Teaching Notes

You must become the flame on the candle. - Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

TV Pregnancy

A new study links TV content to teen pregnancy. Is this an issue for media ethicists to tackle? If you applied the Potter Box to it, what values would be in contention? If you went behind Rawls' Veil of Ignorance to contemplate the issue, who among the various stakeholders -- teenage viewers, families, Hollywood producers, First Amendment absolutists -- would be the most vulnerable party in the situation? What ethics-based solution would that suggest?

24 comments:

Nicole said...

I don’t think that this study is something media ethicists should even attempt to tackle. In my opinion, it seems almost as if everyone wants to blame something for the amount of teenage pregnancies taking place, and nobody wants to actually blame the teenagers responsible. I grew up in a home where my parents allowed myself and my brothers to watch whatever television programs we desired, and nothing bad has resulted of it. If shows like “Sex and the City,” a show I have seen most episodes of and the movie, make teenagers think pregnancy is cool, let it be that way. That’s their decision. If that was the case, then every show on television would be persuading people a certain direction.

However, if you applied the Potter Box to it, the values that would be included would be the way the teenager was raised, the life of the child, the teenager’s decision whether or not to keep the child, the teenager’s reputation, and their parents’ opinion.

If you were to go behind Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance, the most vulnerable party would be the families, because they would be judged and looked at negatively for allowing their teenager to watch those television programs, because the public would be convinced to think that watching an hour or so of a program led to why that teenager is now pregnant. The best thing to do would be to not let the teenager watch the program that way the pregnancy would never happen and nobody’s reputation would be damaged.

Howie Good said...

It's important to recognize that unwed mothers, single mothers, unwanted babies, abortion, and adoption are social issues, and sometimes quite divisive ones. It's also worth noting that these are scientific studies, not someone's unfounded opinion about the link between TV watching and teen sexual behavior. Further, it's always tempting to generalize from our own experiences, but not everyone is so fortunate as to grow up in homes with caring, watchful parents. Those are facts, and facts are what the Potter Box (or any other ethical model) starts with.

As for vulnerable parties, what about the young impressionable viewers? Are they that different from the target audience for malt liquor described in the handouts? And if you were to step out from behind the veil and be the most vulnerable party, would you think twice about the ethics of this kind of programming?

I'm far from a Puritan and I'm opposed to official censorship, but I'm not convinced that we have now is a healthy (or ethical) alternative.

Thereal2008 said...

First off I have to absolutely agree with Nicole. I do however think this is an extremely Interesting issue but I don’t think Media Ethicists should try and tackle it.

If you look at the rate of teenage pregnancy in the past compared to now, the numbers will prove to be outstanding. Personally I think the media MAY have something to do with this large issue but also I blame parents, what teenagers are doing with their spare time, cell phones, their friends, etc, etc. I can go on and on, the point being you cannot just place the blame solely on the media. Applying the Potter Box to this issue, as Nicole said the teenager’s upbringing as well as the parents’ upbringing would come to question. Also, the family status as well. Rawl's veil of ignorance also reveals that family as being a key player in the issue as well.

Take Sarah Palin for example, she and her family would be described as the typical American family and look at her daughters situation, truth is you can’t watch your children 24 hours a day 7 days a week, other things will influence them to have sex, in other words, BOYS!

Howie Good said...

Values in the Potter Box would mean, at least in this case, how much we value First Amendment rights versus a socially responsible media (as the First Amendment only guarantees freedom, not the constructive or responsible use of it). Saying parents should exercise more supervision is only one possible reaction to the case or issue. Another might be not to air sexually explicit or provocative programs on teen channels or before 9 or 10 p.m. It might include adding PSAs dealing with sex education. We're taking about programmers applying volunteer safeguards(ratings are already are example of this).

This is definitely an issue for media ethicists (I should never have suggested the possibility it wasn't as it gives too many of you an convenient out). Most people use the media today for entertainment, rather than information, purposes. That means ethical care must be extended to entertainment programming as well as to more traditional areas(privacy, conflicts of interest, truth-telling, etc.).

I encourage you to try to use the models I've given you to think unaccustomed thoughts. It'll be good for you -- and society.

katrina said...

