Social Sciences and Humanity Studies Academic Blog

Ethics in Communication

Posted in My life by Shekhar on February 23, 2012


Communication according to Eunson (2005) is understood as a ‘the study of transfer of meaning’ (p. 2). Adhikary (2008a, p.3) explains communication as ‘process, human act and discipline of knowledge’ while also suggesting the consideration of ‘context’ to know what dimensions of communication are in current discourse. It is to be noted that communication as a discipline of knowledge or process does not find much relevance in combination with the notion of ethics so the discourse of ethics in communication directly leads to the details of ethical standards maintained by communication practitioners. According to Adhikary (2006), these ethical standards are further based on different ‘principles, religion and culture’ (p.6) which defines what is wrong and right. For example broadcasting the movie American Pie in Jay Nepal Hall may not be unanimously acceptable for Nepalese society because the culture of nudity is not accepted by Nepalese society and hence recognizing such phenomenon as unethical. Similarly, broadcasting the video clips showing someone beheading cow may not be appropriate to be broadcasted in Nepali Televisions because that hurts the Nepali sentiment but that does not mean that it cannot be broadcasted in other countries where people have no problem seeing such clip. The ‘Context’ aforementioned also means to explain that the same act may be ethical in some context but directly rejected somewhere else.

Communication as a profession refers to media practices and simultaneously our dealing with ethics in communication discourse automatically link us to the issues of ethics in those practices. The notion of ethics in ‘communication as a discipline’ comes into light when there is incorporation of ethics as a subject within the curriculum of communication studies (Adhikary, 2008b, p.293).

Ethics in communication as a concept refers to the state of ethical considerations in communication practices. The term ‘ethics’ and ‘communication’ have their diverse meanings and definitions. The dictionary meaning of communication is- ‘the exchange of thoughts, messages or information, as by speech, signals, writing or behavior’ while McQuail defines communication as ‘process of increased commonality or sharing between participants’ (Adhikary, 2008, p.5). Similarly ethics is a system of principle that guides action according to Potter ( Potter, 2006:55 as cited in KC, 2009, p.7) while Adhikary (2006) relates ethics with distinguishing between good and evil in the world, between right and wrong human actions, and between virtuous and non-virtuous characteristics of people (p.1).

Ethics in communication as a concept is a wide discourse among development thinkers and media professionals because media in today’s dynamic age has to deal with many controversial issues during which might create confusions and never-ending debate among practitioners while taking decision regarding what is right and wrong. In such situation, ethics provides guidelines to take appropriate decision. For Nepal, Journalistic code of conduct issued by Press Council Nepal is such an example.

How to decide whether the act or decision made by communication practitioners are moral or not? One may find several approaches to analyze the phenomenon but no one can deny that everybody should follow some universally accepted values like humanity, brotherhood or fraternity and non violence. The central idea is the inquiry towards the morality of the behavior or actions depending upon the standard of values and norms followed in the particular society. These codes of behaviors are further explained by different principles and theories including categorical imperatives, Golden Rule, Stuart Mill’s theory of utilitarianism and social relativism (Wimmer & Dominick, 2011, p. 66). The answers might differ from eastern and western perspectives because they both have their own ethical standards.

There has been literature on ethical practices in media in south Asia by Kshetri (2009, p. 25) where the present condition of media ethics in Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives, Afghanistan is explored. In context of Nepal, Kshetri has given his critical review over the unethical media practices of the then only state-owned Gorkhapatra Sansthan, which used to publish the content just to portray loyalty to Royal families instead of correctly informing people (p. 31). Similarly, Bhuwan KC (2009) explores the practice of journalistic ethics in Nepal where he states that the practice of ethics in Nepali media was challenging because Nepali journalism has its history of advocating for political cause for a long time (p. 22).

Hence, it is safe to infer from aforementioned examples that ethics in communication practices varies from context as well as different ethical theories and principles that guides the particular society. In addition, this discourse gives space for other thinkers to make necessary ethical enquiry into several dimensions of communication as well.



Adhikary, N.M. (2006). Studying Mass media Ethics. Kathmandu: Prashanti Pustak Bhandar

Adhikary, N.M. (2008a). Communication, media and journalism An integrated study. Kathmandu: Martine Chautari

Adhikary, N.M. (2008b). Nepalima Media neetisastra adhyaan. In D. Humagai, P. Onta, S. Parajuli, K. Bhatta (Ed.), Media Adhyaan (pp293-305). Kathmandu: Martin Chautari

Bhuwan, K.C. (2009). Practice of journalistic Ethics in Nepal. In. Bhuwan KC (Ed.), MBM methodology of Media Ethics (pp 7-24). Kathmandu: Madan Bhandari Memorial College

Eunson, B. (2005). Communicating in the 21st century. Sydney:John Wiley & Sons Australia ltd.

