Today, I taught a lesson on ethics in the media to the radio journalists at Steve Youngblood’s Peace Journalism seminar in Gulu, Uganda. I used the National Public Radio (NPR) code of ethics as talking points. This code is great in the States, where we have free press and are wealthy. But in Uganda, where journalists are only paid 1,000 shillings (about forty cents) per story, are these realistic?
The NPR code talks about refusing anything of value from a source. This would mean gifts, valuable items, transportation… In Uganda, many people are without cars. To cover a rally or event means that the journalists feel forced to accept rides from the event organizers. To refuse the ride means to refuse to cover the event. During an election season, not covering events can mean losing the audience – and therefore, losing money. But to take a ride means to compromise the appearance of accurate, unbiased reporting. So what should they do?
Another statement in the NPR code says a journalist cannot accept money from a source, either before or after the story is aired. But when you only make $2 a day and your children are hungry, can you refuse the money? It is easy to become corrupt, to say that personal interests come first.
Like any discussion about ethics, this one made some participants squirm in their seats. I can’t tell them what is right for them. I can tell them what the NPR ethics code says but as far as being an ethicist, I’m not a great one. In their situation, I don’t know that I would do what NPR says either.
What is the acceptable intersection of the reality of survival with the idealism of pristine ethics? I don’t know the answer, personally. What do you think?