I think what Dr. Good said, that "most people use the media today for entertainment, rather than information, purposes" can be flipped-flopped. A lot of what is actually entertainment is where a good deal of people are getting their information from. Take for example the kids who are learning about sex from TV--it's obvious from the study that they're learning about sex from shows that are, in essence, entertainment. So yeah, I think this is an issue that media ethicists should tackle. An ethicist wouldn't be an ethicist if she decided to face one issue but let other immoral ones go unchecked, would she? I can see why some of you think it's not an issue for media ethicists as much as it is for the parents. But we have to think about the fact that media is so entrenched in our culture that it actually becomes a surrogate parent or educator for children.

What complicates this issue more so than even the malt liquor case is that it involves sex, which even though it's all over the media, is still something that people get squimish about when it comes to educating kids.

The Potter Box values in this case would be freedom of the media, education of children, sexual health and mental well-being of children, parents' rights to educate their children, the monetary gains that are made off sexually-explicit programming like Sex and the City.

The most vulnerable party in Rawl's model is definitely the kids and parents who are affected by the programming. I thought of it like this: Say I was a media mogul who was making billions off some sexually-explicit show, then I stepped behind the curtain. Now I didn't know if I was still the investor or owner of the show; I could potentially be an 11 year-old kid, or worse, the parent of that kid. Wouldn't I want to protect him or her from all the crassness that's on TV? Would I want my daughter or son to be involved in a teen pregnancy caused by (among other influences) TV? No.

So basically this suggests that there is something very wrong with what's going on in how sex is portrayed in our media (which many of us can gather from turning on MTV at any time of the day). What to do about it? I think it would take a total re-evaluation of how our culture views sex before we even look at how it's represented in the media, which I don't even think is possible at this point. I think that sexually-explicit programming can be regulated a bit more. Putting certain shows on later, for example, is a start. Calling for more educative shows rather than just the bone-head reality show programming that America loves so much is another possibility. For example, I kind of like the show "Sex with Mom and Dad" with Dr. Drew (which is a reality TV show), because it goes about dealing with teen sex in a way that is more informative and helpful than it is sensationalist.

Joseph said...

After thinking about this issue for a while, I would have to agree that this is not a issue for media ethicist. I understand that these findings come after a scientific study on the issue, however I feel that the experiment is flawed. With out a doubt there a very few people who have not heard of the show “Sex and the City”. So to ask a generation of people do you feel that “Sex and the City” has influenced you to have premarital sex I feel is looking for a scape goat and an over assumption of the shows influence. I grew up always watching The Rocky movies, however I did not grow up more aggressive or a person who wanted to pursue boxing. So if a study was done and asked people if they felt that Rocky made them more violent or less violent after they watched it, I feel that the violent people would say yes it did. However, they are personally violent and movies like that were not the catalyst to their aggression. I feel the real issue here is if these people were some how affected by some show and that was the real reason what caused them to have sex then their problem is not the show but differing between reality and fiction. People need to realize the difference between a character and real life. If teenagers are getting their information from TV show characters parents are not in their child’s life enough. Parents to need to guide their children and teach them the difference between hype and reality. The potter box would be a helpful tool to understand where the families principles lie and show what form of action they should take to correct the issue. I always hate just blaming the parents in this issue but who else is there in a child’s life to guide and direct a person in the right direction?

Zuri said...

I would have to agree with what everyone has said so far. I do not think that this is an issue media ethicists should tackle. Parents should be tackling this issue. They should be conscious of what their children are watching as well as the values that they are taking away from shows. Open waves of communication and proper education on matters such as this is what is needed.
Values that would be listed in the Potter box would be: family values, things that parents teach their children to consider important,parental values, and freedom of speech within the media.
With Rawls' Veil of Ignorance the most vulnerable party would be the teenagers and families. Some parents need to have a more active role in their child's life. Teenagers need to be better educated about their actions and consider what they value in life (an education, being self sufficient, enjoying their childhood).

cfinn129 said...

The media of todays society is filled with sexual content, and that sexual content grows more and more every year. The association of teen pregnancy and todays television can be seen in the study shown in the article.

