas. According to the survey responses, nine journalists (56.3
percent) indicated that a source should be given anonymity if the source will not provide
information unless confidentiality is promised. Four journalists (25 percent) indicated that a
source should remain confidential and given anonymity if the information provided in a story is
crucial. But, three (18.8 percent) said journalists should avoid anonymous sources. Based on the
results, Bahamian journalists can contextualize these topics to draft a prospective code of ethics
for themselves, but there will not be much difference when compared to a widely-accepted code
of ethics. According to the veteran tabloid journalist, a code should be drafted by the journalists
themselves having regard to the uniqueness of the Bahamian situation and what has been done in
other English-speaking jurisdictions, like the U.S., Britain and Canada.
Research Question 4: What other measures might be appropriate for Bahamian journalists
in pursuing ethics and professionalism in their work?
Interview Responses
Instead of a code of ethics, interviewees suggested additional measures such as an
ombudsman/press council and the implementation of licenses that might be appropriate in pursuing
ethics and professionalism in their work. One veteran journalist and one student journalist agreed
that an ombudsman/press council should be appointed. “There is no professional body that guides
journalists here in their work. You don’t have a press council that you can take these issues to and
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have them respond to you on a broader scale in terms of how do you address some of the practices,”
the veteran journalist explained. An ombudsman/press council would be beneficial to the public
and journalists because it would provide journalists with advice when facing ethical situations and
the public would have a regulatory body to report their concerns to about the media. The
ombudsman/press council would have the responsibility of dealing with the media after complaints
are made by the public. It would also be a regulatory body responsible for safeguarding and
promoting the professional and ethical standards of Bahamian journalists.
As for additional measures to alleviate unethical practices, three students said journalists
should be fined for their unethical practices if they breach a code or go against the ethical standards
of journalism. Two student journalists indicated that journalists should be suspended for their
unethical practices. Three students and one veteran journalist said Bahamian journalists should be
trained in media ethics through workshops and seminars and such training should be made
mandatory for all practicing journalists.
The veteran journalist pointed out that Jones
Communications Network, which includes the newsroom of Love 97.5 FM and The Bahama
Journal, and JCN Channel 14, has always been a training ground for young journalists in The
Bahamas, and there are many journalists in the country who can use additional training. The
students also noted that the public should be educated on the role of responsible journalists so they
can hold the journalists accountable for their profession.
It was also suggested that journalists be given licenses to practice journalism in The
Bahamas. One student explained that journalists should be issued licenses upon the completion of
their mandatory training in media ethics. The student further explained that the license should be
renewed every four to five years, which will monitor the ethical practices of the press. If journalists
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are required to have licenses, they would risk having their licenses revoked if they are found
practicing unethically after being warned several times, one student said.
Survey Responses
From the survey participants, nine journalists (56.3 percent) indicated that an
ombudsman/press council should be appointed to handle public complaints about the media. Four
journalists (25.0 percent) surveyed indicated that a mandatory retraction or correction for
misinformation in a story should be provided. However, one journalist (6.3 percent) indicated that
media companies should impose fines. Two surveyed journalists (12.5 percent) indicated that
journalists should be suspended for their unethical practices.
A Freedom of Information Act does not have a direct relationship with media ethics, but
because it is not enacted in The Bahamas, to certain degree, it can prevent a journalist from
obtaining the necessary information needed for a story. When this occurs a journalist can be placed
in an ethical situation because a story can become biased if sufficient information cannot be
obtained. According to the survey, 12 journalists (75.0 percent) indicated that the lack of FOIA is
affecting them because they are unable to access relevant information for their stories. Two
surveyed journalists (12.5 percent) revealed that their stories becomes subjective instead of
objective because of the lack of FOIA and one journalist (6.3 percent) indicated that they have no
special privileges because there is no FOIA. However, one surveyed journalist (6.3 percent)
provided a detailed response and said, “A FOIA would be helpful, but the lack of one does not
hinder my reporting in a major way.”
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References
Jebril, N., Albaek, E. & Vreese, C. H. (2013). Infotainment, cynicism, and democracy: The
effects of privatization vs. personalization of the news. European Journal of
Communication, 28 (2), pp. 105-121.
Merrill, J. C. (1997). Journalism ethics: Philosophical foundations for news media. New York,
NY: St. Martin’s Press Inc.
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Chapter 4
Discussion and Conclusion
Although Bahamian journalists face many ethical challenges, like other journalists around
the world, a code of ethics based on theoretical frameworks would help with their decision-making.
Recorded incidences involving the ethical decisions of journalists were occurring since the 1800s
and the potential for a prospective code of ethics is even greater now, because there is an increase
in radio and television stations, and as a result, more journalists are practicing in The Bahamas. A
code of ethics would allow journalists to fully understand their role in an advancing democracy
and enhance their credibility and professionalism.
Codes of ethics ostensibly states the
professional credos of journalists and other media personnel, stipulating permissible and forbidden
behaviors as well as obligations to society (Himelboim & Limor, 2008). A journalist’s duty is to
assist with the advancement of society through the dissemination of news and they are forbidden
to engage in unethical practices that would damage their credibility. As a result of the numerous
reports of the ethical dilemmas of some Bahamian journalists, this study was conducted to
determine which code of ethics existed in The Bahamas and to suggest measures to enhance media
ethics. This exploratory study points to two concerns:
1. The Bahamas has no nation-specific code of ethics for its journalists.
2. Most Bahamian journalists in the sample agree that a code of ethics that addresses the
specific political and cultural milieu of The Bahamas would be more appropriate.
