Glossary

A

  • Absolutism

    The belief that there are unequivocal mandates, known by humans, which must dictate their actions (i.e., I must not lie, for the truth is always best).

  • Access

    The ability of media consumers to produce their own texts and to have those texts acknowledged by the agenda setting media. Also, the ability of media consumers to respond to the dominant media.

  • Advertising

    Communication of information usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature about products, services or ideas through various media.

  • Aesthetic scale

    The degree of appeal to the senses of a certain artifact.

  • Age compression

    A marketing strategy term that is used to promote adult-like products to young children.

  • Agenda-setting

    The ability of the media to tell people what and whom to talk and think about. Also refers to those media that have more credibility than their competition.

  • Agnosticism

    The conviction that one simply does not know whether God exists or not; it is often accompanied with a further conviction that one need not care whether God exists or not.

  • Al Jazeera

    The Qatar-based (state-owned) Arab network that airs audio and videotapes received from Osama Bin Laden and other suspected terrorists. Al Jazeera means “The Peninsula”. This media outlet is the focus of Case 6 in Media Ethics, 9th ed.

  • Altruism

    A selfless concern for other people purely for their own sake. Altruism is usually contrasted with selfishness or egoism in ethics.

  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

    National organization that advocates for individual rights and liberties in the United States legal system.

  • Atheism

    The belief that God does not exist. In the last two centuries, some of the most influential atheistic philosophers have been Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

  • Audience

    The group of consumers for whom the media text was constructed as well as anyone else who is exposed to the text.

  • Autonomous moral agent

    One who makes moral decisions based on principle and reason and is relatively unaffected by pressures from peers, supervisors, and others.

  • Autonomy

    The ability to freely determine one’s own course in life. Etymologically, it goes back to the Greek words for “self” and “law.” This term is most strongly associated with Immanuel Kant, for whom it meant the ability to give the moral law to oneself

  • B

    • Bankruptcy

      A financial term used to describe companies or individuals who cannot pay their debt to creditors. Filing for bankruptcy allows the company or individual to get rid of their outstanding debt.

    • Branding

      The process by which a commodity in the marketplace is known primarily for the image it projects rather than any actual quality.

    • Bundling

      A process when contributors are encouraged to recruit other people to donate to a politician’s campaign.

    • C

      • Calculus

        A calculus is a means of computing something, and a moral calculus is a means of calculating what the right moral decision is in a particular case.

      • Categorical Imperative

        This concept refers to a command or law that is unconditional. Such a law instructs us to do something regardless of the consequences. According to Kant, this is the principle of all morality. Kant characterized it as the highest moral law and formulated it in several ways, one of which states that humans should be treated as ends, not means.

      • Censorship

        The practice of suppressing a text or part of a text that is considered objectionable according to certain standards.

      • Code of Ethics

        A set of admonitions meant to guide a subscriber. Some codes are prescriptive and require compliance under threat of penalties. Other codes are advisory, suggesting principles to be considered in moral decision making.

      • Communitarianism

        A political position that promotes the needs of the community over the individual.

      • Compatibilism

        The belief that both determinism and freedom of the will are true.

      • Conflict of Interest

        When an individual or organization unfairly acts from a privileged position.

      • Connote/Connotation

        A description of value, meaning or ideology associated with a media text that is added to the text by the audience.

      • Consequentialism

        Any position in ethics, which claims that the rightness or wrongness of actions depends on their consequences.

      • Construct or Construction

        The process by which a media text is shaped and given meaning through a process that is subject to a variety of decisions and is designed to keep the audience interested in the text; as in “construction of meaning.”

      • Consumers

        The audience for whom a commercial media text is constructed and who responds to the text with commercial activity.

      • Counter-Example

        An example that claims to undermine or refute the principle or theory against which it is advanced.

      • Critical

        A reflective position on the meaning, biases or value messages of a text.

      • Critical Autonomy

        The process by which a member of the audience is able to read a media text in a way other than the preferred reading. Also used to describe the ability of media literacy students to deconstruct texts outside the classroom.

      • Critical Viewing

        The ability to use critical thinking skills to view, question, analyze and understand issues presented overtly and covertly in movies, videos, television and other visual media.

      • D

        • Deception

          An intentional attempt to mislead.

        • Deconstruction

          The process by which the audience identifies the elements that makes up the construction of meaning within a text.