This is a huge issue when it comes to the youth america. Who is to blame when it comes to the influence that these shows have on young viewers. Is it the fault of the television or is it the fault of the parents? If you applied this situation to the Potter Box and involved the values of all parties they would be:

well being of the children, responsibility of parent to educate children, responsibility of television network, Freedom of speech (for the television network), job to entertainment or inform, the responsibility of the government.

In this case the most vulnerable party are the teenage viewers and their families. If parents would actually step out from behind their veil of ignorance and realize that these shows are not ok for their children to be watching, or maybe the teenager should not rely solely on television for their sexual education, but are these young viewers the ones who should be held responsible for the lack of sexual education provided to them?

I do not believe so. I think the parents are some what to blame, but I do not think that it is the sole responsibilty of parents to regulate everything that their children watch. In todays society this is almost completely impossible, with both parents working in many families it is hard to regulate. Television stations should be more responsible with the content that is shown, there are much more ways to entertain and be socially responsible at the same time. So after all this I do believe it is something a media ethicist should tackle, maybe talk some sense into some of these producers.

Maybe there should also be more regulation imposed by our government to control what is shown on television shows. This question can go back and forth on who is more responsible and in the end would the government be violating these television networks rights?

Also the ignorance of our government to not realize the growing need for sexual education in our schools is inconceivable. Teenagers should be able to have somewhere to turn if they want information about sex. They shouldn't have to turn to television. Teenagers should have sexual education throughout their high school education. Our society today is way too sexually driven from music, to clothing, to the internet, to video games, and television. All of these things attribute to where teens get information and values from, and that needs to be changed, not only in the home, but in schools.

Anonymous said...

After reading the article it didn’t strike me as an issue for media ethicists. Then I ran it through the Potter Box and I came up with most of the same values everyone else did (First Amendment, children’s innocence, parent’s rights to be in control) and I still was not convinced. Then I tried Rawls veil of ignorance and I realized that children are really the most vulnerable, and this made me think differently.
Children can not control what they are exposed to and because the media plays such a huge role in shaping their perspectives, their fears, and their insecurities I think adults who can, should. I do not think that because ethicists tackle the issue parents should take a hands off approach; I think it has to be a collaborative effort. There should be some type of rules against how much sexual content can be shown at 7:30 in the morning when children are watching cartoons while eating their breakfast. There should be regulations, but parents should also be aware and have those one-on-one conversations with their children.
I am fortunate enough to have parents that spoke to me about the opposite sex and told me what boundaries to set but I still saw girls giving lap dances on the Real World, at the end of the day it wasn’t my parents voice that rang in my head it was the image of a girl bent over a chair. What kid doesn’t want to try that??! The point of that is to say that parents can be as involved as they want but many times the media overpowers their words of advice. The solution would be for media ethicists to be more aware of the consequences so much exposure to sexual content has and take into consideration programming time and issues that are incorporated into children’s show (Raven has too many crushes) and make some changes.
If there is some type of control (showing programs after a certain time, or categorizing channels so that kids don’t have to pass the MTV to get to the Disney Channel) I think it would help. I don’t think it would end all teen pregnancies but I think parents would have a better chance of regaining their authority.

Kilani L. said...

I definitely think that the results of the study are worth thinking about. Shows such as Sex and the city and Gossip girl display sex and sexual acts in such a fun, carefree way. However, i don't think that the high rates of teenage pregnancy can be completed linked to watching these shows. I don't think this is an issue for media ethicists to tackle.

If i were to apply the potter i think the values that would be in contention are personal responsibility (viewers of the shows)parental control and responsibility and of course the first amendment.

If behind the Rawls' Veil of ignorance, i think the family would be the most vulnerable party. I don't think that people realize what a fundamental part the family plays in teenagers' lives. No matter how much a sixteen year old wants to pretend that she doesn't care about what her parents say or think, she does care. The morals that they pass on to her will stay in the back of her mind the next time she might be in a compromising situation.

I think the solution to this problem is for the government, school administrations and parents to realize that their kids ARE having sex. No matter how much they want to put the idea in the back of their minds and pretend as though it's not happening, it is. Education is key. Teenagers need to know the risks just as well as they know about the act itself.

