Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Values in Conflict

To protect his future access to news sources who will speak only on condition of anonymity, a journalist refuses to reveal the identity of a confidential informant on a court case. A lawyer argues that her client's right to due process will be breached unless the source is revealed.

This clash is only one example of the many times values come into conflict in our society. How do we determine which course of action is in the common good?

In this Issues in Ethics, we look at that question, beginning with "Thinking Ethically: Beyond Professional Codes," a dialogue between a communications scholar, a lawyer, and a philosophy professor. Taking off from the Center-sponsored conference "Courts and the Mass Media: The Ethical Issues," the dialogue explores the relationship between occupational ethics and the common good.

Expanding on these questions is the keynote address from that conference, "Impartial Jurors, Impartial Juries," by Newton N. Minow, former chair of the Federal Communications Commission.

Journalistic ethics and social responsibility are the focus of "The Case of Henry's Publick House," which asks readers to reflect on an incident where TV reporters revealed the location of police SWAT teams while a deranged man watched the coverage as he was holding 33 hostages inside a bar.

"Who Gets Seen?" examines the conflicting values that might inform public policy on access to health care. Using cancer services as a model, the article discusses how to balance justice and social utility. And an article on e-mail offers guidelines on resolving the ethical issues that have arisen from our addiction to this new medium.

As we explore these conflicting values, we might bear in mind some advice Minow offers in his remarks: "We've got to get beyond talking about whether we have a right to do something and, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, ask whether it is the right thing to do."