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Media Ethics: A Comparative Study of Eastern and Western Principles

Posted in assignment, Media by Shekhar on June 18, 2010

Media Ethics: A Comparative Study of

Eastern and Western Principles


This paper is an attempt to present the comprehension understanding of media ethics, both from eastern as well as western perspective. In addition, this paper is concentrated on the claim that despite various moral philosophies throughout world, there are certain common grounds where media ethics should be practiced universally. Also the paper gives justification over why the western perspective on media Ethics is incomplete without incorporating eastern moral philosophies. In the literature Review portion, I have introduced some of the renown moral philosophies from west as well as eastern world to judge ethical and unethical activities of media professionals. It is verified through local media cases like that eastern moral philosophies especially Hindu ethical philosophies are themselves sufficient to give the comprehensive understanding of media ethics. At the end of the paper, various eastern and Western philosophies are credited as a source of derivation of various canons and principles of journalism. By going through this paper, One is expected to understand that ethical standards of media professionals should be maintained at some common grounds i.e one shouldn’t be unaware of various colliding moral philosophies. This paper was produced to fulfill the assignment of MEDS 305, Media Ethics and law.


In media, ethics play a key role to establish credibility and win the heart of their audience. Unethical media practices have brought many controversial issues followed by lethal consequences like that of Srisha Karki, a rising Nepali actress who happen to suicide after seeing her naked photo in one of the Nepali magazine. This create a urge to prevent such unethical practice by implanting the necessity of media ethics. It is a very humiliating fact that Nepali media are still on the another side of Media ethics except few.

For instances, As included in the Samhita, A quarterly publication of Press Council of Nepal, there are some examples of unethical practices in Nepal like

– Plagiarizing editorial of others newspapers.

– publishing the newspapers just by filling the paper with irrelevant media contents.

– There are some newspapers who don’t follow the conventional journalistic standards like putting byline, dateline etc.

– Enrolling journalist who don’t even have a little knowledge of Journalistic code of Ethics and Government policy over media.

– Use of vulgar words in Advertisement that attack in our Nepali cultural sentiments.

Above example shows that media practices in Nepal is very unethical. Those media professionals, involved in unethical practices, need to know and implement the journalist code of conduct, also a code of media ethics. The present situation seems like media ethics, which most of time are influenced from western world, is not working in Nepali media environment.

There is a possibility that if media professionals are given understanding of media ethics from eastern world, then it may show its relevance in making the media, whether be it a print or broadcast, a credible one.

Media Ethics and its significance

“Ethics means the principle of conduct governing an individual or a profession. Ethics is concerned with distinguishing between good and evil in the world, between right and wrong human actions, and between virtuous and non-virtuous characteristics of people. ” (Studying Mass media Ethics, pp-1)

Our own Hindu Scriptures says that ethics is the fundamental factor that distinguish human beings from animals, hence ethics should be taken as the part of our life.

According to our own Hindu perspectives, Ethics is directly related to “Dharma” the holy word which can’t be replaced by any other word in English because it includes all the guidelines for the human conduct or behavior which leads to final destiny i.e Moksha. In our eastern Society, the ethical guidelines given by Dharma are relevant and working recipe to make everyone moral and happy. (MBM Mass media Ethics, pp-50)

Ethics is an integral part of any type of professionals. Media professionals most of the times have to work with people living in the society of certain cultural background, so they need to apply media ethics to make their work balanced and moral. Media itself can’t be ethical or unethical but the way media professionals use the media may be ethical or unethical. They should be guided by ethics while taking various decision regarding journalistic activities. Here, ethical standard of Media professionals counts a lot.

Media Ethics is branch of philosophy seeking to help journalist and other media people determine how to behave in their work. In its practical application, it is very much a normative science of conduct, with conduct considered primarily self determined, rational and voluntary. (Mass Media Ethics, pp-1).

“According to Mc Quail, media ethics are ‘Principles of good conduct for media practitioners, bearing in mind the public role to the media in a given society, as well as the claims of individuals.’ They also focus on ‘how’ of media conduct like how the media practitioners should gather information and process them, how to handle these information and present them. As media is thought to be influential and sensitive profession, focus is also given on the conduct of the professionals. “-(MBM Anthology of Media Ethics pp-26).

