Legal and Ethical Issues of Online Journalism

Chapter 11 of “Online Journalism” discusses the legal and ethical issues of the multimedia age.  As online journalism becomes more and more prevalent, it seems as though the lines of traditional ethics and news values have become blurred.  However, these ingrained principles have become more important than ever in this evolving news landscape.

Values such as honesty, accuracy and fairness are critical in a world where information can be produced and shared almost instantly.

Today’s multimedia journalist has to be a jack-of-all-trades, who understands the legal implications of all online content.  As a professional, the journalist must consider issues related to libel, obscenity and indecency, copyright rules, and the laws and ethics of linking, blogs, reporter’s privilege and editing images and sounds.

Over the years, legislators have tried to create direct parallels between the Internet and other mediums including print and broadcast.  However, the courts have thrown out many of these censorship efforts considering some “vague and overboard.”  As a result, the Internet, like print material, is given more freedom when it comes to obscenity and indecency than broadcast.

Despite this fact, the Internet is subject to many of the same laws as traditional media.  However, because of the ease with which someone can access and plagiarise information, most Internet content cannot be protected.  It is so easy to copy and paste material from the Web that many people don’t know that they may be committing copyright infringement.

The book mentions that a journalist should “assume that anything you encounter on the Internet is copyrighted, unless it is expressly offered for public domain use.”  This broad assumption is the ultimate safety measure for any journalist unsure about the legality of his or her actions.

“Online Journalism” goes even further to suggest that if a journalist has any doubt at all, they should not utilize the material.  Be sure you know for a fact that you can present the information in question.

Like any legacy media, the principles of online journalism come down to being straightforward and honest with your audience.  The book breaks it down the best by saying, “As in all cases, the key is that we do not mislead the viewer, and that we represent the truth of a story as accurately as possible.”

This edict extends beyond online journalism to include other multimedia content and society as a whole.  If we could all adopt that philosophy, society would be more well-informed and less likely to be manipulated by damaging falsehoods.


About Dan Boettcher

I am a journalism student at Minnesota State University, Mankato. I'm hoping to graduate in May of this year and hopefully find a job in the Twin Cities area. I'd appreciate any feedback from professionals who read my blog, especially those in the journalism or public relations' field.
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