Considerations in Professional
and Moral Decisions*

Sometimes in our media work the decisions we feel are right are not the ones that offer the greatest promise for personal, professional, or corporate success.  

For example, we may encounter corporate economic pressures to make decisions or promote causes that are not in the public's best interestsóbringing a product to the market before it's fully tested, cutting corners in a design to enhance the bottom line, or eliminating safety or quality inspections to speed delivery. 

In a media profession with highly visible results our decisions can have lasting impact. More than one promising career has been hampered or even completely derailed by a bad or ill-considered decision made at a critical time.

The time to consider these things is right now, when we can think through some of these issues and formulate personal guidelines for decisions that we may later have to make under pressure.

To help with this, let's look at five levels of personal development that outline the basis from which decisions are commonly made. The statements given in each case are written to represent personal attitudes.

You will note that as you move through the five levels the degree or level of professional and moral development increases.  The fifth level is considered the most highly developed. 

1. Self-Interest

  • "I primarily to look out for myself and my own interests."
  • "If people get misled by what's broadcast, it's their own fault; they should know better."
  • "The popular media are designed to make money.  Their positive or negative impact on people is beside the point and not something I need to worry about."  

2. If It's Legal It's Ethical

  • First and foremost, media people must serve the interests of the corporations they work for.  They pay our salaries, so, assuming no laws are being broken, employees should not waste time trying to decide whether the messages are right or wrong.
  • I have no moral responsibility for the consequences of totally legal behaviors, even if those consequences are bad for society.
  • I have a right to try to convince people of any viewpoint I wish to legally promote.  If others take exception, then it's up to them to try to promote a different view.

3. Ethical Behavior Serves Mutual Self-Interests

  • Ethical behaviors are desirable because they are good for business.
  • Not only does ethical behavior serve everyone's best interests, it's desirable because it discourages government intervention.  

4. Social Responsibility

  • Corporations and individuals have a moral responsibility to enhance and promote the well-being of society.
  • Just because it's legal doesn't mean that it's best for society. We must focus on our responsibilities rather than our rights.
  • We are all in this world together, and what hurts some individuals can hurt us all.
  • We often have to make personal sacrifices to benefit others.

5. Promotion of the General Welfare

  • Our messages should be aimed at enhancing and dignifying the decency and positive potential in others while promoting a society that we, ourselves, want to live in.
  • We feel a responsibility to respect and protect life in all its forms, including world's ecosystems.
  • We should judiciously and sensibly promote what we feel is right, even when we encounter personal or corporate resistance.

 These levels of moral development have been expressed in various ways over the years. Here, they have been tailored to the media field.

The well-known film and TV director, David Puttnam, has often spoken out on these issues. Although addressing the influence of films, Puttnam's comments apply to all of the media.

According to Puttnam there is reluctance among moviemakers to take responsibility for the impact that their films have on society and, by extension, for the type of world we would like to live in.

Puttnam says that at its best, "film is an art form that is capable of uniting in peace that family of man of which we are all a part."  

So what's the problem?

The problems that we see rest primarily in two areas: a poverty of ambition and an overriding interest in a quick profit.

Considering all of this, as we move through our careers we can ask ourselves this simple question:

Does what we produce help solve, or contribute to the problems in our society?

*Some concepts in this article are based on the ideas of Sherry Baker, Brigham Young University.


© 2002, Ron Whittaker
All Rights Reserved