When Morals and Laws Collide

Story by Scott Stuart

Former Tribune Editor Jim Fisher, now an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Utah, spoke about ethics in journalism to newswriting students at the U. of U. last month.

Fisher’s speech covered:
•    The differences between the law, morals and ethics
•    How they relate to the Code of Ethics
•    His own experiences as an editor

“There’s a big difference between ethics, law and morality,” said Fisher..
According to Fisher, they lie on a continuum with the law at one end and morals at the other.

“Morality is defined by culture within a set of rules,” said Fisher. “Ethics is a decision making process.”

Fisher described that this decision-making process involves which morals one should confine to within the realm of legality.

The Code of Ethics created by the Society of Professional Journalists guides this decision-process.

“Reporting the truth is what you have to do,” said Brenda Manjuano, a student in the class.

This is in accordance to the first of four standards in the Code of Ethics – “seek truth and report it.” The other three standards are: “minimize harm,” “act independently” and “be accountable.”

“Journalism ethics is about to publish or not to publish, to name or not to name,” said Fisher.

Fisher followed by discussing decisions he was forced to make as an editor.


“It was helpful to hear examples of how these ethical decisions are made,” said Montana Peterson, another student in attendance. “Sometimes you can’t avoid hurting someone.”