These findings support this research as evidence that there is potential for a prospective
code of ethics in The Bahamas. The majority of the survey participants (94.4 percent) indicated
that there is no nation-specific code of ethics for all Bahamian journalists. From the survey, 17
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journalists said that there is no official code of ethics for Bahamian journalists. An official code
of ethics refers to a nation-specific code of ethics. In an interview, a veteran journalist, who is a
member of The Bahamas Association of Journalists, agreed that there is a need for a nation-specific
code of ethics for Bahamian journalists. She said, “There must be passion, preparation, diligence,
discipline, determination and a familiarity with the laws of one's country so that the desire to
publish the truth is balanced with the existing parameters of this parliamentary democracy.” In
addition to helping journalists with their decision-making, a code of ethics is needed in The
Bahamas. A code of ethics is needed, because, like other countries, some of the information
presented in the news is biased, unbalanced, some journalists are known for taking bribes from
politicians and children involved in cases of incest need their identity to be protected. According
to the survey, journalists were asked if they were ever compelled to engage in any unethical
practices. Eleven journalists (68.8 percent) indicated that they were never involved in any
unethical practices. However, three journalists (18.8 percent) said they reported a biased story.
One journalist (6.3 percent) revealed that he or she was involved in plagiarism and another
journalist (6.3 percent) indicated that he or she was involved in the invasion of privacy.
A code of ethics does not offer a direct solution for every ethical challenge, because almost
every country, even those with well-established codes of ethics, have issues with false, negligent,
and malicious reporting. However, a code of ethics would help to alleviate some of these problems
and bring about more accurate news reporting by journalists. Bahamian journalists do their best
to ensure that they carry out their work in an ethical and professional manner, but it would be
easier if there was an established guideline designed to help with their decision-making.
Therefore, a code of ethics enhances the credibility of the profession, the social capital and power
of journalists.
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Apart from a code of ethics, some Bahamian journalists said that an ombudsman/press
council would be appropriate in pursuing ethics and professionalism in their work. But
ombudsmen/press councils have been successful in some countries and unsuccessful in others that
implemented this model. For example, the British Press Council in Britain, formed in 1953, has
not solved all of the problems that faced the press; however, it has been successful in forming a
body of professional journalistic standards for newspapers (Ritter & Leibowitz, 1974).
The
Minnesota Press Council in the United States, established in 1971, demonstrated from its
adjudicated cases that the use of press councils was a means of resolving free press-fair press
conflicts (Ritter & Leibowitz, 1974). But after forty one years of existence, the Minnesota Press
Council, also known as the Minnesota News Council, closed in 2011 (CBS Minnesota). According
to council President Tony Carideo, the Minnesota Press Council closed because complaints filed
by the public fell and corporate funding was reduced (CBS Minnesota). Carideo said complaints
fell because people who disagree with news coverage now have almost instant recourse on the
Internet through comment sections on stories, e-mail and Twitter (CBS Minnesota).
Also in the United States the National Press Council was established in 1973 and within its
first nine months, the council received 160 complaints (Ritter & Leibowitz, 1974). The National
Press Council acted cautiously in criticizing the media’s performance and approved wide open
expression of opinion, so long as the opinion was not labeled as fact (Ritter & Leibowitz, 1974).
However, there are many objections to press councils. Authors John Ritter and Matthew Leibowitz
(1974) noted that the lack of support from the journalistic community was the main reason why
more experiments with press councils were not attempted. Also, many journalists have serious
objections to press councils and they believe a press council would result in government control
(Ritter & Leibowitz, 1974). In addition, many publishers and editors feel that press councils are
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unnecessary since readers are given adequate opportunity to criticize a newspaper’s performance
through the letter-to-the-editor column (Ritter & Leibowitz, 1974).
Some journalists also suggested that Bahamian journalists be given licenses to practice in
The Bahamas. But measures like this and others such as media ethics training would require a
professional media organization and an ombudsman/press council to facilitate and ensure the
success of these measures.
At the time of this writing, The Bahamas does not have an
ombudsman/press council and The Bahamas Association of Journalists is not functioning at its full
potential. One veteran journalist said that for many years, Bahamian journalists have tried to
establish a media association, but each time they tried it failed because the journalists are not
cooperative. The veteran journalist added that The Bahamas Press Club was started about 18 years
ago, and nothing came as a result of it, not even a code of ethics because the club failed. But
currently there are plans to revitalize The Bahamas Press Club, which has had several meetings
since the author interviewed the club’s president, Anthony Newbold.
The veteran tabloid
journalist pointed out that in the absence of a professional entity, it remains for each of the media
houses to enact their own code of ethics.