        • Deductive

          A deductive argument is an argument whose conclusion follows necessarily from its premises. This contrasts to various kinds of inductive arguments, which offer only a degree of probability to support their conclusion.

        • Demographics

          Measurable characteristics of media consumers such as age, gender, race, education and income level.

        • Denote/Denotation

          A description of a media text indicating its common sense, obvious meaning.

        • Deontology

          This term refers to ethical theories (such as Kant’s) that stress the importance of the motive of doing one’s duty as a determining factor in assessing the moral value of actions. It is the motive for, not the consequences of actions (as in utilitarian systems), that count.

        • Divine Command

          A theory that states what makes an action morally right is the fact that God commands or wills it.

        • Dominant

          When a text is read by the audience in a way that is intended by the creators of the text.

        • Duty

          Something that is required of someone. For Kant, a perfect duty must be performed whatever the circumstances.

        • E

          • Emotivism

            A philosophical theory, which holds that moral judgments are simply expressions of positive or negative feelings.

          • Ethical Egoism

            A moral theory that, in its most common version (universal ethical egoism ) states that each person ought to act in his or her own self-interest.

          • Ethics

            The study of morality and moral behavior.

          • Ethnicity

            A person’s ethnicity refers to that individual’s affiliation with a particular cultural tradition that may be national (French) or regional (Sicilian) in character. Ethnicity differs from race in that ethnicity is a sociological concept whereas race is a biological phenomenon.

          • Eudaimonia

            The is the word that Aristotle uses for “happiness” or “flourishing.” It comes from the Greek ” eu ,” which means “happy” or “well” or “harmonious,” and ” daimon ,” which refers to the individual’s spirit.

          • F

            • First Amendment

              The First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press. . . “.

            • Flak

              An organized attempt to influence media content, which can take the form of letters, phone calls, petitions, lawsuits and legislation.

            • Foundationalism

              The claim that rationality and knowledge rest on a firm foundation of self-evident truths.

            • Freedom of the Press

              The guarantee by the Constitution of unrestricted distribution of information. A freedom-of-the-press absolutist believes in the strictest sense that media should be completely unregulated.

            • G

              • Genre

                A category of media texts characterized by a particular style, form or content.

              • Golden mean

                This principle was created by Confucius. The concept that an individual can find virtue by discovering the middle ground between two extremes.

              • Green-light Journalism

                Journalistic decisions based on a greater distribution of information under the principle that broad and open distribution of information is beneficial. A basic premise is: When in doubt, publish.

              • H

                • Hard determinism

                  The theory that every event has a cause and that this fact is incompatible with the existence of free will. Hence human beings should not be held morally responsible for their actions because it is impossible for them to do other than what they do.

                • Hedon

                  This is a term that utilitarians use to designate a unit of pleasure. Its opposite is a dolor, which is a unit of pain or displeasure. The term “hedon” comes from the Greek word for pleasure.

                • Hedonistic

                  Of, or pertaining to, pleasure.

                • Hegemony/hegemonic

                  When dominant groups persuade subordinate groups that the dominant ideology is in their own best interests. The media’s function in this process is to encourage maintenance of the status quo.

                • Heteronomy

                  For Kant, heteronomy is the opposite of autonomy. Whereas an autonomous person is one whose will is self-determined, a heteronomous person is one whose will is determined by something outside of the person, such as overwhelming emotions. Etymologically, heteronomy goes back to the Greek words for “other” and “law.”

                • Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press

                  Post-World War II report organized and supervised by Robert Hutchins to determine the effect of media on modern society.

                • Hypothetical Imperative

                  A conditional command, such as, “If you want to lose weight, stop eating cookies.” Some philosophers have claimed that morality is only a system of hypothetical imperatives, while others—such as Kant—have maintained that morality is a matter of categorical imperatives. Also see categorical imperative.

                • I

                  • Idealism

                    A metaphysical theory holding only that ideas (minds and mental events) are real, or that they are more real, valuable, and enduring than material things. In an ethical context, “idealistic” is sometimes used to refer to a person who lives by ideals or to a view based on principle.

                  • Ideology/Ideological

                    How we as individuals understand the world in which we live. This understanding involves an interaction between our individual psychologies and the social structures that surround us. Mediating between these are the individual processes of communication as well as the technological processes of the mass media. These ideas are usually related to the distribution of power.

                  • Impartiality

                    In ethics, an impartial standpoint is one that treats everyone as equal. For many philosophers, impartiality is an essential component of the moral point of view.