Julie said...

I read the article, and took into consideration everyone else's posts on the subject and I am torn on whether or not I think media ethicists could or should tackle this issue. In certain situations I could see how showing an excessive amount of sex on television could lead to the results in this study. However, I feel that in order to correlate any kind of ethics with teen pregnancy , you need to first find out what the morals and values are of the parties involved. As a teenager growing up, I watched racy television shows such as "Sex and the City" and it didn't make me want to get pregnant at 16 and have a baby. You can only blame the media so much for problems with the youth today. I understand that at such a tender age it is much easier to be manipulated by what is portrayed in the media, but I think we should give teens a little more credit and realize that they are not all sexed-out little nymphomaniacs that want to prematurely pop out children.

If I applied the Potter box to this issue the values in contention would be the morals the teenager's family raised them on, the value the teens feel for their bodies and their futures, the teenager's level of responsibility, religious values (as some religions are against abortion), how the creators of the shows in question feel about the way their shows effect viewers, and the First Amendment.

In Rawl's Veil of Ignorance, i think the most vulnerable party in the situation is obviously the teen viewers. Only because that's basically what the whole study was about. Teen viewers are taking what they see on television too seriously, and they end up demoralizing sex, or safe sex and they end up pregnant. I know it sounds like I'm contradicting myself as I mentioned earlier that not all teens are influenced by what they see on television, but according to the study, there are a significant number of teens who are.

I guess the only solution to this problem would be to try and lessen the sexual content that's shown on television at certain times of the day when a lot of teens are known to watch tv, for example when school gets out. Other than that, I think it would be good for parents just to make sure, no matter how awkward it may be, that their children know that sex isn't how it's portrayed in the media and that it can lead to serious issues like pregnancy and diseases.

Howie Good said...

It seems odd to me that people are questioning the scientific validity of the study. There aren't doubts raised in the article about the qualifications of the researchers or the methods they used. The issue isn't the validity of the study; the issue is the degree to which the media should exercise social responsibility.

Let me add one more important truth: Sex sells.

Chris said...
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Chris said...

As much as I wouldn't want this to be, I think that this is an important issue for media ethicists to tackle. Mostly because I feel that the responsibility is on both sides of the argument. Is what is displayed on TV always ethically just? I don't believe so. But at the same time I do believe it is the parents responsibility of limiting what information his/her child is getting and where from.

Values listed in a Potter Box examination would be freedom of speech, censorship, parental responsibilities, and personal responsibility.

I feel that if you went behind Rawls' Veil of Ignorance, I feel that the most vulnerable party in this situation is the TV shows and those that produce them. If there was a study that linked obesity to the food channel, would all food shows cease to be? Personal respect and responsibility need to be upheld. A television show should not subject to changing how it operates because members of society aren't able to be as responsible as the rest.

I feel that there are ways other than television to get information about sex that parents should be giving to their children. I don't believe it’s the responsibility for TV to be a parent, but if there was ever a chance to make a turn for the better, an influx of positive information about sex and its repercussions without the removal of any previous TV content would make some sense.

emma said...

This issue was at first hard for me to think of rationally because I thought and mostly still think it's insane. I'm not saying everyone should be off watching sex and the city, but at the core I believe parents to be responsible for many instilled values.

But to the the actual point of the question. Due to the fact that this not being a Media Ethics issue has been taken off the table, I will try to look at this idea through the use of the models.

With the Potter Box, I agree that you would have to take into consideration censorship of these programs. Sex and City was originally aired only on HBO and it has been drastically edited for cable channels. Not to mention it airs far after nine most of the time. I also agree that personal and parental responsibility come into play, as well as sex education in general.

According to The Veil of Ignorance I'm not sure who would the most vulnerable. Clearly the article would suggest that teens are the ones being subject to the influence of these programs, but I agree with that TV shows would end up being quite vulnerable as well.

I really like Chris' point about the food channel. I think that it's a good distinction to make that we can't just blame all problems on certain media exposure.

Brianna said...