As it relates to the licensing of journalists, UNESCO (United Nations Educational,
Scientific, and Cultural Organization) is against it because licensing journalists violates freedom
of expression. During a regional conference in Chile, UNESCO released a statement supporting
a free and independent press and opposing the licensing of journalists (UNESCO Statement against
Licensing). In addition, according to Article 19 of the Global Campaign for Free Expression, it is
well-established in international law that any licensing requirement for the print media, or for
journalists as individuals, is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression, although
licensing of the broadcast media or cinema enterprises may be legitimate. An example of a case
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on the licensing or mandatory registration of individual journalists is the 1985 Inter-American
Court of Human Rights’ decision in a case brought by Costa Rica, Compulsory Membership in an
Association Prescribed by Law for the Practice of Journalism. “The court ruled unanimously that
a licensing or registration requirement for all journalists, effected through compulsory membership
of a professional association, constituted a violation of the right to freedom of expression” (Article
19). It was argued before the court that the licensing of journalists was necessary for three different
reasons (Article 19). First, compulsory licensing was necessary for public order and the ‘normal’
way to organize the practice of the profession in many different countries (Article 19). Second,
the compulsory licensing scheme sought to achieve higher professional and ethical standards,
which would benefit society at large and secure the right of the public to receive full and truthful
information (Article 19).
Finally, licensing schemes would guarantee the independence of
journalists in relation to their employers (Article 19). The court accepted none of those arguments
(Article 19). Upon examining the first argument, the court accepted that ensuring “the conditions
that assure the normal and harmonious functioning of institutions based on a coherent system of
values and principles” was a legitimate aim (Article 19). However, the court also observed that
public order depends in many ways on respect for freedom of expression, which constitutes the
primary and basic element of the public order of a democratic society, which is not conceivable
without free debate and the possibility that dissenting voices be fully heard (Article 19). While
the court agreed that many other professions are regulated through entry requirements, such as law
or medicine, it pointed out that journalism is a fundamentally different activity (Article 19).
According to the court, “Journalism is the primary and principal manifestation of freedom of
expression of thought. For that reason, because it is linked with freedom of expression, which is
an inherent right of each individual, journalism cannot be equated to a profession that is merely
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granting a service to the public through the application of some knowledge or training acquired in
a university or through those who are enrolled in a certain professional ‘colegio’ (school)” (Article
19).
Since the majority of journalists in the study indicated that FOIA is affecting them, the
enactment of FOIA can help to alleviate some of the unethical practices of journalists because
journalists would be unable to use the lack FOIA as an excuse for not providing the public with
sufficient information. It is important to note that throughout the years many Bahamian journalists
have performed ethically and professionally without FOIA and chose not to engage in any
unethical practices, but having FOIA alleviates some of the stress and pressure journalists have to
endure when obtaining crucial information for a story. However, this research is not associated
with any of the local Bahamian FOIA advocacy groups, and is only using FOIA as an example to
display reasons that may contribute to the unethical practices of journalists in The Bahamas.
Drafting a Nation-Specific Code of Ethics
When drafting a nation-specific code of ethics, Bahamian journalists should study codes
from different countries. Studying the BBC’s code of ethics and the codes of Jamaica and Haiti
would allow Bahamian journalists to adapt parts of the code and change it to suit their context and
environment. After all, the survey indicated that 12 journalists (75.0 percent) agreed that a code
of ethics that addresses the specific political and cultural milieu of The Bahamas would be more
appropriate for Bahamian journalists (Table 6). The same applies with an American journalists’
code of ethics, (e.g. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics), that can be used
as a model to shape a nation-specific code of ethics for The Bahamas. According to the veteran
journalist, who is also a member of The Bahamas Association of Journalists, Bahamian journalists
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should draft a nation-specific code of ethics using international codes such as the BBC and Cable
News Network (CNN) as models. Using a code of ethics model that follows best practices with
demonstrated outcomes (codes that are proven to be successful and effective among journalists)
can be useful for a nation-specific code of ethics for Bahamian journalists. The BBC’s code of
ethics can be used as an example because The Bahamas is a former British colony and many of
the colonial laws that govern the government, judiciary and the press are still in place to this day.
However, some may believe that using the BBC’s code of ethics would be an extension of colonial
imperialism. According to the veteran journalist, The Bahamas would not copy the BBC’s code
of ethics however, Bahamian journalists can look at an international code of ethics and adopt some
of the elements but not “mimic” the entire code. She added that Bahamian journalists will only
use the BBC’s code of ethics as a guide for the creation of their own nation-specific code of ethics
and be very careful about the selection of ethical codes from the BBC. However, Bahamian
journalists can also consider using the ethical theories (Kant, Mill, Rawls, Benhabib, & Socrates)
presented in this research to assist in drafting a code of ethics.
In agreement with the veteran journalist, six journalists (37.5 percent) who participated in
the survey agree that the BBC code of ethics should be studied as a model for a nation-specific
code of ethics for The Bahamas. However, five journalists (31.3 percent) surveyed said the New
York Times code of ethics should be studied, four (25 percent) said SPJ code of ethics, and one
(6.2 percent) said the Radio Television Digital News Association code of ethics should be studied
also. As a result of the limitations with regards to the practice of journalism within the Bahamian
society, journalists cannot practice journalism like the Americans, the British, Jamaicans and
Haitians. Also, it is important for a code of ethics to be drafted by journalists, media owners and
media practitioners. Outside bodies, such as the government, should not be involved in the drafting
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of a code of ethics for the media because the government can influence the code to be drafted in
its favor. According to the survey, four journalists (26.7 percent) agree that media owners should
be involved in drafting a code of ethics and one journalist (6.7 percent) said the Utilities and
Regulation Competition Authority (URCA) should be involved. However, 10 journalists (66.7
percent) indicated that media owners, media practitioners, the government, and URCA should all
be involved in drafting a code of ethics for Bahamian journalists. Ultimately, this study has
implications for the drafting of a nation-specific code of ethics that would address the cultural and
political milieu of The Bahamas. With the support of Bahamian journalists, media owners, and
media practitioners, a code of ethics can be drafted, which would be one of the first steps toward
professionalizing the industry.
