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