The Only Way is Ethics: A new forum for readers to say what they want to say – not all of it bad, I hope


Ethics is a serious business; even in the media. To undermine its seriousness by using a pun headline to draw people in would surely be unethical, wouldn’t it?

Since a discussion about the ethics of a column about ethics would possibly take navel-gazing to a whole other level, that particular question can be left for Aristotle, as he turns desperately in his grave.

In fact, though, the name of this column does have significance. For important and difficult as ethical conundrums may be, they do have a habit of being covered in a bubble-wrap of pomposity and po-facedness that distorts the debate: often, paradoxically, by over-simplifying the issues. That is not the intention of this weekly slot.

Nor, I hope, will excessive self-flagellation be evident here. Contrition, where appropriate, and maybe the occasional bit of soul-searching. But full-on, self-administered beatings serve no real purpose given that mistakes tend to arise, at worst, from the inherent difficulty in unravelling multiple shades of grey.  

They are, nevertheless, an ever-present feature of all newsrooms. A story can be made or lost on the basis of a call about the moral rights and wrongs of publication. More commonly, precise content will be shaped by decisions about what details are appropriate to include. The nature of the beast means that judgements are made in compressed time-frames. And once a page has gone to press, there is little that can be done to stop it reaching the streets, which is why the print media still carries a unique level of responsibility.

As the person who deals with readers’ complaints for The Independent and its sister titles, I am keenly aware of the kind of issues that raise objections.  Responses to some of the points that arise from reader feedback will make their way into this column.

There will also be room here for reflections on some of the wider ethical issues that perennially cause debate across the media industry. And since my nerdish interest in this subject stems from having previously worked for a decade at the Press Complaints Commission, you can expect some pretty exciting regulation chat.

Ethics do not exist in a vacuum. As social mores change, so does an understanding of what an ethical approach actually constitutes. But equally, if the principal concern of such an approach is human well-being, it is important that the media does not become entangled in the so-called “race to the bottom”. Stopping occasionally to consider what that means in practice is a part of the process.

Too much information?

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman from an apparent heroin overdose was reported and commented on in considerable detail. Any death has the potential to be of interest. The premature demise of a Hollywood actor in circumstances that tap into all sorts of stereotypes about the rock’n’roll lifestyle of the famous is particularly noteworthy.

Few, I suspect, would be overly concerned at the revelation that a heroin overdose was the most likely cause of death.  But some might have wondered about the need to note that Hoffman had apparently been found with a hypodermic needle still in his arm. Was it really necessary to include this detail?

Well no, not strictly, but every news story contains information that could be regarded as extraneous.  That does not mean that its inclusion is wrong.  Indeed, in this case, the point was important: not only because it corroborated the suggestion of a drugs overdose, but also because it emphasised the sad and lonely nature of the tragedy.

Will Gore is deputy managing editor of The Independent.

For information about making a complaint please click here

Twitter: @willjgore

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager (EMEA) - City, London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?