Ethics of Media Vs Military Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

In turn, the military institution involved should indeed follow such guidelines and allow the press the opportunity to investigate all the sides of the issue. Once again, if these limitations and conditions cannot be guaranteed by either the press or the military institution, the association with a single conglomerate cannot be ethical, as there is an inherent conflict of interest.

In this regard, there should be a continuous recognition that some press freedom will be restricted in the interest of the public and national security. Only when the necessary limitations are in place can the military operate from unified basis of ethics. And only then can military institutions guarantee that their actions will at all times be aimed towards public protection and national safety and security. Time, place and circumstances always play a role in the restrictions on both military action and press reports. Only when both function within the framework of public interest can it be said that a conglomerate can ethically own both the military and press institutions.

The basic nature of military institutions in terms of the first amendment should also be taken into account when creating an agreement between military institutions and press associations. According to Dean G. Falvy (2003), for example, military institutions have a somewhat distant relationship with democracy in terms of individualism, independent thinking, and principled dissent. An open society to not play either a large or effective role in the military institution, for the reasons of unified acting, as mentioned above. Instead, the principles of self-sacrifice, discipline, order and obedience play a much more important role in the military establishment, and this should be recognized by the press association. The heat of battle requires absolute respect for the chain of command if it is not to disintegrate into chaos. Indeed, it is only with such respect, that any previously established code of ethics can be upheld in battle.

On the other hand, it is also true that both military and media personnel are human, and that errors will occur, particularly in a high-stress environment such as the battlefield. When the military is then indeed guilty of ethical violations during war time, the contract should also make provision for such cases. The press an military can for example work together to publish a full admission of the mistake made, and explanation of the exact circumstances under which the error occurred, and a guarantee to the effect that all attempts will be made to eliminate future occurrences of the kind. Such a publication can be made in the interest of full disclosure, which at the same time presents the military in a favorable light in terms of honesty and disclosure. The public is then presented with an association it can trust to uphold the principle of honesty at all times, and to admit whenever a mistake has been made. Indeed, this is much more favorable than attempting to hide such a mistake, only to be subject to later disclosure.

While some may believe that no conglomeration can own both a military establishment and a press association ethically, this is therefore not necessarily the case. If an agreement can be reached between the associations, with a shared system of ethics and projected circumstances, it is possible for both to function under joint ownership and in the interest of public safety combined with the public's right to be informed. Furthermore, today's average citizen is much more informed than some decades ago, before the rise of the Internet and related technology. It has therefore become vitally important not only to keep the public informed, but also to help citizens recognize the difference between true and false, and ethical and non-ethical information. This is something that an open, honest and ethical relationship between a jointly owned military institution and press association can accomplish.

While such a joint ownership could therefore be problematic, it is recommended that it is nonetheless conducive to a favorable public image for both the press and the military institution involved. In order to promote the public interest in this regard it is necessary to uphold a particular system of recognized ethics that both the military association and the press can adhere to in good conscience and in good faith.

According to Col Samuel D. Maloney, there are many complex ethical issues facing military personnel today, of which the least is certainly not issues relating to the press. There are certain rules, goals and situations that dictate the actions of the military professional. Of these, rule-oriented obligations and situation-oriented decisions are most applicable to the dilemma of conglomerate ownership.

In terms of rule-oriented obligations, it has been mentioned that the military functions according to a predetermined set of rules. These are vital for its effective functioning and indeed survival in combat situations. Rules are the culmination of an ethical system. In determining what is to be done in certain situations, rules enable military personnel to make instinctive decisions during high-stress situations. Rules represent the standard of conduct, particularly in the context of the military. They are also the basis upon which ethical obligations such as the truth, respecting property, and preserving life, are based.

For ethics philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, the supreme principle at the basis of all ethics systems is a sense of good will (Maloney, p. 53). Only in extending good will can the military draw up sound rules for conduct either during times of peace or war. According to Maloney (p. 56), situation-oriented decision making arose during the 1960s under the designation situation ethics, or the new morality. This type of ethics was promoted by Joseph Fletcher and John a.T. Robinson, who recognized that different situations might call for different decisions. This is particularly applicable to the military during combat situations. Sometimes a traditionally incorrect ethical decision is the only way to save lives during a combat situation.

It is therefore proposed that, in the case of a jointly owned military factor and press association, that situation ethics be used as the basis for a contract between the two. The first step in this is to inform both associations that they are owned by the same conglomeration. A meeting should be held to address any ethical misgivings that either association might have regarding such ownership. A preliminary contract can then be drawn up, with stipulations to address the various issues mentioned above. At its basis, the press and military associations should agree upon the level of disclosure that would be appropriate for each particular situation. A clause should also be included to stipulate that unforeseen situations may arise. In such situations, a meeting between the press and military associations should be held in order to determine the most appropriate course of action.

Historically, the military and the press have had a stormy relationship. However, current social and ethical paradigms dictate that some relationship between the two is necessary in the interest of the public on various levels. It is therefore possible for a conglomerate to own both a military and press association on ethical grounds. In some cases, this is even a necessity.


Kirkwood, R. Cort. (2003, June 21). The Military vs. Free Speech.

Maloney, Samuel D. Ethics Theory for the Military Professional.

The Independent (2002, 25 March) Onora O'Neill: Freedom of the press cannot be unrestricted.

White, Barry. (2007, June 15). Swiss trio cleared by military court. In the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.

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