Most code of ethics addresses topics such as truth, accuracy, fairness, and privacy and a
code of ethics for Bahamian journalists would address these topics too. But a code of ethics for
Bahamian journalists would be different because the code of ethics will address the rule of sub
judice (see Chapter 1) as it relates to court reporting in that society. For example, the code would
tell journalists that they must exercise caution when reporting cases being heard before the courts
and they are prohibited from discussing cases that are under investigation or on trial in a way which
may impact the progress of the investigation or the trial. The code would also tell journalists to
report information about a case that was discussed inside the courtroom and not outside the
courtroom during a trial and they must never report information from outside sources concerning
a case that is on trial or a case that will be on trial. Showing respect for the elderly and persons in
authority is valued in the Bahamian society, therefore a code of ethics would tell journalists to
respect such people and persons involved in their story. For example, a code would tell journalists
to respect individuals who are in distress and grieving as a result of trauma from a violent crime,
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accident, tragedy or disaster. The code would also tell journalists to provide comprehensive
reporting, minimize the sensationalism about violent crimes, and avoid reporting information that
will result in secondary trauma. In agreement, the student journalists who were interviewed
indicated that a nation-specific code of ethics should address general topics such as accuracy,
fairness, and objectivity, along with other topics including a journalist’s opportunity to reply or
make an apology, harassment, grief and trauma, protection of sources, discrimination, conflict of
interest, children and minors involved in sex cases, listening devices, witness payment in criminal
cases, and crime victims.
In addition, Bahamian journalists can consider drafting a code of ethics with the use of the
ethical theories presented in this research. For example, the social capital theory serves as the
basis that a code of ethics can help to professionalize Bahamian journalists. As mentioned earlier,
Kant’s theory focuses on duty and it can be used to create the preamble for a prospective code of
ethics for Bahamian journalists. For example, the preamble can state, “The duty of a Bahamian
journalist is to serve the public with thoroughness by providing true and accurate information.”
Mill’s theory emphasizes the greater good and it could be used to draft codes that would encourage
Bahamian journalists to uphold high standards, and guide their decisions when covering general
elections and court hearings. One of the codes in accordance to Mill’s theory would tell a journalist
to “seek to uphold the same high standards to which you hold others to.” Rawls theory shows why
journalists should protect the most vulnerable in society. It can be used to draft codes that tell
Bahamian journalists how to protect societies’ most vulnerable and how to deal with situations
involving death and trauma. A code drafted in relation to Rawls’ theory, would state that
journalists should “shield the identity of minors/juveniles involved in crime cases, whether accused
or convicted.” Benhabib’s theory emphasized the ethic of care and it can be used to draft codes
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on privacy and ethical guidelines for reporting death, trauma, and disasters. A code in accordance
to Benhabib’s theory would encourage Bahamian journalists to seek consent from individuals
when electronically recording conversations for note-taking purposes and broadcast. Finally,
Socrates’ theory could be used to draft a code about truth and accuracy. One of Socrates’ codes
would encourage Bahamian journalists to always seek the truth and interpret information honestly.
A code of ethics based on the ethical theories suggested would help Bahamian journalists by
providing a guideline for decision-making.
Study Limitations
The number of survey responses provided a limitation to this study.
Seventy two
journalists were invited to participate in the survey and only 23 provided responses to the
questions, which is less than half of the total number invited to participate. For a much larger
population, 23 percent might be an impressive sample size. But in the case of surveying the 100
or so journalists in The Bahamas, the goal should be to get as close to the total population as
possible. Another limitation was the email interviews because they are not the same as face-toface interviews. In the cases of the email interviews, there were no vocal or proxemic cues to
assess. Many professional Bahamian journalists are employed as public relations practitioners at
companies throughout the country. This was also a limitation because the journalists working in
public relations were not invited to participate in the study. Public relations practitioners and
journalists have different codes of ethics.
Suggestions for Further Research
Even though there are concerns about media ethics in The Bahamas, nine surveyed
journalists (60 percent) described the current ethical standards of Bahamian journalists as
211
fair/average. Four journalists (26.7 percent) described the current ethical standards as good. One
journalist (6.7 percent) indicated that the current ethical standards are horrible and another
journalist (6.7 percent) said, “It makes me sick.” With such reviews, there is room for the
professionalization of Bahamian journalists and a code of ethics would help.
But while
organizations like The Bahamas Association of Journalists and The Bahamas Press Club 2014 are
considering a code of ethics, more research should be done to examine the effectiveness of the
known codes of ethics throughout the Caribbean. This would allow Bahamian journalists to
determine which Caribbean countries have a strong code of ethics and examine the measures used
to enforce the code. More research should also be done on the state of media ethics in the Englishspeaking Caribbean. Such research would provide an analysis of media ethics in each country and
it would examine what is being done by journalists to encourage best practices in the profession.
