Living ethics across media platforms by Michael Bugeja

Living Ethics Across Media Platforms (2008) by Journalism and Communication professor/director Michael Bugeja provides insight into the ethics that ‘collapse and transcend’ the precincts of varying mass media platforms such as advertising, photojournalism and television.

Furthermore this bookfeatures:

  • Real-life stories of ethical dilemmas that involve manipulation, falsehood and biasedness existing within media sources;
  • Philosophical/moral foundations that tackle these issues and call for responsibility, truth and fairness
  • Direct quotes and outsourced facts from media ethics professionals,
  • And inclusive language that allows the readers to experience the problems and not just view it from a detached perspective.

The fourth chapter “Falsehood” explores how the different types of lies (ie white lies, half truths, exaggeration and falsehoods) are exploited visually and verbally across media platforms. Here Bugeja emphasises the large role Media professionals play in not only disseminating lies through society but also clouding society’s ability to discern truth from falsehood. What’s more, the past 30 years has seen our exposure to media and the proliferation of lies grow due to the widespread advancements in communication technology. To put this into perspective, Bugeja talks about how journalists often place their own interests before the audience to get ahead in their careers. Whilst their main purpose should be to serve the public, Bugeja’s collated facts that suggest much of the public (75%) believe news organisations’ main goal is to increase their readership and will alter/tweak and/or plagiarise stories to do so. This reinforces the reasons why so much distrust is withheld in society today.  Similarly speaking, the use of exaggeration in an individuals resume to impress his/her employer can be quite misleading. It can heighten employer’s expectations of the individual and jeopardise their reputation shortly after or in the long run if an employer were to perform background checks that uncover the real facts that go against what was stated. The digital age with its wide entity of social networks and free-floating data has made it all the easier to uncover such information. So no matter if you are media professionals or the common person, Bujeja believes lying, in most cases, should not be deemed the solution as the imminent consequences almost always outweigh the immediate benefits. In further, he raises the irony that media is not only used to disseminate lies but also uncover them. Another instance of this would be where a company over-promises and under-delivers their products to gather short-term profit. As a consequence they loose business in the long run as falsehood is uncovered and customers spread dissatisfaction. This underlies the point that ‘lies undermine trust’. The fact that competitors or the press feed off lies acted out by other advertising agencies reiterates the need for truth to be told.

Michael Bugeja endorses the idea that truth can come up with better, more credible results where he states “truth is more powerful than fiction”. With this he goes on to detail the importance of not staging shots and passing them as ‘documentary’ as it would be classed as a visual lie.

Nevertheless, Michael Bugeja acknowledges that lies can be deemed as moral in certain instances where bad feelings (telling white lies to avoid being offensive) or even lives can be spared. However he reinforces that if such lies are to be performed on a regular basis they too, can result in negative outcomes. An interesting fact he points out is that those who continue to lie become desensitised from reality and blind to foreseeing consequences.

Additionally, this chapter affirms how all media sources contain an element of biasness. It is unavoidable as what one may consider true another may consider false. In saying this however, a similitude of reality can be achieved.Ultimately Michael Bugeja lands at the conclusion that we must be conscious of the consequences that follow our actions so we can determine what moral decision is best to make. Simply put, he says “the truth will set you free”.

The fifth chapter on “manipulation” extends on the points made in the previous chapter. It reinforces the importance of recognising our inner feelings/ conscious self as well as our mind to help us make informed decisions that save time and resources. The terms “adaptive unconscious” and “Predictable behavior” are covered to unveil how manipulation can be both self inflicted and/or motivated by others.

Michael Bugeja details the potential motives behind manipulators and signifies how knowing this can help guard us from being victim to manipulation in the future. He also raises the interesting point that we too can unintentionally be perpetrators of manipulation through our ‘bias, fears and convictions’. Where media professionals are concerned, he enforces the need for Journalists and practitioners to acknowledge these factors so that they can work around being more objective and in turn, enhance the credibility of their work. Manipulation occurs everyday and this evident where subjects in the media are commonly objectified into ‘things’ as opposed to ‘people’, distancing us from the real picture. To place this in context he gives the example that whilst reported accidents/ deaths on the road are mentioned in the news everyday like a broken record we fail to consider that the persons involved in that accident were real people and that there are families out their morning for their loss. On a different note, manipulation can result in mass hysteria where hoaxes ‘program’ the media into spreading false information.

Michael Bugjea concludes that manipulation has no place within any media platform and that such can be avoided where assumptions are not just made but rather in-depth research is pertained to give more trusting results. 


Summarised by Carmen Famularo