April 2008 Archive
April 7, 2008
On the cover page of Vogues' April issue is a photo, taken by photographer Annie Leibowitz, of a tall, strong and menacing black male next to a young lighter skinned feminine model. Some reacted very negatively to the image alleging that it reinforced the fear of white (male and female) of black men.
One the cover page of the Village Voice is an ugly image of Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton, badly bruised.
Many years ago, the Daily News published on its cover, a photo of David Finn's brother who had been shot to death during a robbery in Riverdale. Needless to say the family was distraught and complained to the editor. The editor did not apologize but gave the "every body else does it" excuse. It had been a policy at the Daily News, until then not to publish such photos, however since other newspapers were doing it, they had decided to do the same.
Is this an ethical issue? I think it is. Ethics is about values and drawing the line between what is acceptable and what is not.
The "right of the public to know" (or see) is to be balanced with, what I believe, is the right of people not to be emotional aggressed by distressing images.
Newspapers and magazines have different guidelines as to what they will publish and it is usually based on the profile of their readers.
Individuals and societies have different level of tolerance to offensive exposure. What should be the criteria for the media in making "the right" decision?
The Society of Professional Journalists may have the answer. In it code of ethics, it stipulates that: "A journalist should:
1. Show good taste
2. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity
3. Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief."
It is a good start.
April 14, 2008
I was asked in an interview by Lyneka Little of TheStreet.com about when to break controversial news to your boss?
The answer: Immediately.
Delaying the release of such information, for whatever reason may have critical consequences. We should remember that we do not have the whole picture, while management does or at least should. Our consideration of the "right" time may not coincide with management's priorities and obligations.
The minute we are made aware that something is wrong we become responsible. The etymology of the word responsible comes from the Latin word responsa which means answer or answering to. To be responsible is to be able to give an answer to, or be accountable.
We all remember the question asked during the Watergate hearing: "What did you know and when did you know it."
Most importantly the negative information is not ours to keep or delay. It belongs to the company.
It may be particularly distressing to bear the bad news when we are the cause of it!
It will be helpful to anticipate the reaction and be prepared for the questions that might be asked. We may want to suggest a plan of action or even a solution that could mitigate the negative impact of the bad news.
It is true that "no one loves the bearer of bad news" but acting responsibly and ethically will be recognized and remembered.
Breaking some bad news may also give us the opportunity to show courage.
As C.S. Lewis once said:
"Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality."
April 21, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI held a private meeting with survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
It took many by surprise.
His predecessor John Paul II never did. The Pope decision to meet survivors was courageous and symbolic. It also sent a strong message to the Church. The Pope is with the victims.
The Church never tolerated such abject and criminal behavior, which has always been considered a mortal sin. Yet in the U.S. more than 4,000 priests that have been accused of molesting children since the 50s. More than 2 billion dollars have been paid to victims in the past six years and six dioceses have been forced to go into bankruptcy because of those payments.
However, very often in the past, the Church's reaction to reports of abuse by priests was very much the same as the reactions of some CEOs when faced with a scandal. They are tempted either to deny what happened or to try covering it up.
The Pope by his recent actions is a model for any CEO when faced with a scandal:
- The message came from the top. (You can't go any higher!)
- He gave the example. On Thursday the Pope in his homily at an open-air Mass in Washington said: "Today I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt." He did just that a few minutes later, in his private meeting with survivors.
- He showed empathy. One of the victims, Bernie McDaid, said. "He looked down at the floor and back at me, like, 'I know what you mean.' He took it in emotionally. We looked eye to eye."
An apology always needs to be translated into action. Victims advocacy groups such as Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) ask for more transparency, more vigorous action against priests accused or suspected of abuse and a change in canon law that would explicitly bar sexual abusers from the priesthood.
We could be witnessing a turning point in the Church's reaction to clergy sex abuse and more concrete measures to prevent such crimes. That will be a sign of hope.
As the author and inventor George Iles said: "Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark."
April 28, 2008
Should doing "the right thing" be rewarded?
On the front page of last week's Week-End edition of the Financial Times there is an article entitled "World Bank rewards safe sex to boost fight against Aids in Africa." The World Bank and other NGO's are financing, a groundbreaking experiment.
Three thousand men and women in Tanzania aged 15-30 will be offered a $45 payment if periodic laboratory tests prove that they have not contracted a sexually transmitted disease. The $45 payment represents, for some of the participants, 25 % of their annual salary.
Some argue that the experiment poses an ethical problem because these payments are bribes.
Rewarding someone for doing what that person should do anyway is often questionable but rewards and punishment is very much part of the system in most societies.
Most parents reward their children for good deeds such as doing chores or getting good grades. The Alfred Nobel Foundation rewards extraordinary accomplishments with recognition and money.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has launched a program that would pay parents if their children attend school.
Even the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in chapter eight stipulates that an organization should promote and enforce its ethics and compliance standards through appropriate incentives as well as disciplinary measures.
The AIDS epidemic is a catastrophe claiming the lives of 2 million every year and most of them in Africa. Even though these payments could be considered to be bribes, I believe that the Tanzanian experiment is ethically acceptable because it will save lives and it causes no harm.