Media Ethics and behavior

With the most resent massacre at Virginia Tech the issue of media ethics has once again been brought into question.  This, I believe, is because of the need to understanding why or how this could happen.  Perhaps this understanding could prevent another violent incident from happening to our children and to our society and allow a certain type of closure in our grief. In researching the topic of journalistic ethics and its effects on behavior, I found three distinct concerns that related to the Virginia Tech massacre the first; does the media influence or encourage behavior?
And if so, what steps is the media taking to understand this issue?  Is the media industry trying to create a plan to regulate how incidents of this nature are portrayed, or how they will be reported and in what context?  The second is on the issue of gun control; are United States laws on gun ownership not strict enough?  Do we need to get tougher?  Should we create more laws? And third is American society failing when dealing with mental health issues?  Is there enough studies being done or funding for mental health issues?  It should also be noted that in all the information on violent behavior everyone agrees that there is not one single indicator that will predict human behavior and that all avenues must be explored to fully understand human behavior which is very complex.
In the United States children and young adults are among the highest at risk for experiencing violent crimes and violence.  We can also claim that a large portion of our time is spent interacting in the world of media.  Some forms of media used by American adolescents have been found to be very violent and this is where the question of media’s effect on behavior comes in.  Shortly after the Virginia Tech incident a USA Today article told of a popular game called “Assassin”.

This game is played on both college and high school campuses across America.  Police officers have been urging students, “to halt the games, which involve ambushing other players with sometimes realistic looking toy gun or other objects, after the Virginia Tech shooting last week that left 33 people dead”.  The local authorities did this as a preventive measurement for the safety of the kids playing as well as others by mistaken intent (Welch).
Serious crime by adolescents rose greatly in the late 1980s, and peaked in 1994. Since then juvenile crime has declined even faster than overall crime, and violent offenses by juveniles have fallen back to 1980s levels. In 2000, juveniles accounted for 17 percent of all violent crime arrests and 32 percent of all property crime arrests.  According to federal statistics juveniles account for only 9 percent of those arrested for murder, but make up one-quarter of all robbery arrests and 53 percent of all arson arrests.
Since the number of Americans under the age of 18 is projected to increase, some juvenile justice experts argue the juvenile crime rate may increase as well (Public Agenda.org). But regardless of how the media reports on school killings, society needs to develop better ways of helping their children when viewing or in some cases experiencing violence.  Teaching individuals at a young age that violence in any form is not tolerated and work at understanding why young individuals see violence as a method for solving problems.
The Society of Professional Journalists and the Associated Student Press joined together to discuss how school violence is to be covered.  The discussion was to try to see how to balance reporting the news with minimizing harm to students across the country.  If shooters get their “fifteen minutes of fame”, especially is they are dubbed as the heroic outlaw, then this opens the possible problems of increasingly more disenfranchised “nobodies” who may view violence as a way to become noticed.
Reporters pressured to get the story and make it central on the nightly news may not be sensitive to the effects of their coverage in the larger scheme of things (Fitzgerald and Mitchell).  Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the important to justice and the foundation of democracy. The organization also believes that the duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.
They believe that all journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. They go on to say that professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice (www.spj.org).
This organization, Society for Professional Journalism, believes that ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.  They must be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy and recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy. Journalist must show good taste, avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes, be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges and balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.
Journalists should also “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived, remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility, refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.  Journalist should disclose unavoidable conflicts, be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable, deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage and be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news” (www.spj.org).
The meeting produced many ideals to help reporters and the public when dealing with violence and kids. As juvenile crime increased in the 1990s, nearly every state passed laws making it easier to prosecute juveniles in adult courts for serious offenses. Supporters say many juveniles are hardened criminals despite their youth, and maybe it’s not appropriate to handle serious crimes like murder and rape in the juvenile justice system. Critics say juveniles tried as adults will not get any of the counseling and rehabilitation services that might prevent them from committing more crimes. In surveys, most Americans endorse trying some juveniles as adults, but they also believe rehabilitation programs can be effective.