Overall, a code of ethics for journalists is needed because it is an instrument of education.
It is not a confession of wickedness nor is there anything light-hearted about it (Allen, 1922). Its
function is to make clear not only to the university trained neophyte but to the un-trained man in
the profession, to the critical public and to the publisher himself the premises and the type of
reasoning upon which journalists’ decisions must be based and upon which erroneous decisions
are rightly to be criticized (Allen, 1922). Codes of ethics show that journalists have articulated
standards by which others can judge their performance. They define the accepted standards of the
profession, outline moral expectations and accepted behavior. Codes of ethics also define and
clarify the values of practitioners (Roberts, 2012). While the definition varies, “values” are the
fundamental and abstract principles that make up a “values system” created when people or groups
consciously or subconsciously create hierarchical ranks of the representative values inside their
212
values system (Roberts, 2012, p. 116). Those values, once stated and sorted by an individual or
group, ultimately influence goals, attitudes, and behaviors (Roberts, 2012).
In addition, a code of ethics can enhance the professional standards of Bahamian
journalists. According to Cohen and Elliott (1997), a professional code of ethics provides a sense
of professional identity for practitioners and signalizes the maturity of the profession. The authors
argued that the existence of a code of ethics is a healthy sign that those who practice a certain art
or science have developed a unified understanding and image of what is expected of them and,
indeed, of what they should expect of themselves. A codes of ethics also promote professional
autonomy by providing a framework for self-regulation (Cohen & Elliott, 1997). The Constitution
of The Bahamas grants freedom of expression and with such freedom comes the responsibility for
journalists to act wisely. Therefore, a nation-specific code of ethics would provide a framework
for journalists to fulfill this responsibility. A code of ethics can provide important guidelines for
helping practitioners in making ethical-decisions (Cohen & Elliott, 1997). For example, the
journalists and media practitioners (e.g. Ortland H. Bodie), who faced ethical dilemmas in the case
studies presented in chapter one, would benefit from a nation-specific code of ethics because it
would provide guidelines to assist with their ethical decision-making.
It is the author’s hope that Bahamian journalists would embrace a nation-specific code of
ethics as a measure for professionalization. It is also the author’s hope that The Bahamas
Association of Journalists and The Bahamas Press Club 2014 would continue their goals of
establishing codes of ethics for their organizations. Even though a nation-specific code of ethics
addressing the political and cultural milieu of The Bahamas is preferred by most Bahamian
journalists, a regional or international code of ethics is useful, too. If Bahamian journalists draft a
code of ethics that is similar to a regional or an international code of ethics, it would be a great
213
accomplishment because, journalists may embrace and value it as a useful project done locally.
Implementing a nation-specific code of ethics is a step towards enhancing the future of media in
The Bahamas.
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APPENDIX A.
Ethical Cases
Two of the case studies listed are continuations from a previous chapter and the other case
study show how journalists are disrespected by authorities. The information was retrieved
from local Bahamian newspapers, online Bahamian news outlets, interviews, and
Facebook.
Vanessa Rolle-Clark Case Study – (Continued from Chapter 1)
In 2003, police officers were living at the police barracks at the Internal Security Division of
the Royal Bahamas Police Force in Nassau. The assistant commissioner of police wanted to
evict some of the police officers who were living at the barracks because they were not
supposed to be there. However, the officers refused to leave. As a result, the door hinges were
taken off and a fire truck was brought in to hose down the officers living there and their
belongings. Vanessa Rolle, a Nassau Guardian reporter, got a tip about what was taking place
at ISD from a police officer who told her to come there and see what was taking place for
herself. According to Rolle, she wasn’t going to be allowed on the property if she identified
herself as a news reporter, so Rolle went to the barracks under cover and asked to see someone
who she knew worked at ISD. She was allowed on the property but she didn’t go to see the
person she asked for. While on the property, Rolle peeped around and took pictures of the
doors that were laying in the parking area near the barracks where water had already settled as
proof that an eviction took place. One of the police officers at the main gate saw Rolle taking
pictures so he dragged her and took her to a room where some senior police officers came and
began to badger her. The police officers wanted to know who told Rolle about what was going
on. They asked her to reveal her source and she told them “no.” Rolle said she continued to
resist the police officers and refused to reveal her source. As a result, they threatened to arrest
her and took the memory card out of her camera. However, the police officers continued to
badger her, but eventually they let her go. According to Rolle, she was able to do her story
with the help of another photographer who went to ISD later that day and took pictures of the
property from a distance. The story was published and Rolle explained the situation in the
story and the Commissioner of Police wrote her an apology letter.
