News and Entertainment: Ethical Dimensions

Guest Post by: Emma Petit, Student

 

Sometimes our generation has difficulty distinguishing the difference between hard news and entertainment news. Therefore, finding truth in reporting is becoming increasingly more difficult.

Major events today are not only covered by major sources of “hard news” such as CNN or ABC. We are exposed to information by other sources including infotainment channels and documentary films. Can we always expect to be presented with truth and facts? Sources outside the realm of hard news are not always held to the same ethical standards as traditional outlets. Therefore, the validation of facts and reporting accuracy standards are not necessarily existent at the same level.

The case of the Malaysian plane crash is an example of this widespread and controversial reporting of “facts” and “news”. The event was covered by numerous outlets, coming from many different perspectives. Each have very different motivations, goals, and loyalties when providing information.

The case of the Malaysian plane crash is an example of this widespread and controversial reporting of “facts” and “news”. The event was covered by numerous outlets, coming from many different perspectives. Each have very different motivations, goals, and loyalties when providing information.

G PetitHard news, for example, is concerned with giving accurate, up-to-date, factual information. CNN, Fox, ABC, and the New York Times (to name a few who covered the story) each reported in a similar manner. We knew the who, what, when, where, why, and how, after just a few minutes of reading or watching the coverage. When reporting on the missing flight, the audience was immediately presented with facts and relevant updates. We could keep up with the status of the search through these up-to-date reports.

Infotainment news channels, on the other hand, took on a different approach. Although “real” news exists as the basis for the information, it comes across as either satirical, entertaining, or amusing. Infotainment programs are coming under heavy criticism by some “fact seekers” as a result of this approach. Rather than making their number one aim to provide the facts, we are presented with more opinion oriented news. In the case of the missing Malaysian flight, many sources reported in a humorous light; even going as far as making jokes about the event. On the negative extreme, infotainment channels can been seen as unethical, biased in their reporting, and in violation of the journalistic code of ethics. Yet, with such high ratings and a large following, can they be blamed for they way they tell stories? After all, we are the ones making these channels popular.

Documentary films as news sources bring up another dimension of ethical debate. Is an intentionally dramatic portrayal of an event ethically acceptable as a form of news? In my opinion, documentaries as a means of
creating awareness for social issues is important and necessary. If the aim is to expose people to an event or issue, visual communication is often times the most effective way to spark interest and discussion. In the highly stimulated and image-dense world we live in today, we need to be entertained or told a story in a memorable way in order to keep information top-of-mind. Traditional news sources are falling behind in this realm. Documentary film makers have to keep in mind that, as a result of this trend, they must hold ethical standards in order to maintain their credibility as a form of news.

While there is still a line between hard news and infotainment, current media trends are blurring the distinction between the two. Entertainment and traditional news sources have undeniably been merging together in the past couple of years. We, as constant consumers of information, have to be even more aware where we can place our trust in obtaining information. Just as we expect media outlets to uphold their ethical standards and stay true to their loyalties, we too have to think critically and seek out the truth for ourselves. 

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