The question of ethics, in general, is highly problematic. What is morally right and wrong, and the question of whether morality even plays an important role in the mind of media moguls is quite a dividing and controversial topic. When I think of ethics in media research, the first case that comes to mind is the phone hacking scandal of the Milly Dowler case in the UK. Davies & Hill (2011) suggest that Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl, was targeted by the News of the World, to gain illegal insight into the details of the case. Milly Dowler’s voicemail messages were “intercepted – and deleted (by the journalists)… in order to free up space for more messages. As a result, friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive” (Davies & Hill 2011).
The following video is an excerpt of from media personality, and actor, Hugh Grant, in an interview on the controversial topic of phone hacking, as Grant is also a victim of phone hacking, along with many other media personalities, and the response of British Journalist, Paul McMullan.
This raises the question of whether it was ethical for News of the World journalists to intercept vital evidence of a serious missing persons case, in order to research for their next big scoop. In my eyes, it was disgraceful that these journalists would potentially put a missing girls life at risk, just for their story. This unethical behaviour caused emotional harm to the friends and relatives involved in the Milly Dowler case, and potential physical harm to Milly Dowler if there was crucial information in those voicemails.
This case raised few of many ethical dilemmas including “protection of privacy, and data analysis and reporting of findings” (McCutcheon 2015). Milly Dowler’s privacy was neglected, and vital data was tampered with by the journalists in the midst of the case. There are a variety of other ethical dilemmas in regards to media research including “voluntary participation, concealment and deception and publication issues” (McCutcheon 2015). All of which must be highly considered when undertaking media research.
In the case of media research, it is vital to take in to consideration all aspects of ethical behaviour as, in it’s simplest form, unethical behaviour can cause harm.
Davies, N & Hill, A 2011, ‘Missing Milly Dowler’s voicemail was hacked by News of the World’, The Guardian, 6 July, viewed 1 April, <http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/jul/04/milly-dowler-voicemail-hacked-news-of-world>.
McCutcheon, M 2015, ‘Research Ethics’, lecture slides, BCM210, University of Wollongong, viewed 1 April 2015.