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Dwyer, Tim, Legal and Ethical Issues in the Media.

Dwyer, Tim, Legal and Ethical Issues in the Media, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2012, ISBN 9 7802 3024 4610, 168 pp., A$37.00.

This book attempts to span an enormous range of media issues across different cultures, legal systems and media, and therefore it would be easy to concentrate on its deficiencies. It seems to be aimed at young adult readers, and that alone is cause for recommendation. Moreover, any deficiencies are quite trivial when one considers the scope of what is being attempted. The book succeeds in its stated ambition to provide a toolkit of legal, ethical and practice-oriented skills for media workers and their audiences.

An example of this scope is in the introductory chapter, where a brief discussion of crowd-sourced investigation and its consequences in terms of justice leads into the main ethical traditions--virtue, rule-based, Christian, utilitarian (or consequentialist), Foucauldian, Confucian and Buddhist--summarising the ways in which they influence decision-making for media practitioners.

The second chapter, despite its heading, 'Legal, Ethical and Media Systems', is mainly concerned with legal systems--common law, civil law, socialist and Islamic--leading to a discussion of the courts and sub-judice contempt, including an excellent section on social media in the court-room context. The next three chapters, on defamation, confidentiality and intellectual property respectively, also concentrate on legal aspects, but then bring in some of the ethical aspects arising from the increasing role social media is taking in the practice of journalism.

The chapter on public interest begins with the proposition that governments assume responsibility for the public interest; in the case of the media, this is expressed by regulation. This implies that media regulation needs to somehow ensure that news and opinion that is contrary or embarrassing to the government is published. The assumption is that this objective is best achieved by regulating for diversity of ownership, while the apparent dangers of allowing a few individuals or corporations to gain undue media influence is explained.

Perhaps because this book aims to provide a toolbox for journalists and others to resolve issues, rather than providing a set of preordained directives, it does not mention some of the ethical dilemmas journalists encounter while working in the modern media. For example, the circumstances under which a public benefit might derive from deceiving a source, from confronting a source, or even from collaborating too closely with a source and becoming captured, the ethical implications of reporting suicide, or of interviewing sources who might be experiencing mental stress, are not explained. Also not dealt with are the circumstances under which a journalist might feel morally obliged to break the law, such as destroying records in order to protect a source's anonymity, or the everyday situation of recording a telephone conversation in order to ensure accuracy or to secure a defence against a possible defamation action. The legal aspects of the recent News International scandal in the United Kingdom are explained at length but, if those journalists had employed their illegal phone-hacking skills on investigating matters with clear public benefit outcomes, they might have emerged from the debacle smelling more like roses and less like sewer rats.

--Jolyon Sykes, Freelance journalism researcher
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Author:Sykes, Jolyon
Publication:Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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