Student journalists hope to educate the professionals about how to deal with people their age and how to be more aware of their concerns.  In turn, the professionals can guide students in how best to cover stories. The theory is that student journalists can get kids to talk without pressuring them or invading their privacy the way many journalists from out of town have done.  Yet working together with the professionals can help them through the process and through the trauma.  It may also be the case that student journalists can get through to other students in ways that adults can’t, because students will more willing to read something about violence written by another student.
“We want to read it from the point of view of someone who knows what we’re experiencing,” said one student. Professional reporters come in, get the story, and leave, kids at a school where violence has occurred can continue to cover the story in a long-range manner, and with more breadth and depth.  “Kids know there is more depth,” said Laura Schaub, of the Oklahoma Inter-Scholastic Press Association, “but they can use professional assistance conceptualizing how to get it into the paper” (www.spj.org).
In more resent weeks NBC news has been under fire for the way it handled the pictures and writings of the student who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.  NBC announced that it would limit its use of images to “no more than 10 percent of airtime”.  Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, strongly defended the network’s decision to broadcast the material.  Families of some of the victims, some law enforcement officials and executives from competing television news organizations have accused NBC of being insensitive or exploitative in the way it presented the materials on the air.
(Carter).
In a study from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control I found that there were 173 incidents between July 1, 1994 and June 30, 1998. The majorities of these incidents were homicides involving the use of firearms. The total number of incidents did decrease steadily since the 1992-1993 school year. But the total number of multiple victim events appears to have increased. During August 1995 through June 1998, there were an average of five multiple victims events per year. This is compared to an average of one multiple victim event per year in the three years from August 1992 through July 1995. While the total number of events of school associated violent deaths have decreased, the total number of multiple-victim events appears to have increased (2007).
In a study by the Center for Disease Control named Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is a school-based survey designed to produce a nationally representative sample of risk behaviors among students in grades 9-12. This study was completed in 1997 and reported that 18.3% of high school students carried a weapons weather it was a gun, knife, or club during the 30 days preceding the survey, down from 26.1% in 1991.
The survey also found that 5.9% of high school students carried a gun during the 30 days preceding the survey, 8.5% of high school students carried a weapon on school property during the 30 days preceding the survey and that 7.4% of high school students were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property during the 12 months preceding the survey.
Nationwide, 4% of students had missed 1 or more days of school during the 30 days preceding the survey because they had felt unsafe at school or when traveling to or from school. The prevalence of weapon carrying on school property on 1 or more of the 30 days preceding the survey was 8.5% nationwide. Overall, male students (12.5%) were significantly more likely than female students (3.7%) to have carried a weapon on school property (www.cdc.gov).
Research has demonstrated that exposure to both real life and media violence is associated with increased hostility and aggressive behavior and decreased empathy. However, not all adolescents will be affected by violence exposure in the same way. Those who are exposed to personal and community violence, or who have a predisposition to aggressive behavior, may be more at risk for the negative effects of violence exposure.
The study explored the effects of real life and media violence exposure on two populations, 216 high school students (109 girls) and 96 adolescents (13 girls) detained in a juvenile detention center. Participants completed seven self-report instruments measuring exposure to real life and media violence, psychopathology, hostile attributions, aggression, empathy, and social desirability. Due to the differences in the samples, results were analyzed separately (Greene).
Consistent with the hypotheses and the General Aggression Model, real life and media violence exposure was significantly associated with and significantly predicted increased aggression, increased hostile attributions, and decreased empathy for the high school student sample. Additionally, psychopathology was a significant mediating variable for the relationship between real life violence and aggression. For the detained adolescents, exposure to real life violence was positively associated with aggression and psychopathology, but was not significantly associated with hostile attributions or empathy. Media violence was not associated with aggression, hostile attributions, or empathy.
But these results were not consistent with the hypotheses and may reflect desensitization processes or differences in aggressive practices among this high risk sample. Results of this study suggest the need for further work in the areas of prevention and interventions for violence-exposed adolescents in order to reduce negative outcomes. Additionally, future research may wish to focus more attention on high risk individuals to better understand the process through which these adolescents react to violence exposure (Anderson, Berkowitz, Donnerstein, Huesmann, Johnson, Linz, Malamouth and Wartella).
