First of all what are research ethics? As explained in Niranjala Weerakkody’s book, Research Ethics in Media and Communications, “ethical research ensures the researcher is ‘doing the right thing’ by the project, its participants and society at large”. This can mean very different things for different people because everyone has a separate idea on what is right or wrong and acceptable or unacceptable, but, there are formal ethical guidelines that are established by organisations and governments which ethics and standards (pg.74) are based on.
Ethics is an important part of any research, especially within journalism. Being truthful when reporting or gathering information is a major part of any research. When thinking about ethics, knowledge, truth and avoidance of error come to mind. Fabricating, falsifying or misrepresenting research are examples of disobeying ethics. Ethics are ‘moral principles’ and in every profession there is a Code Of Ethics which outline what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in your chosen line of work. For example the The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance’s (MEAA) code of ethics require that you use fair and honest means to obtain material. Avoid misrepresentation and use of concealed equipment or surveillance devices. These are just two of the many points outlined within their code of ethics.
Bob Steele is the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values. He advises journalists and media leaders across the country on ethical dilemmas and leadership challenges. Steele led ethics and values sessions for nearly one hundred news organisations across the country. He has also led sessions for over 100 news organisations across the country including television stations, newspapers and broadcast and newspaper groups.
There has been hundreds of thousands of unethical research, surveys and questionnaires created over the years and an example of a very famous experiment conducted by psychologist Philip Zimbardo, call The Stanford Prison Experiment. Dr Zimbardo led this experiment to examine that behavior of individuals when placed into roles of either prisoner or guard and the norms these individuals were expected to display. “Prisoners were put into a situation purposely meant to cause disorientation, degradation, and depersonalization. Guards were not given any specific directions or training on how to carry out their roles. Though at first, the students were unsure of how to carry out their roles, eventually they had no problem.” By the end of the experiment, both prisoners and guards forgot this was just an experiment and could pull out at anytime. The prisoners became depressed and the guards became power hungry. Dr Zimbardo ended the experiment after 5 days as he realised just how real the prison had become to the subjects.
Unethical research is still conducted on a daily basis but people like Bob Steele have changed the attitudes towards it and hopefully one day it will be a thing of the past.