(Source: Vanessa Rolle-Clark – Personal Interview, January 10, 2014)
NB12 Case Study– (Continued from Chapter 1)
NB12 television station’s cameramen were filming outside the Yahweh House of Prayer
in Nassau following an armed robbery at the church. The Nassau Village Urban Renewal
Centre office is opposite the church and one of the police officers at the Centre confiscated
the camera from the cameramen. The police officer said that he would not return the
camera until he was able to see the footage on the camera. He threatened to arrest the
cameramen if any images of the Urban Renewal Centre were shown as part of the television
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story. The police officer returned the camera after a complaint from NB12 and The Nassau
Guardian was filed to a senior police officer. (Source: The Nassau Guardian – November
22, 2013)
Following the incident with the Nassau Village Urban Renewal Centre police officer,
NB12 & The Nassau Guardian Editor Candia Dames made a comment on Facebook
explaining the incident. Dames said an NB12 cameraman was filming the Nassau Village
Urban Renewal Centre from the road and a senior police office did not want the cameraman
to film the Centre. As a result, Dames said the police officer confiscated the camera saying,
"Yall know me! I don't do foolishness.” According to Dames, the officer had a problem
with NB12 highlighting the fact that an armed robbery happened at a church, which is
across the street from the Urban Renewal Centre. The robbery occurred during the
afternoon when two masked men robbed church members who were conducting a soup
kitchen. Dames said she called the police officer’s supervisor and demanded that he return
their camera. The police officer returned the camera and warned NB12’s cameraman that
if he saw any footage of the Urban Renewal Centre on TV he would come and arrest him.
Dames said NB12 awaits the arrest from “Mr. Big Bad Officer.”
(Source: Candia Dames - Facebook Comment - November 21, 2013)
Case Study Demonstrating the Lack of Respect for Journalists
In 2006, a Tribune photographer was obstructed by a guard at the Detention Centre in
Nassau and threatened with arrest for attempting to take photos of an injured American
news reporter, while standing outside the compound. The American news reporter,
identified as “Vallejo,” was beaten by a Royal Bahamas Defence Force Officer at the
Detention Centre in Nassau. According to The Tribune, the reporter came with a group of
reporters from a prominent South Florida Spanish news channel. They were waiting for
more than two hours to see some Cuban detainees. The Committee to Protect Journalists
reported that Vallejo was attacked and police detained three other Miami-based news
reporters, identified as “Abreu,” “Duarte,” and “Tavares.” The reporters were covering the
story of seven Cubans rescued from an uninhabited Bahamian island by the U.S. Coast
Guard. Witnesses said the Defence Force officer split the reporter’s face open with a baton
while he was using a pay phone. Another witness claimed that the reporter was attacked
without provocation and did not attempt to fight back. (Sources: The Tribune – February
8, 2006 & The Committee to Protect Journalists – February 7, 2006)
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APPENDIX B.
Media Ethics in The Bahamas Survey
This survey is designed to assist with research on the topic, Ethical challenges in Bahamian
journalism: The case for a code of ethics. The results from this survey will allow us to
determine whether a code of ethics exists for journalists in The Bahamas. It would also
indicate whether journalism as a profession would benefit from an ethical framework or
provide suggestions for best practices in the field. The identity and identifying information
of all participants in this survey will remain anonymous. No names will appear in the final
publication, and all personally identifying information or characteristics will be removed
immediately from survey results.
This survey contains 25 questions. Your effort in answering all 25 questions is greatly
appreciated.
1. What are your qualifications for practicing journalism? (Check all that apply)
o Associate’s
o Bachelor’s
o Master’s
o Doctorate
o Apprenticeship
o None of the above
2. How would you describe the journalistic work you do?
o Broadcast (radio/television)
o Print (newspaper)
o Print & Broadcast
o Multimedia
3. Which professional media organization are you a member of?
o Bahamas Association of Journalists
o The Society of Professional Journalists
o National Association of Black Journalists
o Radio Television Digital News Association
o National Association of Broadcasters
o None
o Other:____________________________________
4.
Is there an OFFICIAL code of ethics for all Bahamian journalists?
o Yes
230
o No
5. Is there a code of ethics or written policies provided by your employer to help with your
ethical decision-making?
o Yes
o No
6. Why do you think a code of ethics is needed?
o Some journalists are careless with their reporting.
o Some stories presented in the news are biased.
o The identity of children involved in incest cases need to be protected.
o Some stories are plagiarized.
o Some journalists take bribes from politicians and public figures.
o To enhance the professionalism of journalism in The Bahamas
o All of the above
o I don’t think Bahamian journalists need a code of ethics.
o Other (Please state why)______________________________________________
7. Which topic/s should be covered in a code of ethics for Bahamian journalists?
o Adherence to Fact
o Privacy
o Objectivity
o Accuracy
o Independence
o Integrity
o Fairness
o All of the above
o Other _____________________________
8. As a journalist, whom do you serve?
o Society/Public
o Yourself
o Employer
o The Profession
o Government
o Media Outlet
9. Should Bahamian journalists adopt a “ready-made” code of ethics from another country
or a media organization? If so, which organization’s media code of ethics would be most
suitable for The Bahamas to adopt?
o British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
o Cable News Network (CNN) Code of Ethics
o The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics
o Press Association of Jamaica Code of Conduct
o The New York Times Code of Ethics
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o Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Code of Ethics
o Other:________________________________________
o I don’t think The Bahamas should adopt a “ready-made” code of ethics.
