When starting an adventurous journey, also known as a research project, the essential part of collecting, analysing and writing information is the use of ethics.
Whether it’s medical research, or media research (authors, script writers, journalists and public relations) each profession follows a code of ethics to ensure all participants who have volunteered to be part of the project are respected, and that the researchers collect data properly. This is the main reason why researching ethically is important.
In the set text, ‘Research Ethics in Media and Communication’ Weerakkody defines ethical research saying it, “ensures the researcher is ‘doing the right thing’ by the project, its participants and society at large.” (Weerakkody, N 2008, p.73)
According to Weerakkody (2008, p.73) the main way researchers gather information is through surveys, fieldwork, interviews and documentaries. Participants that become a part of the project volunteer, meaning they chose to participate and were not coerced or forced. (Weerakkody, N 2008, p.76)
Historically speaking, the use of research ethics was introduced to stop inhumane research from taking place; such as the cruel experiments Nazis undertook in World War Two. Another example Weerakkody (2008, p.75) highlights is the Case study on the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. This case study reveals how researcher, Professor Phillip Zimbardo had Stanford University students act as either prisoners or prison guards in a jail created to study, “psychology of imprisonment.” (Weerakkody 2008, p.75) The unethical events that took place are evident in how prisoners were strip-searched, chained, and the power the prison guards were given; one element of power being conveyed in the mirrored shades as explained by Zimbardo in the BBC documentary video. (BBC 2015)
Overall this meant there was no respect for the participants, especially the students who portrayed the prisoners. Weerakkody (2008, p.75) illuminates that the prisoners experienced breakdowns, and the experiment concluded after six days instead of two weeks as the students took the prisoner and prison guard acting role on as actual identities.
Discussing the “Nuremberg Code (US Government Printing Office, 1949)” (Weerakkody 2008, p.77) Weerakkody outlines the ethical safety rule when participants are involved in research saying,
“Research should avoid the possibility of causing unnecessary physical or psychological suffering, nor should it inflict pain, trauma, injury or harm to subjects.” (Weerakkody 2008, p.77)
The Stanford Prison Experiment is essentially considered unethical because of the treatment of prisoner students and their suffering, which is outlined in the above statement.
Media researchers such as Journalists and films makers have their own code of ethics. In journalism Weerakkody (2008, p.87) says Journalists have to respect privacy of their participants, anonymity and confidentiality of sources, and follow the Australian Journalists’ Association’ Code of Ethics. These are: “honesty, fairness, independence and respect for the rights of others.” (Weerakkody 2008, p.87) In other words Journalists write facts in an unbiased and neutral manner.
When talking about filmmakers, Weerakkody (2008, p.86) says participants interviewed for a film documentary must be protected and filmmakers, “must be socially responsible when making representations of people and make the portrayals balanced, in good taste.” (Weerakkody 2008, p.86)
An example of documentary interviews for film is represented in 1989 movie, ‘When Harry Met Sally.’ In a TCM article, Andrea Passafiuma (2015) talks about the scenes where couples recall how they met each other. Passafiuma (2015) explains filmmaker; Rob Reiner conducted interviews with real couples, and brought in actors for the film to portray their stories. This shows good ethics as the participants who told their stories were represented fairly and respectfully.
Overall it is clear that research ethics is important for researchers to conduct projects correctly and to respect and protect their participants.
Passafiume, A 2015, When Harry Met Sally, Turner Classic Movies, viewed 9 April 2015, http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/21366%7C0/When-Harry-Met-Sally.html
Paulie Johnson 2015, Psychology: The Stanford Prison Experiment – BBC Documentary, online video, 20 February 2015, YouTube, viewed 9 April 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb4Q20z0T1Q
Weerakkody, Niranjala Damayanthi 2008, ‘Research ethics in media and communication’, in Research methods for media and communications, Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand, South Melbourne, Vic., pp. 73-91