Ethical obligations are less likely to be required by law than contractual and employment legislation though they can be equally important as if a TV or film company does not behave ethically, there could be financial and legal repercussions. In my media classes, we have already looked at:
Codes of practice
A code of practice sets out how employees of a company may act. Though it is not legally binding, the purpose is to stop employees behaving in unethical ways, ensuring the creator of a piece of content behaves according to ethical standards. For example the BBC has a commissioning code of practice that sets out the principles by which they should abide when commissioning work from independent production companies. ‘The intention of the Code is to ensure that relations between the BBC and independent producers are conducted on a fair and transparent basis.’ The code includes guidelines for dealing with independent production companies and covers issues such as payment, editorial control and rights over the programmes. This ensures that the BBC has a good working relationship and behaves in an ethical manner with producers.
Policies and procedures
TV and film companies will also have a number of policies and procedures in place to maintain and encourage ethical practice. These can relate to business conduct, recruitment, employment and records management. They are often informed by legislation such as health and safety and equal opportunities laws. One of the most interesting policies is the BBC’s on advertising. It states that advertising is not allowed in order to keep the channel free from commercial pressures. This means they can truly serve the public without having to make profits or have their schedules and programming dictated by external pressure. They also have a policy on the safeguarding of children that they work with in their programmes and also a watershed policy that ensures certain subjects, matters, issues and images are not on the channel before 9pm. These ethical policies make the BBC avoid legal action and give them a good reputation and standing in the country.
Emerging social concerns
A company’s ethical policies might extend to dealing with emerging social concerns such as the treatment of people with disabilities, the sexual exploitation of children and empowering youth. Channel 4 for example is committed to highlighting issues around those with disabilities. They broadcast the Paralympics and have commissioned a range of programmes dealing with disabled people and their lives. They also have documentaries under the Dispatches series that tackle and highlight a huge range of very serious issues including Britain’s sex gangs. These investigative shows fulfil ethical obligations to help the country improve.
Finally broadcasters will always consider the representation of social groups in their programmes. Channel 4 has come under fire for its representation of gypsy culture in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and also for its titling of a show about disabled people dating called The Undateables. These shows can damage the reputation of Channel 4 and lead to accusations of racism and making people’s perceptions of certain social groups worse or they can be praised for highlighting parts of culture that are not often represented on the television.
Similarly Hollywood blockbusters are also often criticised for characters that could be considered racist stereotypes. Paramount, Dreamworks and director Michael Bay were all criticised for Transformers 2’s racist caricature robots that sounded ‘black’ and could not read. Avatar and Fox also came under fire for casting African and Native Americans as aliens. However these huge blockbusters and their financial backers seem less concerned with ethical obligations as they still make huge profits even if a minority of people complain.