TV’s content, especially in 2008, has part in dictating almost every aspect of our lives as functioning members of society. It’d be nice to think we have more control, but the truth is, we have less and less control of the messages being stained and thrown into our brains as the years go on. We’ve become virtually numb to, what used to be, “shocking” things.
Sex and the City, for example, is a reference that assists this article. This show is great, don’t get me wrong, but the concept of 4 women casually, not-modestly discussing every sexual escapade, with each other (sex used to be an un-talked about sacred act, remember?)—yes, this might deliver the wrong message to impressionable, vulnerable young kids, or teens and young adults whose parents or other guidance figures aren’t around to tell them, “hey, sex is not as casual or disposable as these women are making it seem.” Remember when girls were actually told to act like ladies? Behind Rawl’s Veil of Ignorance, it is young teenagers who are the most vulnerable. Even very caring, or strict parents are defensless to the messages their television will tell their young children and teens.
I was watching the new 90210 the other night—its so wonderfully horrible for your brain, is what I decided after completing an episode, and yes, Im Dying to know what happens next week. For young girls, the characters Annie, Silver and Naomi are role models. They’re beautiful, popular, rich, and have lots of fun. Though they are only 15, they still get trashed at parties when their parents aren’t home, and take boys they “like” into alternating bedrooms. This is not normal, or typical, or appropriate behavior for 15 year old girls. The show never bothers to address that they aren’t 21, or never show any couple seriously discussing sex and its possible consequences. Much like the article says, this show, sex and the city, Jamie Lynn Spears, they all function as models, or role models of what actually goes on, what is normal. So yeah, this is definitely an issue media ethicists need to dissect.Consider the 17 girls under 16 yrs old from the Gloucester Massachusetts high school who made a “pregnancy pact” to all get pregnant, and have babies at the same time, despite who the father is (hobo or not!) This is the epitome of society’s loss of control over what adolescents consider right, wrong, acceptable, and unnacceptable behavior.
The only problem is, much like philosophizing in general—what difference does it make? Hollywood producers and television show creators Know by now that sex sells, will bring in more audiences and thus more money and success. But, much like a journalists duty to the truth, don’t they have some sort of duty to their viewers well-being? Is it enough to count on the fact that we (youth) might be smart enough to Not do what the teens in their successful tv shows are doing? (Having “fun” sex without consequences.) I mean, the proof is in the pudding. The mere fact that teen pregnancy has gone up shows that it doesn’t hold as much of a taboo as it used to, its not considered as serious as an issue for a young girl to have and raise a child. This is not a mistake or coincidence that it directly correlates to tv and the media.It is hard to characterize tv as irresponsilble, because its main function is to entertain, not to teach. However, because the messages from tv and shows we watch clearly (whether it is concisouly or not) influence our lives, its important to realize when we’re watching tv, on the computer, or even listening to our favorite music, we’re being told and taught so so so much. We need to be choosy about what we let sink in.

JoshWhite said...

I do not think that the tv stations are being unethical. I think teen pregnancy is more of a social issue. The teens should be more educated about sex. TV should not be censored because of irresponsible teenagers and parents. I understand that there are many who did not grow up in caring households, and I will admit that the things shown on tv promote sex, but to take it to the point where you would say that tv is to blame for pregnancy is a stretch.
There are a plethora of values that can be applied to this situation. Some of those would be abstinence vs. protection, freedom of speech, values of family and parents, education, etc.

I am not sure how to answer the "most vulnerable party" question.

I think that the Utilitarian viewpoint can be applied to this situation.

Alyssa D'Angelo said...

While I respect the fact that professor Good thinks saying it wasn't something for media ethicists to tackle is an out, i completely disagree. The sex that is shown on television is not an ethical debacle. I know that personally my parents were very watchful about what i watched on television, especially my dad because he said that watching ''FRIENDS'' at the age of 10 would make me grow up too soon. Honestly it didn't matter, I had two older siblings and went to school, that was enough for me to be exposed to sex. Granted these shows can put ideas in teenage heads about casual sex, that doesn't mean you should go out and sleep around. You still have a choice to make, and you cant blame it on what Carrie Bradshaw did on Sex and the City. To actually suggest that children should get there values about sex from media puts way to much responsibility on the media and not nearly enough in the teenager. The article makes an interesting point in saying that parents should sit down and talk about the issues raised in these television shows, and frankly I think thats ridiculous. Parents should sit down and talk about the issues that are being raised in these television shows BEFORE there children are even exposed to it. The fact of the matter is that even if you ban television from your house kids, especially teenagers are going to hear about sex and have all different kinds of ideas about sex put into there heads. The idea should be that parents build a strong foundation of beliefs before there kids are exposed to media and friends and life in general. Im not saying that every child who's parent talks to them before there exposed to sex will sidestep a teen pregnancy,I do however think it will help teens make more informed decisions about there sexual encounters.

