OZUMI Aliu Abdul
MOHAMMED Zainab Adang
MATTHIAS OLOBAYO O
The internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) have been a significant part of online journalism since at least 1994. Hall (2001:2) (as cited in Rodin) notes that Reuters routinely serves 2,700 pages of data every second of every day to a potential market of over 200 million regular Web users. Rudin et al assert that news and information is one of the main reasons people use the Internet, with one survey showing that 40 per cent used the medium to give them more background on a story than had been available through press or broadcasting.
The rate of spread of Internet in Africa is equally unprecedented. The Internet doubled in size in 1994 and has done so every year since 1988 and the number of computers connected to the Internet in Africa for example jumped by 36% from July 1988 to January 1999 (Kojo, B et al 2003). Evidently, Internet is the fastest growing communications medium ever. Millions of people are finding their working lives and increasingly their recreation, changed beyond all recognition.
The Internet or simply the Net as it is often called, stands for interconnected network of networks on a global scale. It makes it possible for computers all over the world to, send and receive messages (Richard, 2003). According to William, B. (2000), it is an internet-work of several hosts and their networks together to form a larger network of global magnitude. It is therefore a global collection of computers and networks that connects millions of peoples, organizations, military, and government to a wide range of information resources through a common protocol to communicate among themselves.
Alberto (2000) defines the Internet “as a worldwide, publicly accessible series of interconnected computer networks that transmit data by packet switching using the standard Internet Protocol (IP)”. It is a “network of networks” that consists of millions of smaller domestic, academic, business, and government networks, which together carry various information and services, such as electronic mail, online chat, file transfer, and the interlinked Web pages and other documents of the World Wide Web.
Alberto (2000) succinctly put, Internet could be described by four major characteristics. They are:
1. Interactivity, that is, ICTs effective two – way communication.
2. Permanent availability, the new ICTs are available 24 hours a day.
3. Global reach; bridging the geographic distances.
4. Reduced costs for many; relative costs of communication have shrunk to a fraction of previous values.
DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman & Robinson (2001, pp.307-336) describe the Internet thus:
Internet can be a telephone: literally, or through e-mail, chat rooms, and other forms of real-time communication between individuals. It can serve as a library: Specialized websites “narrowcast” information to users interested enough to use search engines to find them. It can act as a soap box: for individuals expressing themselves toe-lists and discussion forums. Or it can operate as a conventional mass medium: Internet service providers like AOL and services like RAM media let providers broadcast information to large users simultaneously.
Kojo, Asiedu and Lu, Song Feng (2003, P 202) jointly describes Internet thus:
The Internet – or Net; is nothing more than a means of transport for digitalized information. But it makes radically new patterns of human communication possible through its speed of transport and the fact that once a link is established it becomes very cheap to send information to one person or to a hundred. The Internet is more of a concept than a thing. It is best thought of as a new means of transport for information – the “tracks” over which actual information services “run”. In the same way, railways made regional and national newspapers possible; the arrival of the Internet makes new information service possible. The Internet allows users to transcend time, distance and old –technology cost constraints. They can form working groups or visual clubs with people who share their interests, regardless of where they live.
The Internet has positioned itself as a formidable resource for business Information in developing countries. It has opened up people’s consciousness to the modern day technique of storing data in different locations and in different formats. Businesses, governments and NGOs are increasingly using the Internet to recruit personnel, save time and expense. With its worldwide scope and role, the Internet permits significant insights into overall market trends and competitive measures. The use of electronic mail minimizes the cost of employing staff, running advertisements, printing and postage costs.
Development experts have posited that the Internet would undoubtedly mean better educated and better – informed people who in turn are more likely to successfully battle poverty and increase productivity so as to have improved economies. Besides the above mentioned benefits, Internet can equally be beneficial to governments. It can help government agencies and private organizations to communicate with the public, with businesses and with one another. The anytime, anywhere character of the Internet allows information and services from the government, job recruiters/employers to be more available to more people and business with greater convenience and lower cost to customers.
The first electronic digital computer was developed during World War II by the British to break the German’s secret code. The first full-service electronic computer, introduced in 1946 was ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator), introduced by scientist John Mauchly and John Presper Eckert of the Moore school of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. The commercial computers were introduced by the efforts of IBM. The Internet is in part the product of the military’s desire to maintain US defenses after a nuclear attack. It came as a result of the 1957 Soviet Union launch of sputnik, earth’s first human constructed satellite, which disputed the supremacy of the US in science and technology. The US research team found answer in decentralization as the key to enabling communication to continue no matter where an attack occurred, and the solution was a network of computer networks- the Internet. In 1969, Arpanet went online, and became fully operational and reliable within one year. Other development soon followed. In 1972, Ray Tomlinson created the first e-mail programme and gave us the ubiquitous.
The term Internet was coined in 1974 by Stanford University’s Vinton Cerf and Robert Katin of the U.S. military. In 1979,
Steve Bellovin, a graduate student of the University of North Carolina, created Usenet and IBM crested BITNET.
With the development of personal or microcomputers, the Internet became accessible to millions of non- institutional users. Its capabilities include e-mail, mailing list, Usenet, FTP and World Wide Web (WWW).
ORIGIN OF ETHICS
Generally, the concept of ethics has a very long history, dating back perhaps to the beginning of human existence. Philosophers believed that the concept of morality must have existed in a more or less unreflective form, probably closely associated with myth, religion and taboo from the time human beings began to live in groups. The concept of ethics must have being in existence in more primitive forms long before it came to be documented in written words.
There is however, a measure of uncertainty about the precise origin of this first book. Journalistic ethics is however a modern philosophy. The earliest signs of mass communication ethics appeared at the turn of the twentieth century as a reaction against the excesses of the extreme freedom of the libertarian theory of the press. The libertarian theory called for complete press freedom on the part of the Journalist. The theory advocated that there should be no pre-censorship and post-censorship of the press as human beings are rational beings.
The press men grossly abused this press freedom as they began to embark on negative journalistic practices like, yellow journalism, junk journalism, sensationalism, invasion of privacy, character assassination etc. Yaroson and Asemah (2008:64), cited in Asemah (2011) put it that, ‘‘as early as the late nineteenth century, critics began to identify flaws in the libertarian theory. The press was evolving in a manner that fell short of the idealistic libertarian goals. And by the twentieth century, the voices for change were loud’’.
The negative practices by journalists encouraged by complete press freedom brought about the social responsibility theory which calls for responsibility on the part of the journalist in the course of his duty. The social responsibility theory states that “freedom carries concomitant responsibility”.
Thus, by the twentieth century, the time was ripe for the emergence of a theory of a free but, responsible press. This brought into existence the social responsibility theory of the press characterized by the rise of professional journalistic associations with codes of ethics designed to encourage responsible behaviour by their members. The social responsibility theory reconciles the freedom enjoyed by the journalist with his obligations to the society. It places emphasis on persons and media institutions that operate the media. McQuail (1987), cited in Asemah (2011) identifies some of the principles as:
Certain obligations to society should be accepted and fulfilled by the press.
These obligations are mainly to be fulfilled through setting high professional standards of truth, accuracy, objectivity, balance and informativeness.
In the discharge of their duties, the media should be self-regulatory within the frame work of law and established institutions.
The society and public have a right to expect high standards of performance from the media and intervention can be justified to secure public good since journalist should be accountable to the society.
To maintain high standards, the theory holds that the press must be controlled either by itself or by the government.
Frankena and Granrose cited in Okunna (1995:1), say that the word ethics stands for a branch of morality and its problems. Ethics as moral philosophy is therefore, that branch of knowledge which is concerned with the standards of good and bad conduct in a society using societal norms as a basis for the evaluation of human conduct or behaviour.
Ethics therefore, is the moral philosophy or science which determines what is right or wrong in a social context. It is a moral rule or principle of behaviour for deciding what is right and wrong. Thus, Merrill cited in Nwodu (2006: 135), cited in Asemah (2011), defines ethics as a normative science of conduct which stipulates guidelines, rules, principles and codes that are designed to lead individual to make moral decisions. From the foregoing, it can be seen that ethics is a matter of morality.
Ethics can be described as the systematic study of the principles and methods for distinguishing right from wrong and good from bad. Ethics is a moral concept. The word ethics is of the Greek origin “ethos” which means character while the word “morals” comes from the Latin word “moralis” which means custom or manner (Asemah, 2011). Tschudin cited in Okunna (1995:1) says that ethics and morals mean custom, that is, a very fundamental way of doing things or of conduct which are not only customary, but also right.
Thus, in the context of ethics, the acceptance of or otherwise of human attitudes and behaviours, actions and inactions and overall conduct can be based on relative moral uprightness or otherwise, of such conduct. Thus, when we speak of people as moral or ethical, we usually mean that they are good people and when we speak of them as immoral or unethical, we mean that they are bad people. This agrees with Nwodu (2006: 135) who says that a given action can be said to be ethically right or wrong, good or bad, responsible or irresponsible, logical or illogical, socially acceptable or unacceptable and moral or immoral.
Asemah (2011) identified some of the theories of ethics, includes:
Deontological Theory: This theory simply assumes that for an action to be judged right or wrong, it should not be hinged on the consequence, rather, it should be based on the intension behind the action. Deontology or non-consequentialism defines right action- considering the intrinsic qualities of an action.
Deon means, what ought to be done. For the deontologists, certain things like virtues are intrinsically good and ought to be sought after. The rightness or wrongness of actions should depend on the intrinsic quality and not the consequence. Thus, once an online journalist believes that the action he is taking is right, he should not consider what the outcome will turn out to be. He is to appraise the motive behind an action, rather than the consequence.
Absolutist Theory: The ethical absolutist believes that there is one universal and eternal code that basically applies to everyone in all ages. The change in opinions, traditions and conditions makes no difference. This implies that whether a journalist finds himself in the north, south, east or west, it does not matter; the location or locality or geographical enclaves does not matter.
Regardless the socio-cultural, economic and political environment an online journalist finds himself, he has to take into consideration objectivity, truth, balance and fairness, credibility etc. This theory of ethics is based on the argument that a right action should be right in all places at all times and in all circumstances.
Teleological Theory: The word “teleological” comes from the Greek word “teleo” which means result or consequence. This theory is the opposite of deontological theory in that the emphasis is on the consequence of an action on the people. In taking ethical decisions, the individual has to weigh the consequence of such actions on the people.
Here, people judge a moral ethics not by rule but, by the aftermath effects. The prediction is that, it is the result or consequence of an action that determines the rightness or wrongness of such actions hence, teleological theory is also called consequence ethics or consequentialism. Therefore, in any situation, one should calculate the possible consequences of performing various actions relevant to that situation and choose the one that produces the greatest ratio of good or evil. Consequence oriented theories emphasize that we should look at the possible consequences or practical implications of our intended actions in order to determine whether an action is right or wrong. If the bad consequence outweighs the good ones, then, the proposed action should be abandoned and it should be regarded as morally wrong. Should the good consequence outweigh the bad ones however, the proposed action should be considered as morally permissible.
Situational Theory: This theory tries to strike a balance between legalistic and antinomian theory. The situational theory of ethics considers the rightness or wrongness of an action in relation to the particular situation in which the doer of the action finds him or herself. Ethical decision making should depend on the context or situation; it should aim at contextual appropriateness. The snap with the theory like that of antinomian is that often times, practitioners are guided by mere feelings, instincts and intuitions that are not too good for taking decisions that would affect many lives.
THE NEED OR OTHERWISE FOR ETHICAL CONSIDERATION IN THE FIELD OF ONLINE JOURNALISM:
The speed and anonymity provided by the internet can play fast and loose with journalistic ethics. The internet has created a fourth kind of journalism next to radio, television, and print journalism. Online journalists have received little or no attention from researchers, perhaps because few pure online journalistic efforts exist, compared to the wealth of trivia, entertainment, personal communication and pornography. These bedfellows make adherence to an ethical code all the more necessary, particularly in a time when public trust is in journalism has ebbed.(Yeshua, 2000).
The need for ethics in any human endeavour can never be overemphasized as its helps in moderating moral conduct within a particular profession. In this regards therefore, ethics in both conventional and online journalism is very imperative as it guides journalists and media professionals in going about their professional duties. The ethos of journalistic ethics is as follows:
Accuracy (over speed)
Attribution Or Acknowledgement
ACCURACY (OVER SPEED): The internet has turned breaking news into a den of rumors and false reports. As a result, therefore, online journalists ought to have looked out for this pitfall to ensure they do not follow the trend of posting false information in order to be fresh and timely. Martin Bryant (2016) put this clearly when he said “the people who have earned my respect are the ones that have held back and checked, used multiple sources to confirm my report”. Therefore, because the internet is hostile and is uncontrolled environment, accuracy is one of the ethical considerations over speed in the field of online journalism
TRANSPARENCY: Information shared to the public on the internet by on online journalist should be transparent in order to ensure the credibility of the online journalists. Being transparent by the online journalist is absolutely significant for his profession because the internet is widely open to people from all works of life, as a result, therefore, Martin posit that many large organizations and individuals are being coning of which can tarnish online journalism image.
ATTRIBUTION OR ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Attributing sources to news or information by the online journalists is also a good practice which must be practice as regards to ethical consideration in the field of online journalism. Therefore, Martin (2016) says attributing sources is one of the ethical considerations in the field of online journalism.
CORRECTIONS: Martin (2016) says mistakes are inevitable; therefore, it is possible to sometimes have mistakes whether big or small in the online journalism environment. However, it is important to acknowledge such mistakes and make necessary correction accordingly. Furthermore, Martin says acknowledge of mistakes is more honorable than erasing them or pretending it never happen in on line journalism.
OBJECTIVITY: This is one of the need of ethical consideration that an on line journalism has to take cognizance of as Martin (2016) observes that impartiality very important in the field of on line journalism because it helps the on line journalist to be neutral in dealing with sensitive issues that has to do with the public. Therefore, impartiality implies that on line journalist should stay unbiased and be truthful.
TRUTH: According to Asemah (2011) truth is the absolute reality that on line journalism has to consider in his endeavor. They need a firm commitment to the truth. An allegiance to truth is at the base of ethical values. An on line journalist is the one who has respect for and tries to live by the virtues of truth, wisdom, courage, justice and temperance. Therefore, online journalists should seek truth and be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
The need for ethical considerations is very paramount to the field of online journalism, such as accountability, Transparency, objectivity, Corrections, attribution or acknowledgement and impartiality, because it helps the online journalists to be accurate or balance in their day –to –day activities. The need for consideration is to help online journalist to stipulate rules, guidelines, norms and principles that would guide the online journalists in making moral decisions. Attempting to gain public acceptance or prevent public outcry.
There is need for ethical consideration in the field of online journalism due to the fact that the internet has gone wild, wild west, because such ethical consideration instills in the online journalist a continuing sensitivity to his every action, to his every decision; it integrates or blends with his total search for truth and it gives him general awareness of himself, others and of the consequences of interpersonal relations. A concern for ethical consideration in on line journalism is the key plank in any on line journalistic platform; it is the alpha and omega of public communication.
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