Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2013

Applying Standards: Media Owners and Journalism Ethics

Eugene L. Meyer

May 2013

National Endowment for Democracy


Recent focus in global discussions of media ethics has been on establishing and raising standards for rank - and - file journalists, including reporters and lower or mid - level editors. But there is a nascent effort to refocus a critical lens on the proprietors of media. When it comes to codes of ethics for media owners, the traditional organizations concerning themselves with ethics in journalism have been noticeably silent. Scan the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) code of ethics, considered the gold standard In the United States, or the brief, but global code of principles of the International Federation of Journalists and you will not find “media owners” or proprietors mentioned anywhere. Perhaps it is assumed that one size fits all. But does it? Focus on media owners is a relatively recent phenomenon in the twenty-first century, but it is not entirely new. In the United States, reformers in the early decades of the twentieth century aimed their criticism at the “press lords” who owned large newspapers and chains. These critics emerged from the Progressive Era and, later, from the Great Depression-spawned social movements of the 1930s.