If you apply the potter box to the issue at hand the values would include, the teens family background, the teens religion, their thoughts on abortion,

I think the answer you're looking for includes the values of the network, writers, actors, etc, but I don't think this should play a part in the Potter Box, simply because teens shouldn't be getting there values from the media.

If I went behind the veil of ignorance to contemplate the issue I think the most vulnerable party would be the family of the pregnant teen. This is because if a teenager does get pregnant i don't think society is going to blame it on the television, but rather the lifestyle of the family, the values and ideas they pass on to there children, where they live, how they live, whether or not the mother works or stays at home, if the teens parents have a happy marriage. I don't think an onlooker of the situation would say ''well thats because they let there kids watch Sex and the City" before they would say well someone should be home with the kids after school.

I really agree with the point chris had about the food network, and it just reiterates my point that it is not in the hands of the media to instill values in young minds, but it is in the hands of the parents, and families who are responsible for raising these children.

Jess said...

Sexuality is a subject that has grown rapidly over the past decade in television, movies and other media sources. If media ethicists were to tackle sex and its link to teen pregnancy, they would have a lot on their hands. It’s hard for me to agree or disagree with media ethicists’ possible decision to address it and “fix” the problem, because I do not agree with the study.
Yes, young adults and teens are very impressionable, and are drawn to media outlets where now sex and implications of sex are vividly displayed, but that is what T.V. ratings and parents are for. Everyone has a different opinion on what is appropriate and what is inappropriate in their lives, and for their children. I do agree however that it is wrong for young teens to basically have no other choice at times but to watch shows with sexual connotations and acts in it. The media controls what is “cool,” and for the majority of teens, that’s what they want to be. By watching these shows, they feel they fit in, and it’s a shame.
The claim that sex on T.V. and teen pregnancy go hand and hand can put many people’s values on the line. If we were to put this through the Potter Box, the values in question would be; whether or not religious laws/rules are important, the family background, the media’s first amendment rights, personal views and parental views.
If we were to go behind the veil of ignorance, I think that the most vulnerable party is the teenage viewers. The media has a hold on what to produce and show, and it’s true that “sex sells.” Even though I do not think that media ethicists should tackle the issue, I feel that something more needs to be done to protect younger viewers that are getting exposed to sex earlier and earlier in life.
I’m not saying that parents should be breathing down their child’s neck to monitor everything that they are doing, but I feel that there comes a point where we have no choice. You have to decide whose responsibility is greater to protect viewers, their parents, or the media?

Laurent said...

This is a news issue for media ethicists to tackle because it affects a large number of people. The media is doing an injustice to a group of young people that are probably not adept at making the right decisions for themselves.

In this case, teenagers are being targeted by TV shows that glorify sex in a 24/7 cycle that fails to censor itself. Teenagers don’t always make the right choices and because television is in every home, it is easy to turn to television as a form of guidance. TV shows are not educating teens about the real consequences that occur from such an act because high ratings are all that matter.

The values would be freedom of the media, parental discretion, personal responsibility, and honest insight about sexual education as others have mentioned.

If I were behind the Veil of Ignorance, the most vulnerable party is the producers, I think. If our culture is all about, “sex sells” then what we consider worth watching is mixed up. The producers of these shows believe that people will only watch something if the material content is spiced up because we are a society that craves heightened entertainment.

As we’ve become more immersed into this passive culture that accepts what we see to be real, we lose sight of how others are affected. The producers, if they were censored, might feel as those they would lose their audience. That may be possible, but maybe not.
It should not be about competition with other television networks for the highest ratings. Since teenagers are being negatively affected by this, the producers need to evaluate how their TV dramas might harm their audience.

