Week 3 – Ethics Questions

7. When should a person or group be identified by race, ethnicity, gender or religion?

Media coverage of race, ethnicity, gender or religion can reinforce existing social relations and maintain stereotypes. However, on the other hand, journalists can demonstrate a full awareness of the dangers of discrimination and help to end the stigma that is attached to certain groups.

Arguably, people should only be identified by their particular race or religion if this is newsworthy and significant to the story. For example, when Barack Obama became the president of the USA, it was acceptable for media outlets to publish that he was “the first black president” as this was major news and an important moment in history. However, when a person from a certain race commits a crime, mentioning that they are from a certain group even if the issue is not related to that can cause discrimination and create stereotypes. This point is emphasised by Ted White (2005), who believes that the way “we refer to people or incidents can speak volumes to the public.”

When writing about a person or particular group, the positioning of racial identification within the story is also important. When an individual achieves something extraordinary, it may be necessary to report their particular race because to many readers this is newsworthy material. However, to some people this racial identification is not required, and in some instances the story will serve its purpose just as well without this information. Having said this, there are times when it is appropriate for journalists to include racial, ethnic and religious references. For example, when members of a particular group demonstrate over an issue important to them, their identity is a natural part of the story. In this instance, it would not serve to inform anyone if these references were left out.

It is also important to identify a person or group by race, ethnicity, gender or religion in detailed descriptions of suspects wanted by the police. In these descriptions, race is often used to describe a person, and media organisations can help by reporting this to the public. However, it is important that the description is detailed rather than a racial stereotype. Issues can arise when journalists sharing this information or writing articles related to the wanted person or group have a personal bias. This idea is highlighted by Peter Teo (2000) in his paper about racism, who suggests othering often takes place due to a journalist’s own personal opinion. Therefore, news outlets should ensure that they report race consistently so that their coverage is fair and not prejudiced.

References

Teo, P., 2000. Racism in the News: A Critical Discourse Analysis of News Reporting in Two Australian Newspapers. Discourse and Society [online], 11 (1), 7-50.

White, T., 2005. Broadcast News Writing, Reporting, and Producing. Fourth Edition. United States of America: Focal Press.

8. What is the most appropriate language to use for transgender people and people who do not identify as male or female?

Using appropriate language for transgender people is extremely important in news coverage. Transgender people should always be addressed and accommodated in the gender in which they present, unless they specify otherwise. This can include the use of pronouns and titles and if in doubt, it is wise to politely ask the person what they prefer. By asking and not assuming, journalists can often easily resolve any terminology issues (Arune 2006).

Regardless of their gender at birth, most news organisations now refer to transgender people by the gender they express publicly. Other people shun a binary male-or-female identification, seeing themselves as a combination of the two sexes or non-gender. In this case, it may be more appropriate to use a neutral term like “they” to describe someone who identifies as non-binary. According to Schilt and Westbrook (2009), the appropriate pronouns should comply with a person’s wishes. It also always makes sense to take the space to convey clearly how a person identifies, if it is relevant to the story. If it is not important to the story, then simply identifying a person as transgender for no apparent reason could be seen as prejudiced or an attempt to create a stereotype.

According to journalist Jane Fae, dealing with transgender terms doesn’t have to be complicated. She argues that people are individuals and that journalists should “ask politely, listen to what individuals have to say and respect what they tell you.” Fae suggests that “it’s a principle and an approach to life that will take you a long way – and not just with the transgender community.”

References

Castañeda, L. and Campbell, S., 2006. News and Sexuality: Media Portraits of Diversity. United States of America: Sage.

Schilt, K. and Westbrook, L., 2009. “Gender Normals,” Transgender People, and the Social Maintenance of Heterosexuality. Gender and Society [online], 23 (4), 440-464.

9. Does the diversity of a news staff affect the diversity of issues, topics and people depicted in news coverage?

It is often the case that the diversity of a news staff affects the diversity of issues, topics and people represented in news coverage. In recent years, it has been found that the diversity of staff in a media organisation results in a range of story ideas and brings alternative views to a newsroom.

Since the end of the twentieth century, many studies have discovered that there are considerably more men working in newsrooms than women. Although this has slowly been changing in recent years, Craft and Wanta (2004) found that newspapers with male editors often had more negative content than those with female editors. In this instance, it is clear that the diversity of staff does affect the diversity of topics depicted in news coverage, with male editors deciding to focus more on serious issues rather than trying to balance this with positive reports.

Sometimes the lack of diversity of a news staff can cause the content to reflect badly on the community, and if this is the case a media organisation should consider how to reflect life and news in the community accurately. Because of this lack of diversity in the newsroom, coverage of a particular person or group may be twisted by the topic. For example, some people or groups may only be mentioned in stories about crime or violence, and others only referred to in light-hearted, entertainment topics. Without realising, journalists may also write stories that only cover people they can relate to, and according to Gunilla Hulten (2009), this is what led to a mass coverage of the white population in Sweden.

References

Armstrong, C., Wood, M. and Nelson, M., 2006. Female News Professionals in Local and National Broadcast News During the Buildup to the Iraq War. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media [online], 50, 78-79.

Hulten, G., 2009. Diversity disorders: Ethnicity and newsroom cultures. Conflict and communication [online], 8 (2), 1-14.

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