By Malory Green
Dr. Sara Stone, chair of the Department of Journalism, PR & New Media at Baylor University, visited our communication theory class Tuesday to discuss media ethics and the Steubenville Ohio rape case that we’ll be doing our team paper on this semester. Stone emphasized the fine line between journalists being compassionate to the victim and presenting all sides of the news story while being objective. Deciding whether a story is worth it is one of the primary questions of a journalist.
One of the handouts Dr. Stone gave us highlighed the fact that talking to a journalist could even be cathartic to some victims. As per the Society of Professional Journalsts (SPJ) code of ethics, news often serves to give a voice to the voiceless. Our societal norms and even specific laws of victim confidentiality are done with the best of intentions and are probably the best way to handle a situation devoid of a perfect solution. In an effort to protect victims, journalists often take their voice away and leave them feeling helpless and damaged. Victims, particularly young ones, often don’t know they have the choice to do something more.
As a journalist, I believe one should never allow a story to become more important than an individual. It is similar to the oath to “do no harm” that medical professionals ascribe to.
On the other hand, many of these stories are important enough that they must be told. They must be told because other women’s safety is at stake. They must be told because justice is important.
Something else we discussed in relation to the Steubenville rape case was the media victimization of the alleged criminals. On one hand, I commend NBC for attempting to be objective when interviewing the former guardians of one of the accused. On the other, many have decided they went entirely too far.
When reporting on something of this nature, it is important not to mince words in order to make it more pleasant to hear. Rape will never be pleasant—call it what it is or leave the subject alone. To do anything else would be to sacrifice the true nature of the story and downgrade the victim.
Something that I particularly have trouble with is the issue of the victim’s clothing and the alcohol consumption. I realize that some 16-year-olds make stupid decisions about their attire. Sometimes, they act before they think and end up paying consequences of some sort. We all did. However, I wonder just how much of this could be prevented in the future if girls are simply mindful of how they present themselves to the public. We cannot go around advertising something if it is not available. This philosophy is in no way degrading to women, but rather empowering them to respect themselves in how they present themselves to the world. As a journalist, how does one communicate that without sounding as though we are blaming the victim? How do we do that without victimizing the accused?
My classmate, Tonya Lewis, brought a good point to the table that was representative of her experience in the field. She said that “journalists might not be able to say something specifically, but they decide who they quote.” I can only hope that this method will be effective and will inspire parents to have an open dialogue with their children on the matter. I encourage mothers and female mentors to inspire the young girls in their lives to act in a manner that is reflective of how they desire to be treated.
No matter what, this case is horrifying. Young boys took a girl in her youth and defiled her to a point that is incomprehensible. Further, they recorded her humiliation and posted it for the world to see. To make the situation worse, the media (supposed adults) perpetuated the story by playing the video over and over and over.
How do media report without making the problem worse? I believe it is by being compassionate and kind. We have stay within the bonds of ethics and not allow our need for a story to overshadow insight into the human condition.
Social media-it is a whole different ball game. Who is policing ethics on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube? By the time stories and videos get flagged, millions have had access to them. They’ve gotten hundreds of thousands of shares and some watched in horror while others watched in amusement but they all watched. This is a discussion I believe needs to be more prevalent in our society. This girl suffered an intense wrong in having the crime committed against her leaked all over the Internet. Where is her justice?
- Privacy, Rape and the Media (butheory.wordpress.com)
- Is The Next Steubenville Rape Case Unfolding Before Our Eyes? (thinkprogress.org)
- Institute for Global Ethics Ethics Newsline : September 9, 2013 Highlights and Quick Links to the Current Issue (csuitementor.wordpress.com)