Libel and Ethics

Project Overview/Background:

Ethics are of the utmost importance for a journalist. Ethics are the social currency journalists use to get sources to trust them. Without a strong set of ethics, you will fail as a journalist.

Libel is defamation in the form of writing. People can often sue on the grounds of libel, but winning such a suit is complicated. The person suing must first prove malicious intent. Then he must prove the “libelous material” harmed him in some way (ex: lose of money due decreased business). Libel should not be confused with slander, which is spoken. Regardless, though, the best defense in a libel case is the truth. If it is damage but true, that’s OK. You can’t sue someone for telling the truth. Ethics and libel go hand-in-hand. If you have poor ethics, you are more likely to libel someone.

Essential Questions

  • What are the consequences of falsifying sources or stories?
  • How is credibility of journalists affected in the eyes of readers when information is false?
  • What are the steps in determining libel?
  • How reliable is the newspaper?
  • How reliable should it be?
  • Can you believe everything you see on televised news broadcasts?
  • Should you believe everything you hear on the radio?
  • How do journalistic ethics apply to the Internet?
  • How effective are journalists in policing unethical activity among themselves? How effective are they compared to other professionals in medicine or law?
  • Should American journalists be imprisoned for false reportage?

Critical Engagement Questions

  • When is it appropriate for a journalist to be less than truthful?
  • What effect does false reporting have on readers, viewers, listeners?
  • How can a student journalist safeguard the truth?
  • Is it ethical for student newspapers to publish gossip columns? Letters to the editor? Horoscopes?
  • What methods can students develop to avoid using questionable information from the Internet?

Your Task/Requirements:

Discuss the Essential Questions and the Critical Engagement Questions. As a group, come up with answers to each of them.