Kshetri, I.D. (2009). Ethical practices in media in south Asia. In. Bhuwan KC (Ed.), MBM methodology of Media Ethicsi(pp 25-46). Kathmandu: Madan Bhandari Memorial College

Wimmer, Roger D., and Joseph R. Dominick. (2011). Mass Media Research An Introduction. 9th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003






4 Responses

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  1. Anonymous said, on February 9, 2013 at 2:15 am

    First off I would like to thank you for sharing all of this information. You had some very well thought out and well researched material that was refreshing to read. In your post, you stated, “ethical standards are further based on different principles, religion, and culture.” I would have to strongly agree with this. I am currently reading a book for school and in the chapter we are studying this week, it discusses how ethics concerning copyright laws are viewed very different based on many different things. Culture seems to play a big role in that. In the book, it was pointed out and discussed that Confucian’s thoughts on copyright and sharing your work is very different than our views here in the United States. Confucian saw sharing the work of others as the ultimate form of respect. He believed that it was more beneficial to benefit others by sharing ones work versus just trying to gain financially.

    He overall saw sharing ones work as harmless and something that should be done in order to benefit others. In Confucian’s eyes, it was selfish and more on the unethical side to look for profit versus the overall growth of others. However, in our culture, we see it as disrespectful or unethical to share ones work for free. We expect some kind of acknowledgement as well as payment to financially benefit us. We are very driven by money and Confucian ethics and African thought was driven by knowledge and advancement for everyone.

    Your post instantly made me think of our current weekly discussion topic so I figured I should share my thoughts. I think we all perceive things very differently based on our culture, how we were raised, and the ethical standards we hold ourselves as well as others to. Thanks again for sharing.

    Ess, C. (2009). Digital media ethics.Malden, MA: Polity Press.

    • Shekhar KC said, on February 23, 2013 at 10:58 am

      Dear Sir/Madam, I am very grateful to you for your insightful comment. I indeed agree with your stress over the cultural elements when one is to decide whether something is cultural or not. The example of plagiarism given by you was thought provoking.
      Yes, sharing others information with full or slight credit should be valid but doing it without acknowledging sources are very deplorable works. I think Confucian was right in his thought and American are right in their context. Information sharing should not be restricted but at the same time acknowleding the source is indispensable. Its like claiming the rights and not doing the duties if one did share others information and not elaborate the sources.
      i hope to get your comments in coming days also sir. Thanks again.

  2. S. Campbell said, on February 23, 2013 at 2:35 am

    What great information you have provided on communication and ethics, which was logically written and well supported with sources. You made many valid points throughout, all of which I found very insightful.

    You mentioned that codes of behavior in communication ethics are explained by different theories and principles, and how ethical standards may vary according to cultural differences. One of those you listed was the “Golden Rule”. A majority of people perhaps believe that this ethical principle may be unique only to those of the religious tradition of Christianity. However, as discussed in the book Ethics in Human Communication “some version of the Golden Rule is found in the sacred literature of the major world religions” (Johannesen, Valde, & Whedbee, 2008, p. 224). Some examples of religions with very similar versions of their own Golden Rule as found in Christianity include:

    Judaism –“What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men.”
    Islam –“No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”
    Buddhism –“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
    Hinduism –“This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.”
    Confucianism –“Surely it is a maxim of loving kindness: Do not unto others that you would not have them do unto you.”
    Taoism –“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as you own loss.”
    Zoroastrianism –“That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself.”
    Jainism –“In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self” (Johannesen, Valde, & Whedbee, 2008, pp. 224-225).
    The Golden Rule, as well as the versions of these other religions, communicates ethical principles or standards that we should follow in relation to others according to how we would want others to act towards us. It should be the same in our communications to apply ethical standards. This is assuming, of course, that the culture has a wide consensus of morals, values, and ethics. When it comes to intercultural and multicultural communication, there is always the chance that standards and values of others differ from our frame of reference and value system. Therefore, Milton Bennett offered an alternative to the Golden Rule in communication ethics to address such instances that he coined the “Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they themselves would have done unto them” (Johannesen, Valde, & Whedbee, 2008, p. 225). Perhaps between the Golden and Platinum Rules, we are better prepared when it comes to communication ethics with cultures other than our own.


    Johannesen, R.L., Valde, K.S., & Whedbee, K.E. (2008). Ethics in human communication
    (6th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

    • Shekhar KC said, on February 23, 2013 at 11:05 am

      Dear Sir, Its glad to write you. As i was going through your valuable comments, it made me feel honor to have shared a little piece of information to the global society. It was part of my assignment in Masters in Development Studies and sharing my assignments or reports is my hobby. I have a very deep interest in research and now i think when i was going through the topic, i had forgotten to consult your book (the one that you have provided above.. Thank you for you words sir.
      May i communicate you in email. My email is Can you email me your address. It would be a great academic journy of learning with your sir.

      Shekhar KC, Nepal,
      Masters in Development Studies, Kathmandu University, Nepal

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