Gun control is also part of this discussion.  This was the first topic brought out when the incident at Virginia Tech. was first reported.  The world news made this the center for attention.  Media placed blame for the cause in America on the topic of gun control and placed media’s involvement on the back burner.  New York mayor, Michael Bloomber stated to Newsweek, “the conversation about guns needs to move beyond the extremes of Second Amendment purity and liberal utopianism.
Much of the rest of the world manages to control gun violence better than we do; this is one case where American exceptionalism is nothing to be proud of” (May 4, 2007).  But we shouldn’t forget that blame first should be put on the young man who actually did the killings and secondary blame can then be divided up equally between all other factors involved.
General Public in America believes that for the most part other preventive measures are better than owning or carrying a gun.  On the web site Public agenda they conducted a survey on the general population and found that only about 21% believe that guns are useful in preventing crimes.  Most Americans say that tougher laws and punishment would be a better deterrent for crime.  They also found that a majority of Americans feel that school violence is not a serious problem in their schools and in general they feel safe.  They all admit that their community could still be susceptible to an incident like at Virginia Tech. (www.publicagenda.org).
Another point the media and the public brought out was the responsibility of helping individuals with possible mental health issues that might have caused someone like Cho Seung-Hui, the killer from Virginia Tech., to behave or react as he did.  In an article in Newsweek dated April 30th, 2007 they looked into the failure of the system and the general population as to seeing the signs, “Cho had apparently dropped through the cracks of the university bureaucracy. Earlier run-ins weren’t in his records” (31).
We need to encourage students who hear one of their friends make a threat to take it seriously, even if they don’t believe that person would ever really so it. Look at the problem of bullying by peers in schools is another even though it may never be stopped, but listening to kids that are experiencing the bullying along with the kids bullying might help.  In doing this research I found that media isn’t the only factor in possibly making what has been happening in America worse.
But to me it is clear there was an influence.  In an article written by Evan Thomas he did write about Cho Seung-Hui’s video and said he, “pays homage to “Eric and Dylan” the two videogame-addled teenagers who killed 13 students at Columbine High School in 1999” (24).  In my opinion this does show a connection between violence and the media.  The Media industry really should acknowledge this fact instead of avoiding or defending their style of reporting.  Conscious efforts and discussion is vital in order to stop a growing trend in America when it comes to crime and violence.
Works Cited
Anderson, Craig A., Berkowitz, Leonard., Dommerstien, Edward., Huesmann, L.          Rowell., Johnson, James D., Linz, Danniel., Malamouth, Neil M., and Wartella,         Ellen.  “The Influence of Media Violence on Youth”.  Psychological Science in     the Public Interest.  December 2003. V. 4. Issue 3.  p. 81-118. 30p.
Center for Disease Control.  <http://www.cdc.gov>
Fitzgerald, Mark, and Mitchell, Grey., Eds.  Society of Professional Journalists.  Retrieved May 3, 2007.  <http://www.spj.org/pressnotes>
Greene, Kathern. “Predicting Exposure to and Linking of Media Violence: A uses and   Gratification Approach”.  Communication Studies, March 2005.  V. 56, Issue 1,           p.71-93. 23p.
Meacham, J. “The Editor’s Desk”.  Newsweek.  April 30, 2007.  p.4,4
National Center for Injury Prevention of Enterprise Communication Media Relation,      April 21, 1999. Retrieved May 3, 2007.         <http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/pressrel/r990421.htm>
Public Agenda. Retrieved May 2, 2007.  <www.publicagenda.org >
Savage, Joanne. “Does Viewing Violent Media Really Cause Criminal Violence? A        Methodological Review”.  Aggression and Violent Behavior.  November 2004. V.            10, Issue 1, p. 99-128. 30p.
Thomas, Evan.  “Making of a Massacre”.  Newsweek.  April 20, 2007.  p. 22-31
Welch, W.  “Students Urged to Stop Playing “Assassin” Game”.  USA Today. May 4,   2007.  Section: News. P. 3A
 

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