10. When envisioning a code of ethics for Bahamian journalists, which organization’s code
of ethics would be appropriate for study as a model during research?
o British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
o Cable News Network (CNN) Code of Ethics
o The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics
o Press Association of Jamaica Code of Conduct
o The New York Times Code of Ethics
o Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Code of Ethics
o Other:____________________________________________
11. As a journalist, were you ever compelled to engage in any unethical practices? Which
unethical practice/s were you involved in?
o Plagiarism
o Reported false information
o Took bribes
o Reported a biased story
o Reported recklessly and maliciously
o Revealed the identity of a child involved in a sexual/incest case
o Conflict of interest
o Invasion of privacy
o All of the above
o Other:_________________________________
o I was never involved in any unethical practices.
12. When faced with an ethical situation, which code of ethics do you use to help with your
decision-making?
o British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Code of Ethics
o Cable News Network (CNN) Code of Ethics
o The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics
o Press Association of Jamaica Code of Conduct
o The New York Times Code of Ethics
o Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Code of Ethics
o I use my instinct.
o Other:____________________________________
13. Would a code of ethics that addresses the specific political and cultural milieu of The
Bahamas be more appropriate for Bahamian journalists?
o Yes
o No
14. For what reason/s can a journalist be held in contempt of court in The Bahamas?
o Reporting false information about a case before the court
232
o Reporting information about a case that was discussed outside the courtroom
o Other:____________________________________________________________
o All of the above
15. A source should be given anonymity if:
o The information provided in a story is crucial.
o The source will not provide information unless anonymity is promised.
o Journalists should avoid anonymous sources.
16. Besides a code of ethics, what other measures can be used to help alleviate the unethical
practices of journalists?
o Media companies should impose fines
o Mandatory retraction or correction
o Suspension
o Appoint an ombudsman/press council to handle public complaints about the
media
o Other:______________________________
17. The Freedom of Information Act is not enacted as yet in The Bahamas. How is the lack
of FOIA affecting you as a journalist?
o I am not able to access relevant information for my story.
o I end up taking bribes to obtain relevant information.
o I have no special privileges as a journalist.
o My story becomes subjective instead of objective.
o Other:_____________________________
18. How would a code of ethics affect the future of media in The Bahamas? (Check all that
apply)
o It would minimize the amount of misinformation, disinformation, and
propaganda.
o It will enhance the credibility of the profession, the social capital and
professionalism of journalists.
o Journalists would have help with their decision-making.
19. Why should citizen journalists, who use social media to report the news daily, adhere to
the same code of ethics as professional journalists?
o Citizen journalists should be held accountable the same way professional
journalists are held accountable.
o Citizen journalists need their own code of ethics because they are not considered
as professional journalists.
o Citizen journalists do not need a code of ethics.
o Other:_____________________________________
20. On October 30, 2013 More 94 FM popular radio talk show host announced on his show
that there was a shooting at the Meridian School at Unicorn Village. Parents rushed to
the school fearing the worst after they heard the report that the school’s security guard
233
was shot. According to the school’s principal, this report made by the talk show host was
not true and it was a rumor. There was never a shooting at the school. Police were called
in to investigate the break-in of a teacher’s car. The principal was offended by the talk
show host reckless and irresponsible reporting. After checking his facts, the talk show
host then apologized on the show.
If you were the talk show host, how would you avoid an unethical situation like this?
o Check my facts before reporting
o After receiving the tip, I would call the police or the school to find out what really
happened.
o Wait for an official police report
o Report all of the information given in the tip without further investigation
o None of the above
o Other:______________________________________________________
21. In May 2013 photos of a two-year-old child were published in The Tribune and The
Freeport News. The child died while he was with his father and both newspapers
revealed the child’s name. The Tribune’s article stated that reliable sources said that the
child received severe injuries in his buttocks area. According to the article, the child’s
father was arrested and is assisting police with investigations into this case that has
allegations of sexual abuse.
What are the ethical concerns for this story?
o The names of children involved in sex cases should not be published.
o The child’s photo should not be published because this is a sex case involving a
minor.
o The media should be careful when using anonymous sources in sensitive
situations.
o All of the above
o None of the above
22. On November 2, 2013 BahamaNews Ma Bey reported via Facebook, that a man was
knocked off his motorcycle by a bus driver. The citizen journalist who operates
BahamaNews Ma Bey posted a graphic photo of the man lying on the road with blood
draining from his head. From the photo, it appeared as though the man was dead. It was
later reported that the man was crossing the street and he was not on a motorcycle.
What are the ethical concerns in this story?
o The wrong information was reported.
o The graphic photo of the man should not be posted.
o All of the above
o There are no ethical concerns for this story.
23. Give a “real-life” example of a story that was published in a local newspaper or aired on
a local television or radio station that had ethical concerns. Provide the name of the
234
newspaper, television/radio station. Please be brief. (Examples should be different from
questions 24-26).
o _________________________________________________
24. Who should be involved in the creation of a code of ethics for Bahamian journalists?
o Media Owners
o Media Practitioners
o Government
o Utilities & Regulations Competition Authority (URCA)
o All of the above
25. How would you describe the current ethical standards of journalists in The Bahamas?
o Excellent
o Good
o Fair/Average
o Bad
o Horrible
o “It makes me sick.”
Thank you for participating in this survey. If you have any questions or comments please
contact Deandra Williamson at 412-499-0039 or email at [email protected]
235
APPENDIX C.