Gordon and Kottross States: Media ethics concerns right and wrong, good and bad, better and worse actions taken by people working for the medial media themselves, of course, cannot be ethical or unethical- only their staff members can, when we deal with media ethics, we are really concerned with ethical standards of media workers what kinds of actions they take. (MBM Anthology of Media Ethics pp-27)

Holistic Understanding of Media Ethics

Despite Nepal having her own distinct cultural identity and her own native ethical ideas , most often we understands ethics in the way Westerners have advocated. This situation needs to be changed.

western morality provides ineffective grounding for duties to others because it cannot show the individual how the performance of these duties is related to achieving a specific conception of good and worthwhile life.

This paper put some light on media ethics from eastern and western perspective.

Media Ethics from Eastern Perspective

Hindu Ethics: Ethics for Hindus stems from Hindu religious texts. Hindus are obligatory to follow guidelines given by those shastras, traditions and customs.. Vedic Scriptures includes what is or is not to be done.

Ethics is directly related to Dharma in Hinduism. Dharma can’t be replaced by any such word like religion in English. Dharma has its own existence. In all those dharma shastras, found in Mahabharata, Ramayana, puranas etc have guidelines for human conduct which will help them to attain final destiny i.e Moksha.

“Vedic Hindu Philosophy, the foremost tradition of philosophy, and expressed in the Sanskrit language, comprises many diverse schools of thought. It is quite interesting that no other philosophical tradition is as rich as what is called Hinduism. It incorporates various views, from extreme spiritual to extreme materialistic. ” (Studying Mass Media Ethics, pp-7)

Different schools of thought within Hindu are categorized within

1) The mainstream Schools: It include six philosophies like Mimamsa, Vedanta, Vaisheshika, Nyaya, Samkhya and Yoga.

2) The Alternative Schools: It consist of Buddhism, Jainism, and Charvaka.

3) The latter-day School: The philosophies under this schools are within Vedic Hindu Tradition, but evolved relatively later, are classified under this. Some of them have belief in VEda; some of them like to attach with other Hindu Dharmasastras like Ramayana, Bhagvaadgeeta; and some of them are very critical to Hinduism.

“HIndu ethics consists a highly refined moral sensibility visualized with standards of character and conduct. Hindu classical philosophers often think about ethics in connection with the notion of Karma, and incarnation. Since, on the presumption of Karma, the nature of ones’ deeds determines one’s future state, the universe includes laws of moral payback.

Vedic way of life emphasized to conquer all of the purusharthachatustaya (four goals of human life)– dharma, artha, kama, and moksha. However, mysticism, the claim that ultimate truth is only obtainable through spiritual experience, dominates much ancient Hindu philosphy. Such experiences are thought to reveal a supreme and transmundane (beyong ordinary experience) reality and to privde the meaning of life. Mysticism shapes mch classical and modern Hindu throught as well. Throught meditation and the meditative techniques of yoga, it is believed that one discovers atma, and associates with Brahma, that is, attains moksha.

The ethics outlined in puranas can be understood by one example from Vishnu Puran: ‘Atmanam Pratikulai Paresham na samacharet”- That is, not to do anything that you do not entertain for yourself.

The first ever legal code in the world, the Manusmriti says: “Satyam Bruyat Priyam Bruyat Ma Bruyat Satyamapriyam; Priyam Cha Nanrituam Bruyadesha Dharma Sanatana”–that is, tell only the things that are both truth and good.

Chanakya says: “Tyajedekam Kulasyarthe Gramasyarthe kulam tyajet; Gramam Janapadasyarthe Atmarthe Prithiveem Tyajet”– that is, good for the greatest number in societal matters and good for the atma (soul) in spritual matters”. (Studying Mass media Ethics, pp 9-10)

Here, it is necessary to explain how a media professional will act from Hindu perspective. A media professional should only publish or broadcast those contents that is truth and good. A journalist should place himself as a audience, for whom the news is targeted, before publishing any news and evaluate what possible harm it can cause to others. Hindu ethics doesn’t allow one person to hurt others by any means.