Brittany O'Hara said...
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Brittany O'Hara said...

I think that this issue is something that media ethicists should not try figure out. I agree with nicole in saying that everyone wants to try to blame someone else for their actions or their children's actions. I think that a teenager who becomes pregnant should be the one to take responsibility along with the father.
I know that from watching a television show you can only be persuaded in a way you were already thinking. What I mean is that if the person is already thinking in away a tv show may be depicting life this person may relate to that show but I do not think televsion shows shape someones ideas.

I think that if you try to apply Rawl's veil of ignorance, the people that would be looked at the most negatively would be the surroundings of that teenager. For example, family, friends, etc.

but I do feel like using television as an excuse for something a teenager may have done is crazy. A person shapes their own lives.

Stephanie said...

I do not think this issue has anything to with media ethics. It seems more to me like a TV censorship issue. The values of this situation for the parents would be to make sure their children are watching appropriate things on television. For the T.V stations it would be that they have the freedom to air what they like. Lets face it, its a free country especially when it comes to television and you would be crazy to think you could stop people from showing sexual programs. I'm a little confused by what you mean when you say who would be the most vulnerable in this situation. I would guess it is the teenagers because they have no say in any of this. they are most likely spoken for by their parents. I don't think the sexual content on television will be decreasing anytime soon, which leaves Hollywood in the best situation out them all. I don't think there is a solution to this, the same way there has been no real solution to the link between violent video games and children acting violent. I think the best thing would be to educated young teens about sex, and birth control. The only way to stop a problem is to prevent it so there should be information available for teens to prevent pregnancy before it happens.

ZK said...

In my opinion, this issue is something that media ethicists should not attempt to tackle. This entire issue about teenage pregnancy being related to TV content is getting a little repetitive and annoying if you ask me. After reading the article, I wasn't shocked or surprised at any of the statistics connecting the increase in pregnancy rates to TV content. I agree with Nicole in that it's time we started blaming the teenagers themselves for their bad decisions.

If we applied the Potter Box to this issue, some of the values that would be included is the teenager's morals, the environment they were brought up in, their religion, and their parents discipline.

I think that the most vulnerable party, when looking at the Rawls Veil of Ignorance is the education system. The education system doesn't provide the proper sex education needed in classrooms in order for teenagers to understand the consequences of their actions.

Is Media Ethics Education DOA?

It sounds like a joke Jay Leno would tell during his opening monologue on The Tonight Show. Hear about the graduate students at the prestigious journalism school? They got caught cheating on an ethics exam. Ha ha ha. Except that’s actually what happened at Columbia University in late 2006.

Students had been given 48 hours to sign onto a Columbia Web site to take the final exam in a required course called “Critical Issues in Journalism.” They then had 90 minutes to answer two essay questions.

The students were warned to not discuss the questions with each other, but apparently they did. As the headline over a story reporting the scandal put it, “Ivy J-Schoolers Fail Ethics, Ace Irony.”

No one admitted cheating despite pressure from the school’s administrators and pleas from classmates, who feared the scandal would damage the market value of their degrees. Meanwhile, the teacher of the course, New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman, refused to comment. But if the disgruntled posts on RateMyProfessors.com are any indication, his students hadn’t exactly been soaking up knowledge. “Maybe he could e-mail his ‘speeches’ to the students instead of making everyone suffer through the most wasted class in j-school. . . ,” one read.

There’s an old cowboy saying that goes, “When your horse dies, get off.” Journalism ethics education is a dead horse. Or else those aren’t vultures circling in the sky.

A Question for Socrates


The question of how ethics is learned, or even if it can be, is as old as Western philosophy. In Plato’s dialog Meno the title character asks, “Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?” Of course, Socrates, being Socrates, resists giving a definite answer. But we can’t. The sad fact is, students had better get an effective ethics education now or they may never.


Last summer I conducted an ethics workshop for some reporters and editors at the Poughkeepsie Journal, a small daily in upstate
New York owned by Gannett Co., Inc. The woman in charge of organizing the workshop had supplied us with several case studies to examine. I remember one dealt with a classic conflict of interest, a copy editor who moonlighted at a local radio station.

