Mass Media/Ethics of Media
In the United States, Freedom of the Press is guaranteed by the First Amendment. This, however, allows a biased, incendiary press as well. "Media circuses" result from sensational stories that, while entertaining for the public, are often unimportant.
The First Amendment is often cited to defend speech which is offensive. Indeed, many argue that that is what the First Amendment was designed to defend. By definition, inoffensive speech is in no danger of censorship; it is the offensive speech which must be protected. In John Milton's Aereopagitica, he argues that we must be tested by evil in order to be virtuous. Censorship, by removing the evil, prevents this. (In a similar vein, Benjamin Franklin wittily defends printers in his "Apology for Printers." )
In the past, nothing was reported until there was confirmation by two or three sources. Now, rumors are broadcast as fact.
It is important to remember that the media is market-driven, to a large extent. This can affect content in many ways. For example, the press doesn't like to run photos of dead or injured soldiers during a war, for fear of public outrage.
Because advertising's intent is to persuade people to take some sort of action, much sensitivity revolves around the products, strategies, and tactics used to persuade. Advertising ethics is frequently a politically and emotionally charged topic both within the industry and among the general public.
A little known fact is that there are almost no national laws regarding advertising ; it is a self-regulated industry although the FCC does regulated the media through which advertising is communicated. Several bodies self-regulate including organizations that represent advertisers, advertising agencies, magazine publishers, film producers, TV and radio executives, as well as consumer and advocacy groups.
Deliberate dissemination of misinformation or false advertising is one of the few areas that is punishable by law depending upon the severity of the case. The tobacco industry in the early 20th century included testimonials from doctors, athletes, and opera singers who recommended a particular tobacco brand for its positive health effects. Some dieting products fall under this category.
Unethical audience targeting involves advertising a product to a group of the population that might be inappropriate. Fast food, soda, and tobacco companies have been accused of disproportionately targeting poor minorities in the ghetto where eating habits and healthcare are already severe problems. Targeting very expensive luxury or athletic apparel to these communities has also come under fire. Armed services advertising to poor and minority young people is also controversial, especially during wartime.
Advertising "vice" products like tobacco, alcohol, and increasingly fast food and unhealthy food products is questioned as to whether any of the products should be advertised at all. All three of these industries increasingly self-regulate where and how they advertise and who they target. State and local governments can regulate legal ages for consumption of tobacco and alcohol, and increasingly regulate schoolchildren's access to unhealthy food products.
Racial, gendered, and other stereotypical advertising has a history almost as old as advertising itself. Because advertisers generally have a short time to communicate their message, many use archetypes such as the busy soccer mom and the suited businessman to quickly communicate an idea. However, historically many of these archetypes have reflected the prejudices of the time. The use of negative racial and ethnic stereotypes to sell products, as well as portrayals that denigrate women and other groups is no longer considered appropriate. Many advertising icons have been criticized including Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Frito Bandito.
Direct to Consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical adverting is a newer phenomenon and has also attracted supporters and critics. Critics allege that this advertising can undermine the professional opinions of doctors while supportes say that it lets consumers know that there are medications that can improve their health conditions.
Tasteless advertising that portrays very sexual elements, nudity, anti-social behavior, or obscene language are sometimes criticized.
A common complaint is that advertising creates desires for products and services that consumers don't really need, creating a society that is never satisfied.
New copyright law protects material for the lifetime of the creator, plus 70 years.