Ethics and Law in New Media/Theoretical Approaches

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It is common to add different models and theories to all areas and subject. Just like it has been done in the field of media ethics and law. At different times and different authorities at the time had its own laws and ethical understandings, to be followed. Ethics and law in new media is a very complicated subject, particularly in the electronic media, where deadline pressures often require quick decision-making and where technological developments are constantly raising new issues. (Carter et al 1989: 1) One thing what makes ethics and law in (new) media very difficult is that there is no one regime or theory in the whole world and every country wants to play by their own rules, of course there are international laws, contracts and code of ethics, but the conflict remains.

Four Theories[edit]

One possible way is to distribute different approaches to media in four main theories. By Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm [[wikipedia:en:Wilbur_Schramm]there|are: The authoritarian, the libertarian, the social responsibility and the soviet communist or by some authors called Marxism. All this four theories have their own understandings to ethics and law in media. (Siebert et al 1972)

The authoritarian theory[edit]

In the authoritarian theory everyone who gets a royal patent or similar permission has a right to use media, but at the same time media is controlled by the government patents, guilds, licensing and sometimes even through censorship. Criticism of political machinery and officials in power is forbidden. The main difference from the other theories is that media is an instrument for effecting government policy, though not necessarily government owned. (Siebert et al 1972: 7) The authoritarian theory was automatically adopted by most countries and today we call its product “mass media”. (Siebert et al 1972: 9) The major problem in most authoritarian systems is establishing effective restraints and controls over the privately operated media. (Siebert et al 1972: 9) The main statement of the authoritarian theory is that medias ethics and law is regulated the way they support government.

The Libertarian Theory[edit]

According the second theory, the libertarian, anyone with economic means to use media, have this right. Contrary to the previous theory, in the libertarian theory media is controlled by “self-righting process of truth” in “free market place of ideas” and by courts if it is necessary. But at the same time defamation, obscenity, indecency and wartime sedition are forbidden. One difference from the other theories is that media is a instrument for checking on government and meeting other needs of society. (Siebert et al 1972: 7) The principles of libertarian philosophy are based on the answeres to questions about the nature of man, the nature of society and the man’s relation to it, and the nature of knowledge and of truth. Also the freedom and press become a part. (Siebert et al 1972: 40-44)

The Social Responsibility Theory[edit]

Third is the social responsibility theory. According to this theory the right to use media is for everyone, who have something to say. This is also where the ethics comes in, because by the social responsibility theory, media is controlled by community opinion, consumer action and professional ethics. It is very difficult to measure corrupts, because lines what is forbidden and what’s not are very unclear. It is said that it is not allowed to ruin serious invasion of recognized private rights and vital social interests. In the social responsibility theory media must assume obligation of social responsibility and if they do not, someone must see that they do. (Siebert et al 1972: 7) This theory is strongly influenced by the technological developments and availability. (Siebert et al 1972: 77)

The Soviet-totalitarian/Communism/Marxism Theory[edit]

The final fourth is the soviet-totalitarian theory. It is also called communism or Marxism theory. By this theory only loyal and orthodox party members have the right to use media. Also there is a strong control over the media, which is arranged by surveillance and economic or political action of government. All criticism of party objectives as distinguished from tactics are forbidden. In short meda according to the soviet theory is state-owned and closely controlled and media is solely existing as an arm of state. (Siebert et al 1972: 7) This is only one side of this theory.

In USSR The media was operated as it is described above but at the same time there were many contradictory guarantees for the citizens. For an example in USSR by the law theoretically freedom of speech and press were guaranteed for citizens. This is the other part of the theory. (Siebert et al 1972: 125)

What about today?[edit]

Finally, according to Denis McQuail[1]], in keeping with the spirit of postmodernism, the new theoretical battle lines are not clearly drawn, and friends and enemies have not yet found a consistent way to identify each other. (McQuail 1994: 377)


1)Carter, T. B. & M. A. Franklin & J. B. Wright (1989). The First Amendments and the Fifth Estate. Westbury, New York: The Foundation Press, Inc.

2)Siebert, F. S. & T. Peterson & W. Schramm (1972). Four theories of the press. University of Illinois Press Urbana, Chicago, London

3)McQuail, D. (1994). Mass Communication Theory, Sage Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi