In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Media Ethics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Theoretical Models
  • International Studies
  • New Research Directions

Communication Media Ethics
Clifford Christians
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 November 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0008


As with professional ethics as a whole, media ethics is divided into three parts: metaethics, normative ethics, and descriptive ethics. Metaethics addresses the validity of theories, the nature of good and evil in media programming, the question of universals, problems of relativism, and the rationale for morality in a secular age. Normative ethics fuses practice with principles. It concerns the best ways for professionals to lead their lives and the standards to be promoted. Normative ethics concentrates on the justice or injustice of societies and institutions. Descriptive ethics uses social science methodologies to report on how ethical decision making actually works in journalism, advertising, public relations, and entertainment. Normative ethics has received the most attention in media ethics, but for media ethics to flourish, research and teaching need to be strong on all three levels.

General Overviews

Each monograph or book covers the field of media ethics in a different way, and a combination of three or four such sources needs to be read for an adequate understanding of the state of the art. Parsons 2016 focuses on public relations, Snyder 2020 on advertising ethics, and Ward 2011, Boeyink and Borden 2010, and Wyatt 2014 focus on journalism. Arnett, et al. 2018 encompasses communication studies broadly, and Plaisance 2018 includes both communication and public media. Ward 2015 uses intellectual history as its methodology, with Sadig 2019 also utilizing a historical approach, but only since 1980. Wilkins and Christians 2020 presents the relevant theories, issues, and empirical studies of media ethics internationally.

  • Arnett, Ronald C., Janie M. Harden Fritz, and Leanne W. McManus. 2018. Communication ethics literacy: Dialogue and difference. 2d ed. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.

    This volume sees conflicting opinions as endangering successful communication. It presents a dialogic perspective on ethical communication, emphasizing diverse narratives, various ethical traditions, and virtue ethics that lead to multiple understandings of quality communication.

  • Boeyink, David E., and Sandra L. Borden. 2010. Making hard choices in journalism ethics: Cases and practice. New York: Routledge.

    This book is the notable volume on casuistry. The authors teach students to make close and deep analysis of specific situations. Case studies serves as the starting point, with ethical practices built up from there. As a teaching strategy, the book moves from easy cases to complicated ones.

  • Parsons, Patricia J. 2016. Ethics in public relations: A guide to best practice. 3d ed. London: Kogan Page.

    The standard issues in public relations ethics are reviewed and then revised and corrected in light of new technologies and shifts in social contexts locally and globally. The author knows the field and writes with authority about authorship, conflict of interest, corporate dynamics, sexual harassment, misleading news releases, and the impact of blogging.

  • Plaisance, Patrick L., ed. 2018. Communication and media ethics. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

    Emphasizes theory development in different parts of the world, while also including history, new technologies, psychology, popular culture, public relations, and social science research. The book includes a major section on harm and four concluding chapters on the future research agenda.

  • Sadig, Haydar Badawi, ed. 2019. Al Jazeera in the gulf and the world: Is it redefining global communication ethics? Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan.

    The research on international media enterprises such as Al Jazeera is set in the historical context of the MacBride Commission of 1980 calling for worldwide ethics in light of new global technologies. Truth, editorial policies, diversity, nonviolence, gender, and the ethics of human dignity are reviewed based on interviews with Al Jazeera staff and comparative studies of international news media.

  • Snyder, Wallace S. 2020. Principles and practices for advertising ethics. Institute for Advertising Ethics. Washington, DC: American Advertising Federation.

    Eight principles of ethical advertising are explained and applied. New technologies worldwide and erosion of public confidence in advertising are emphasized, and issues such as transparency, fairness, consumer privacy, and honesty are given special attention.

  • Ward, Stephen J. A. 2011. Ethics and the media: An introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    As the subtitle suggests, Ward provides a comprehensive overview of media ethics in order to bring students and practitioners up to date on the issues and research. It opens up directions for change that adapt to the new technological, visual, and institutional environments. The author argues for a “mixed media” ethics that includes users and practitioners of the social media.

  • Ward, Stephen J. A. 2015. The invention of journalism ethics: The path to objectivity and beyond. 2d ed. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press.

    A detailed historical review of journalistic objectivity, understood by the press as a moral imperative. The author concludes that the traditional notion of objectivity developed a century ago is no longer defensible philosophically and argues for a pragmatic objectivity that is close to common sense.

  • Wilkins, Lee, and Clifford Christians, eds. 2020. The handbook of mass media ethics. 2d ed. New York: Routledge.

    A comprehensive review of thinking and professional practice in media ethics over the last four decades. Chapters on institutional issues worldwide in news, photojournalism, entertainment, advertising, and public relations are included, plus the latest thinking on theory, religion, digital technology, and violence.

  • Wyatt, Wendy N., ed. 2014. The ethics of journalism: Individual, institutional and cultural influences. London: Bloomsbury.

    Explains the 21st-century media landscape (individual, institutional, cultural) in journalism and how it differs from the previous century. The chapters concentrate on ethical questions facing practicing journalists, using a variety of international cases. It includes comparative studies of how ethical theory and practice differ.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.