Monday, October 23, 2006

Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is feckless

There is an old adage about buying padlocks; locks only keep out honest people. The understanding is that an honest person will recognize and respect the boundary implied by even the cheapest padlock, and a dishonest person will neither recognize nor respect that boundary implied by the heaviest lock.

Similarly, codes of ethics are of little use to ethical people; they simply do not need reiteration of boundaries. Unethical people will not be bound by them under any circumstance. In particular if the code is unenforceable as is the Journalists’ Code of Ethics.

Take for example, Albuquerque’s Tribune and Journal. Their refusal to report on a widespread ethics scandal in the Albuquerque Public Schools clearly violates the Journalists’ Code of Ethics. But what is one to do? There is no body to which they can be reported; no system by which they can be held accountable. Like a burglar with a ten pound sledgehammer against a cheap padlock, they will have their way.

Like a 79 cent padlock, the Code is useless in protecting the community even against the most egregious betrayal of their interests and trust.

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