                  • Imperative

                    A command. Philosophers often distinguish between hypothetical imperatives and categorical imperatives; see the entries under each of these topics.

                  • Inclination

                    This is the word that Kant used (actually, he used the German word Neigung ) to refer to our sensuous feelings, emotions, and desires. Kant contrasts inclination with reason. Whereas inclination was seen as physical, causally-determined, and irrational, reason was portrayed as non-physical, free, and obviously rational.

                  • Individualism

                    Holds that rights of individuals have primacy over normal needs of community. Necessary for development of moral autonomy.

                  • Industry

                    The agencies and institutions involved with the production of media texts. The term is also used in a more restrictive sense to describe the commercial production of media texts for the purpose of making a profit.

                  • Integrationist

                    Any position which attempts to reconcile apparently conflicting tendencies or values into a single framework. Integrationist positions are contrasted with separatist positions, which advocate keeping groups (usually defined by race, ethnicity, or gender) separate from one another.

                  • Intertextuality

                    When a media text makes reference to another text that, on the surface, appears to be unique and distinct.

                  • J

                    • Jolts

                      Moments in a media text that are generated by a broad comedy, a violent act, movement within a frame, a loud noise, rapid editing, a profanity or a sexually explicit representation, all of which are calculated to engage an audience’s excitement.

                    • K

                      • Kant, Immanuel

                        Philosopher/theologian (1724-1804). Developed the idea of the Categorical Imperative.

                      • KGOY (Kids Getting Older Younger)

                        A marketing industry acronym that suggests children want to be “grown up” when they are still young children.

                      • L

                        • Liberalism

                          The political philosophy that espouses individual choice within a political framework.

                        • Lobbying

                          The act of advocating for a particular cause by influencing decisions in the legislature.

                        • Loyalties

                          A particular allegiance to an individual or organization that demands some obligation.

                        • M

                          • Marketing

                            The way in which a product or media text is sold to a target audience.

                          • Mass Media

                            Mass media refers to media that are designed to be consumed by large audiences through the agencies of technology.

                          • Maxim

                            According to Kant, a maxim is the subjective rule that an individual uses in making a decision.

                          • Mean

                            The arithmetical average of items in a group. See also Aristotle, Golden Mean.

                          • Means

                            Philosophers often contrast means and ends . The ends we seek are the goals we try to achieve, while the means are the actions or things we use in order to accomplish those ends. A hammer provides the means for pounding a nail in a piece of wood. Some philosophers, most notably Immanuel Kant, have argued that we should never treat human beings merely as means to an end.

                          • Media

                            The plural form of medium; the term has come to mean all the industrial forms of mass communication combined.

                          • Media Education

                            Traditionally, it’s the process by which one learns the technical production skills associated with creating media texts. More recently, it has also included the intellectual processes of critical consumption or deconstruction of texts.

                          • Media Literacy

                            The process of understanding and using the mass media in an assertive and non-passive way. This includes an informed and critical understanding of the nature of the media, the techniques used by them and the impact of these techniques.

                          • Medium

                            The singular form of media, the term usually describes individual forms such as radio, television, film, etc.

                          • Monopoly

                            Any commercial process in which one seller controls prices and supply of a product.

                          • Moral Ballpark

                            The domain of actions, motives, traits, etc. that are open to moral assessment, that is, can be said to be morally good or morally bad.

                          • Moral Isolationism

                            The view that we ought not to be morally concerned with, or involved with, people outside of our own immediate group. Moral isolationism is often a consequences of some versions of moral relativism.

                          • Moral Luck

                            The phenomenon that the moral goodness or badness of some of our actions depends simply on chance. For example, the drunk driver may safely reach home without injuring anyone at all, or might accidentally kill several children that run out into the street while the drunken person is driving home. How bad the action of driving while drunk is in that case depends in part on luck.

                          • Moral Panic

                            A sudden increase in public perception of the possible threat to societal values and interests because of exposure to media texts.

                          • Moral Reasoning

                            The decision-making process associated with decisions of right, wrong, harm, mutual aid, etc.

                          • Moral Skepticism

                            The position that doubts the existence of moral truth and the possibility of ethical knowledge.

                          • Morality

                            A system of guidance designed to assist in living within a society.

                          • Muckrakers

                            Journalists in the early twentieth century who sought to expose corruption in business, industry, and government.