Confucian Moral Ethics: While pursuing one’s own self-interest is not necessarily bad, one would be a better, more righteous person if one based one’s life upon following a path designed to enhance the greater good. This is doing the right thing for the right reason.

Confucius’s moral system was based upon empathy and understanding others, rather than divinely ordained rules. Virtue, in this Confucian view, is based upon harmony with other people, produced through this type of ethical practice by a growing identification of the interests of self and other.

In this regard, Confucius articulated an early version of the Golden Rule:

• “What one does not wish for oneself, one ought not to do to anyone else; what one recognizes as desirable for oneself, one ought to be willing to grant to others.” (Confucius and Confucianism, Richard Wilhelm)

• To know your faults and be able to change is the greatest virtue.”

• “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”

• “With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and my crooked arm for a pillow – is not joy to be found therein? Riches and honors acquired through unrighteousness are to me as the floating clouds.”

• “Knowledge is recognizing what you know and what you don’t.”

Here, it is necessary to explain that from Confucian view of ethics, while publishing news a media professional should pursue for goodness of greater audience rather pleasing owners and Publishers through biased news.

Islamic Ethics: “Regardless of their environment, humans are believed to have a moral responsibility to submit to God’s will and to follow Islam.”, is the essence of Islamic Ethics. Generally, guidelines for media ethics are derived from text included in Quran, the holy book of Islamic.

Media Ethics from Western Perspective

Golden mean: Aristotle’s theory of Golden mean states that it should one’s action that leads to the realization of the good of the human being. The end is realized through the continuous acting in accordance with virtues. One must firs acquire virtues by parental upbringing, experience and reasons. Here, happiness is not only the materialistic one, but the ultimate goal of human beings, desired for itself. Golden mean emphasizes the balance between two extremes i.e. vices. For example Aristotle says, ‘ It’s easy to be angry, but to be angry at the right time, for the right reason, at the right person and in the right intensity must truly be brilliant.”

Thomas Aquinas Ethics: Aquinas follows Aristotle in thinking that an act is good or bad depending on whether it contributes to or deters us from our proper human end—the telos or final goal at which all human actions aim.

Also, Aquinas believes that we can never achieve complete or final happiness in this life. For him, final happiness consists in beatitude, or supernatural union with God. Such an end lies far beyond what we through our natural human capacities can attain.

The basic human goods which first practical principles identify and direct us to are identified by Aquinas as (i) life, (ii) “marriage between man and woman and bringing up ), (iii) knowledge, (iv) living in fellowship with others, (v) practical reasonableness itself, and (vi) knowing and relating appropriately to the transcendent cause of all being, value, normativity and efficacious action.

Augustine Ethics : Augustine hold the idea on ethics that moral evil exist due to deficiency or lack of good and human will is the sole cause of moral evil.

We have already had occasion to explain certain basic points of Augustine’s moral or ethical doctrine when we spoke of the human will as the sole cause of moral evil. Augustine’s theory concerning evil is his greatest philosophico-theological discovery — particularly his distinction between metaphysical evil, which is a deficiency or lack of being, and moral evil, which is a deficiency or lack of good. We have already had occasion to explain certain basic points of Augustine’s moral or ethical doctrine when we spoke of the human will as the sole cause of moral evil. Augustine’s theory concerning evil is his greatest philosophico-theological discovery — particularly his distinction between metaphysical evil, which is a deficiency or lack of being, and moral evil, which is a deficiency or lack of good.

Immanuel Kant’s Ethics: Kant theory on ethics is duty-based or deontological. It judges morality on the basis of nature of actions and the will of agents rather than the goal achieved. Kant believed that when we stick to our duty then results are good. For kant, outcomes doesn’t matter because according to him, what type of action we should follow is within our control but the result or future is not in our control. He said that to act morally is to perform one’s duty, and one’s duty is to obey the innate moral laws.

Kant’s three significant formulations of the categorical imperative are:

• Act only according to that maxim by which you can also will that it would become a universal law.

• Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.

• Act as though you were, through your maxims, a law-making member of a kingdom of ends.

Categorical imperatives hold the maxim that true morality should not depend on our individual likes and dislikes or on our abilities and opportunities. These are historical “accidents;” any ultimate principle of ethics must transcend them. Among the various formulations of the categorical imperative, two are particularly worth noting:

• Always act in such a way that you can also will that the maxim of your action should become a universal law.


• Act so that you treat humanity, both in your own person and in that of another, always as an end and never merely as a means.

Stoics Ethics: The Stoics defined the goal in life as living in agreement with nature. Humans, unlike all other animals, are constituted by nature to develop reason as adults, which transforms their understanding of themselves and their own true good. The Stoics held that virtue is the only real good and so is both necessary and, contrary to Aristotle, sufficient for happiness; it in no way depends on luck. The virtuous life is free of all passions, which are intrinsically disturbing and harmful to the soul, but includes appropriate emotive responses conditioned by rational understanding and the fulfillment of all one’s personal, social, professional, and civic responsibilities. The Stoics believed that the person who has achieved perfect consistency in the operation of his rational faculties, the “wise man,” is extremely rare, yet serves as a prescriptive ideal for all. The Stoics believed that progress toward this noble goal is both possible and vitally urgent.

Utilitarian Theory: “Actions are right to the degree that they tend to promote the greatest good for the greatest number” is the main mantra of Utilitarian Theory. Utilitarianism’s best know advocate, John Stuart Mill, characterizes utilitarianism as the view that “an action is right in-so-far as it tends to produce pleasure and the absence of pain”

An action may be considered right if it produces the greatest amount of pleasure and the least pain of any available alternative action. This normative theory of right action is based on the theory of value that takes happiness conceived of as pleasure and the absence of pain to be the only things of intrinsic value.

There was a case of car accident on the Prithvi Highway where a local was killed by a Chaudhary Group vehicle. Later the accident was suppressed by money, even main stream media wouldn’t publish such news as they wouldn’t dare to expose the wrong deed of a rich industrialist. This is the example where a media did a act for the few good and ignore the sentiment of large local people who were protesting against Chaudhary Group. This is unethical from Utilitarian Perspective.

Relevance of moral philosophies in Media.

After having the understanding of some of the most renown ethical Philosophies from western and eastern, now we can point out the relevance and the strength of its application for media professionals.

“Over time journalist have developed nice core principles to meet the task. They comprise what might be described as the theory of journalism:

1. Journalism first obligation is to the truth.

2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.

3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.

4. Its practitioners must maintains independence from those they cover.

5. it must serve as an independent monitor of power.

6. It must provide a forum for publication criticism and compromise.

7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.

8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.

9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

American society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) explains the following canons of journalism:

1. Responsibility

2. Freedom of the Press

3. Independence.

4. Truth and accuracy.

5. Impartiality

6. fair play.” (Introduction to journalism and Mass Communication pp 184-188)

Above principles and Cannons of journalism were founded to make the media profession disciplined, balanced and credible. In others words we can say, the objective of those principles were to make the media ethical. We can related those canons and principles with various ethical philosophies from west as well we east, however my intention is to explain bases on eastern Philosophies.

As we know that media ethics concerns good and bad, right and wrong actions followed by media professionals, so when their actions is right or wrong is explained below.

Journalist is first obligatory to publish or broadcast the media content that are true and right. The same theme is advocated by the first ever legal code in the world, the Manusmriti: ” Satyam Bruyat Priyam Bruyat Ma Bruyat Satyamapriyam; Priyam Cha Nanrituam Bruyadesha Dharma Sanatana”–that is, tell only the things that are both truth and good. ” Hindu Philosophy give more broader understanding about truth. It says that ultimate truth is only obtainable through spiritual experience.

Empathy is considered to be one of the characteristics of a ethical journalism especially for Crime journalist. In other words, a journalist shouldn’t expose the name of the rape victims and child criminals. This notion is explained by ethics outlined in puranas from Vishnu Puran:”Atmanam Pratikulani Paresham na samacharet”– that is, not to anything that you do not entertain for yourself.

