Tort Law and Journalism Ethics
65 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2009 Last revised: 20 May 2009
Date Written: April 29, 2009
This paper compares and contrasts the ethical obligations of news reporters under journalism ethics codes with their reporting obligations under state defamation and privacy tort law. It addresses the infiltration of tabloid journalism into traditional media sources, including the proliferation of sensationalism, triviality and disregard for privacy, with a particular emphasis on news coverage of the sports and entertainment industries. The paper also addresses the different standards for public figures created by the media, whether such standards promote justifiable social policy objectives, and how the media’s creation of such standards impacts society’s views and treatment of public figures. A 2008 survey of journalists conducted by The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press convincingly demonstrates why the journalism marketplace in the twenty-first century encourages a tabloid news media and fails to provide the press with appropriate incentives to adhere to journalism ethics codes. This paper advocates that strict tort law standards, which shield the press and were developed over forty years ago in a remarkably different free market and technological journalism environment, need to be revisited. The paper provides suggestions for incorporating journalism ethics codes into tort law standards in a manner that would create incentives for the press to internally regulate journalism ethics and give some teeth to journalism ethics codes without compromising the First Amendment.
Keywords: Defamation, Privacy, First Amendment, Journalism Ethics
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