The importance of communication ethics

importance of ethics in communication

Brown University describes ethics as “a set of standards for behavior that helps us decide how we ought to act in a range of situations.” But it’s more than just right and wrong, because hard decisions are not always so clear, and knowing how to make them is an important next step. The communication professional must carry both the understanding of ethical principles and the strict adherence to these values, as well as the ability to adhere to them through media literacy, research, fact-checking, and analytical skills. It’s two-fold: they must have both understanding and ability.

Building ethical understanding for communication professionals

Communication professionals who have thought about potential decisions they might have to make and hold true to their own codes of ethics are more likely to know what to do when faced with these decisions. Courses in Communication ethics, like the one all Communication students take at Saint Vincent, are crucial to help future communication professionals, journalists, PR professionals, and more navigate complex situations with these principles in mind. 

Professional communicators are often faced with complicated decisions surrounding the ethics of their work. Decisions surrounding the credibility of sources. Decisions surrounding divulging certain names, or the language used in speaking about people. In business communication, communicators must achieve their company’s financial goals without sacrificing truth, accuracy, others’ privacy, and other obligations. These are just a few of the many examples. 

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics declares four principles as the “foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.”

  1. First, Seek Truth and Report it. 
  2. Second, Minimize harm
  3. Third, Act Independently
  4. Be Accountable and Transparent

Because of the fast-paced nature of communication today, and its ability to spread quickly to places outside of one’s control, it is crucial that professional communicators adhere to these specific rules around accuracy, truth, respect, and more. Ethical communication is delivering your message in a way that is “clear, concise, truthful and responsible.”

Developing the concrete skills to becoming an ethical communicator

The reality is that it is easy to become a published communicator, but it is a challenge to do so with a strong tie to these principles. How do you truly adhere to principles of accuracy and clarity? You learn how to become a strong writer, you learn how to tell the difference between solid research and accurate sources and something less reliable, and how to check every fact. That is why, in addition to understanding the ethical principles surrounding ethical decision-making, communication professionals must truly understand the work that goes into accurate reporting. Courses like CA 201 Communication Research Methods and CA 230 Writing for Media among others at Saint Vincent work to build these skills so that communication graduates become responsible professionals able to take on the challenges this field faces every day.