Similarly Confucius’s moral system was based upon empathy and understanding others.

Chanakya’s statement: “Tyajedekam Kulasyarthe Gramasyarthe Kulam Tyajet; Gramam Janapadasyarthe Atmarthe Prithiveem Tyajet.”– that is, good for the greatest number in societal matters and good for the atma (soul) in spiritual matter, can be very helpful for media professionals to take ethical decisions since most of the their work are centered within the society they live.

The present insecurity among the media professionals in Nepal, where media professionals are being attacked, would have been prevented if everybody had understood the ethics of Mimamasa.

Mimamsa is one of the school of thoughts with in Hinduism which gives importance to ‘theory of Karma’. This theory states that good actions produce good fruit, evil action produce evil fruits. Every journalist seems necessary to be guided by karmayoga which holds that “when duty is performed in a spirit of dedication to god it becomes the cause of emancipation.”

Mimamsa will take a journalist action of exposing the name of culprit ethical if the culprit involvement in the crime is confirmed. As said earlier ‘ evil action will produce evil fruits’, culprit should be punished for his/her crime or harm deed to other.

“Morality, fair play, ethics and justice are the basis of karmayoga” (Bodhi pp 30). This is the evidence that why both western and eastern world have given so much importance to fair play as canon of a journalism.


After understanding the concept of media ethics and moral philosophies, we can conclude that there is not any concrete answer to whether a act of media professional is ethical or unethical . But there are some meeting points among all moral philosophies that should be followed by media professionals. Those ethical standard should be maintained at any cost. IN other words, all the published content should be truth, accurate and shouldn’t harm others and respect for humanity should be maintained at any cost. Media ethics is not solely derived from western principles but eastern philosophies too are themselves the source of media ethics.

Work Cited:

1. Adhikary, Nirmala Mani. (2007). Studying Mass Media Ethics Kathmandu: Prashanti Prakashan.

2. Khanal, Shri Ram. (2005). Media Ethics and Law Kathmandu: Bidhyarthi Pustak Bhandar.

3. Adhikary, Nirmala Mani. “Exploring New Paradigm in Mass Media Ethics.” MBM Anthology of Media Studies. Kathmandu: CSC, Madan Bhandari Memorial College, 2007(pp 57-72).

4. Adhikary, Nimala Mani. “Mimamsa-Philosophy and Mass Media Ethics” BODHI An Interdisciplinary Journal. Dhulikhel: Department of Languages and Mass Communication, 2007.

5. Adhikary, Nirmala Mani. “Manusmriti as a Resource for Media Ethics.” MBM Anthology of Media Ethics (2010). Kathmandu: Department of Journalism and Mass Communication and Communication Study Center (CSC) (pp 47-50), Madan Bhandari Memorial College

6. Poudel, Ram Chandra. “An appraisal on the origin of the Veda.” Bodhi An interdisciplinary Journal

7. Pant, Laxman Datt. “Basic Practices in Journalism.” Introduction to Journalism and Mass communication (2009). Kathmandu: Vidyarthi Prakashan (p) ltd, Ktm Nepal.

8. Press Council Nepal Annual Report 2009, Kathmandu

9. Code of Journalistic Ethics-2003 (Amended and Revised-2008); Press Council Nepal; Kathmandu

10. Adhikary, Nirmala Mani; Understanding Mass Media Research; Prashanti Pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu; 2006

11. Adhikary, Nirmala Mani; Communication Research and Media Observation; Prashanti Pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu; 2007

12. SAMHITA- A Quarterly Publication of Press Council Nepal (2010)

13. Pradhan, Raj Narayan; Pocket English-Nepali Dictionary; Educational Publication House, Kathmandu; 2003

14. Wimmer, Roger D., and Joseph R. Dominick. Mass Media Research An Introduction. 7th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003 and Dominik; Mass Media Research;

Websites Cited:


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  1. […] Shekhar. (2010, June 18). Media Ethics: A Comparative Study of Eastern and Western Principles. Retrieved from Social Sciences and Humanity Studies Academic Blog:… […]

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