Invitational Cover Letter – Survey (Sample)
October 28, 2013
(Participant’s Name)
(Participant’s Address)
Nassau, Bahamas
Dear (Name of Participant),
For the past 10 years journalists and media organizations in The Bahamas and the Caribbean
have been under increasing criticism for their lack of professionalism. With the growth of media
in The Bahamas, there are indications that media ethics should be made a priority especially for
journalists. Many incidents have been recorded regarding a lack of professional ethical standards
in the national media industry. Malice in reporting, negligence and reporting false facts are
among these practices that have been cited.
As a Bahamian journalist and graduate student at Point Park University, I’m conducting a
research study titled, Ethical challenges in Bahamian journalism: The case for a code of ethics.
The purpose of this study is to explore whether a code of ethics exists for journalists in The
Bahamas. If a code of ethics does not exist, the study will suggest ways to improve media ethics
in The Bahamas.
I would like to invite you and every journalist, print and broadcast, within your organization to
participate in this study. This study will consist of an online survey containing 25 questions
about media ethics. Participation in this study is voluntary and participants can withdraw at any
time.
If members of your organization are interested in participating in this study, please feel free to
contact me. Upon request, I will be happy to visit your newsroom and meet with you and the
journalists who are interested in participating to discuss the goals of this study. Your support is
greatly appreciated.
Yours sincerely,
Deandra Williamson
Graduate Student, Point Park University
412-499-0039
236
APPENDIX D.
Invitational Cover Letter – Interview (Sample)
October 28, 2013
(Interviewee Name)
(Interviewee Address)
Nassau, Bahamas
Dear (Name of Interviewee),
For the past 10 years journalists and media organizations in The Bahamas and the Caribbean
have been under increasing criticism for their lack of professionalism. With the growth of media
in The Bahamas, there are indications that media ethics should be made a priority especially for
journalists. Many incidents have been recorded regarding a lack of professional ethical standards
in the national media industry. Malice in reporting, negligence and reporting false facts are
among these practices that have been cited.
As a concerned Bahamian journalist and graduate student at Point Park University, I’m
conducting a research study titled, Ethical challenges in Bahamian journalism: The case for a
code of ethics. The purpose of this study is to explore whether a code of ethics exists for
journalists in The Bahamas. If a code of ethics does not exist, the study will suggest ways to
improve media ethics in The Bahamas.
I would like to invite you participate in this study through an interview. Since you are a veteran
journalist, I would like to obtain your views about the current state of media ethics in The
Bahamas. Questions pertaining to the unethical practices of journalists will also be asked.
Participation in this study is voluntary.
If you are interested in participating in this study, please feel free to contact me. Interviews will
be conducted at your convenience between (insert dates) from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Your
support in this project is greatly appreciated.
Yours sincerely,
Deandra Williamson
Graduate Student, Point Park University
412-499-0039
237
APPENDIX E.
Participants Consent Form
Congratulations!
You’re invited to participate in the study, Ethical challenges in Bahamian
journalism: The case for a code of ethics.
Media ethics has always been a concern for some Bahamian journalists. With the growth of
media in The Bahamas, there are indications that media ethics could be increasingly important,
especially for journalists. As a graduate student at Point Park University, I am conducting a
research study on Media Ethics in The Bahamas. The purpose of this study is to explore whether
a code of ethics exists for journalists in The Bahamas. If a code of ethics does not exist, the
study will suggest ways to improve media ethics in The Bahamas.
Please fill out the form below if you agree/disagree to participate in this study.
I (name) ______________________________________________ agree/disagree (circle one)
to participate in the study Ethical challenges in Bahamian journalism: The case for a code of
ethics. I understand that I am volunteering to participate in this study and I will not be
compensated.
*Your identity will remain anonymous and will not be shared with a third party.
Date:________________________________
Company:____________________________________
Signature: ____________________________________
238
APPENDIX F.
Interview Questions
1. As a journalist, how do you make ethical decisions?
2. Why do you think Bahamian journalists need a code of ethics?
3. How would a code of ethics help to professionalize Bahamian journalists?
4. What are some of the common unethical practices of Bahamian journalists?
5. Can you name some stories where Bahamian journalists acted maliciously, recklessly or
unethical in their reporting?
6. Would a ready-made the code of ethics be more suitable for The Bahamas than any other
media code of ethics, such as the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)?
7. Do some Bahamian journalists use the same code of ethics as international journalists?
8. What are the unethical practices that cause journalists to be brought before the courts?
9. What would be the differences in the code of ethics for Bahamian journalists when
compared to the code of ethics of professional organizations, such as the Society of
Professional Journalists etc.?
10. What ethical topics (e.g. truth, privacy) should the code of ethics address?
11. Why would Bahamian journalists not choose a code of ethics from another country?
Should a code be specific to the Bahamian context? If so, how?
12. What other measures could be used to alleviate the unethical practices of journalists
besides a code of ethics?
239
Appendix G
The Nassau Guardian
February 2, 2000
Appendix H
The Nassau Guardian
February 15, 2000
240
Table 7.
The following statistics are the actual results from the survey taken by Bahamian journalist, which included
twenty five questions pertaining to media ethics in The Bahamas. Some of the questions were not used
in the results of this research.
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242
243
244
245
246
247

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