Where are the Ethics?

By Jermaine Williams

According to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, a journalist’s greatest responsibility to the public is to seek the truth and report. In doing so, a reporter must: Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.”

Secondly, SPJ’s Code of Ethics also states “Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.” Additionally, journalists must, “Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.”

Now that we have an understanding of how an ethical journalist should conduct themselves, let’s examine how one local media outlet’s coverage concerning violence in the African-American community is reported.

On July 29th, 2012, the first sentence in our local mainstream newspaper relating to the death of 19-year-old Matthew Cox included the phrase ”what may be drug related.” The article then went on to say, “What happened next is unclear, but multiple shots were fired.”
The occurrences of that night are unclear. But, what is clear is that it was drug related? This seems interesting, doesn’t it?

Then there’s the story concerning the stabbing death of 22-year-old Shernique Kemp. In the article, the incidents and details leading up to Kemp’s death were outlined, along with Kemp’s previous run-ins with law enforcement.

However, what the aforementioned media outlet did not report was that despite how the article read, Kemp was not the intended victim of the assault – her sister was – and that Kemp was only stabbed stepping in between the two ladies.

Not only did this media outlet not take that important detail into consideration, but also it feels they did not consider the potential impact/harm their coverage could cause.

Their reporting disgraced whatever positive memories Kemp’s family had left to cherish, when the bypassed numerous Facebook and family photos in which Kemp looked beautiful – and opted to run Kemp’s most recent mug shot to accompany the article. Depicting her as a criminal.

Now let’s look at the coverage given to the 14-year- old white male, who admitted to murdering his father.

In the story Warren Williams was described as a “pleasant child who was gifted,” a member of the Children’s Chorus of Pensacola and a student at Brown Barge Middle School  — an environment for “high academically exceptional students in Pensacola”.

If these are the words – the phrases – used to describe an admitted murderer, surely the lives of Matthew Cox, Shernique Kemp and others are worthy of such glowing remarks.

Although I would love to say that this particular publication is to blame for its unethical depiction of African Americans, sadly, it’s not true.

We have created an atmosphere of disrespect amongst one another. We are raising children who value Air Jordans and Ralph Lauren Polo, more than God and education; children who believe killing is the answer and who have no regard for human life. These media outlets are watching us disrespect one another, so why are we surprised when they depict us in such a disrespectful light? Rosa Parks once said, “If you want to be respected for your actions, your behavior must be above reproach.”

I challenge you to raise the bar. Raise the bar in how we teach our children; raise the bar in how we interact with each other. Let our behaviors, our actions – our words, be above reproach behaviors, our actions – our words be above reproach.

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