But what I remember most is the air of defeat that clung to the staff as we sat on hard plastic chairs in the break room discussing the cases. I could hear in their voices the bitterness and cynicism of employees forced to follow corporate policies they despised. Recently, for example, the paper had started running display ads on the front page and section fronts, a much more grievous ethical lapse, their mumbled asides suggested, than anything the case studies might have to offer.

I don’t want my students to ever wear the gray, defeated expression I saw that day on the faces at the Journal. But given the downward direction in which the media are moving, and fast, how in the world can I prevent it from happening?

Teaching Media Ethics by Telling Stories

A friend of mine who teaches at a big Midwestern university recounts in class the events of her first week as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. She was sent to Duluth to cover Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey on the campaign trail. When they were introduced, Humphrey vigorously shook her hand. “Oh yes, Susan,” he said, “I read your stuff all the time.” He couldn’t have read her stuff, though; she hadn’t written anything yet. “Just a few words,” she explains to her students, “but words that taught this fledging reporter a great lesson about pols and the little lies they tell.”

I usually find occasion during the semester to quote I. F. Stone’s dictum, “Every government is run by liars and thieves, and nothing they say should be believed,” to make the same point. But Susan’s story makes the point better. That’s because it has existential force. Her story vividly captures in a way a secondhand quote can’t the realities of a reporter’s life.

Some might think telling “war stories” is a waste of precious class time. I’ve a colleague who didn’t want to fall into the “trap” of regaling students with stories ad nauseam (“which, let’s face it, is easier than teaching or grading,” he said). So one semester he kept track. When he toted it all up at the end, he was surprised that he’d used less than an hour - out of 45 – talking about his newspaper experiences. And yet, he admitted, it was his stories that students seemed to remember most.

“Stories teach us how to live,” Daniel Taylor said in his essay, “The Ethical Implications of Storytelling.” What he meant was that stories preserve our experience for contemplation and evaluation. Although not all stories carry a heavy message, there’s an entire category of stories, so-called “exemplary tales,” that are told to convey a moral.

Our war stories are potentially just such tales. They can provide evidence, in ethicist John Barton’s words, of “how real human beings live through various crises and trials and remain human.” My colleague who kept tabs on his storytelling has described his stories as cautionary. Most, he said, deal with “screwups I learned from.”

But sometimes the storyteller and the audience can’t agree on what exactly the moral of a story is.

When Susan was a cub reporter on the Tribune, she interviewed the Beatles, who were on their second tour of the States. She got into their hotel room by dressing up as a waitress in an ugly, mustard-colored uniform and accompanying an actual room service waiter upstairs. Ringo took one look at her little plastic name tag – it read “Donna Brown” – and snorted, “What kind of name is that?” The waiter nudged her in the side. “Tell them what you real name is,” he urged. She did, as well as her reason for being there. Rather than throw her out, the Beatles politely answered her questions. They even let her phone for a photographer. The next day her story ran on the front page, with a photo of John sitting at a table and looking up at her and laughing as she poured coffee in his cup. She still has a glossy print of that photo somewhere.

Many of Susan’s students think she’s nuts for not having the photo hanging up in her office. They also think she’s nuts for saying she’d never participate in the same kind of stunt today. To her celebrity-struck students, disguising herself as a hotel waitress to get an interview with the Beatles seems soooo cool. They lose all sight of the fact that it wasn’t a story of vital public interest that demanded undercover methods.

Susan intends one lesson when she talks about her hard day’s night, but her students, living in a paparazzi-saturated culture, draw another. “It may be a lost cause,” she remarked to me.

Or maybe not. Negotiations over what the point of a story is can be part of the point of the story. In the process of negotiating, we test different interpretations, try out different themes. This is helpful. This is educational. Lawrence Kohlberg, the Harvard psychologist famous for his research on the stages of moral development, contended that “the teaching of virtue is the asking of questions. . . not the giving of answers.” Stories don’t necessarily have to yield clear moral rules to be of value. It’s enough sometimes if they just give us something to think about.