                          • N

                            • Narcissism

                              An excessive preoccupation with oneself. In mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful young man who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.

                            • Narrative

                              How the plot or story is told. In a media text, narrative is the coherent sequencing of events across time and space.

                            • Natural Law

                              In ethics, believers in natural law hold (a) that there is a natural order to the human world, (b) that this natural order is good, and (c) that people therefore ought not to violate that order.

                            • Naturalism

                              In ethics, naturalism is the theory that moral values can be derived from facts about the world and human nature. The naturalist holds that “is” can imply “ought.”

                            • Naturalistic Fallacy

                              According to G. E. Moore, any argument that attempts to define the good in any terms whatsoever, including naturalistic terms; for Moore, Good is simple and indefinable. Some philosophers, most notably defenders of naturalism, have argued that Moore and others are wrong and that such arguments are not necessarily fallacious.

                            • Negotiate

                              The process of give and take by which members of the audience interpret, deconstruct and find meaning within a media text.

                            • Net Neutrality

                              A term to describe the demands of an Internet service provider to treat content (e.g. web sites) equally.

                            • Nihilism

                              The belief that there is no value or truth. Literally, a belief in nothing ( nihil ). Most philosophical discussions of nihilism arise out of a consideration of Friedrich Nietzsche’s remarks on nihilism, especially in The Will to Power.

                            • Normative

                              This concept, often contrasted with descriptive, is used to refer to a type of reflection that seeks to discover the way things ought to be.

                            • Noumenal

                              A Kantian term that refers to the unknowable world as it is in itself. According to Kant, we can only know the world as it appears to us, as a phenomenon. We can never know it as it is in itself, as a noumenon. The adjectival forms of these two words are “phenomenal” and “noumenal,” respectively.

                            • O

                              • Objectivism

                                A belief that states there is some permanent framework for determining rationality, knowledge, truth, reality, and moral value. The opposite of relativism.

                              • Obscenity

                                A statement or act (words, images, audio, gestures) that is indecent and offends people. The Federal Communications Commission utilizes this term to refer to material of a sexual nature.

                              • Oppositional

                                A critical position that is in opposition to the values and ideology intended by the creators of a media text, usually the dominant reading of a text.

                              • P

                                • Particularity

                                  In recent discussions, ethicists have contrasted particularity with universality and impartiality and asked how, if morality is necessarily universal and impartial, it can give adequate recognition to particularity. Particularity refers to specific attachments (friendships, loyalties, etc.) and desires (fundamental projects, personal hopes in life) that are usually seen as morally irrelevant to the rational moral self.

                                • Personal Moral Theory

                                  An individual’s personal and professional views on daily moral choices.

                                • Persuasion

                                  A type of appeal to adopt an idea, attitude, or action.

                                • Philosophy

                                  This word derives from the Greek word for “love of wisdom.” It has been defined in a variety of ways, one of which is the notion that philosophy is the rational attempt to formulate, understand, and answer fundamental questions.

                                • Pluralism

                                  The theory holding that there are many different realities and that they are not reducible to a single reality or to only two basic realities. Also used in a different context to refer to a society characterized by a variety of cultural groups.

                                • Prima Facie

                                  In the original Latin, this phrase means “at first glance.” In ethics, it usually occurs in discussions of duties. A prima facie duty is one which appears binding but which may, upon closer inspection, turn out to be overridden by other, stronger duties.

                                • Prime Time

                                  That part of a radio or television schedule expected to attract the largest audience, usually during the middle of the evening.

                                • Principle

                                  The underlying directive to moral decision making that influences action (i.e., Respect for human reasoning powers [principle] may direct the telling of the truth [action]).

                                • Privacy

                                  Relates to the right to private conduct that is of no concern to the public. Similarly, personal information to which there can be no right of public access.

                                • Product Placement

                                  The process by which manufacturers or advertisers pay a fee in order for branded products to be prominently displayed in a movie, TV show or other media production.

                                • Production

                                  The industrial process of creating media texts as well as the people who are engaged in this process.

                                • Production Values

                                  Describes the quality of a media production proportional to the money and technology expended on the text.

                                • Professional Culture

                                  A set of values, symbols, rules, and practices that emerge as individual interact with other individuals within the context of an organization.

                                • Propaganda

                                  Any media text whose primary purpose is to openly persuade an audience of the validity of a particular point of view.

                                • Psychologism Egoism

                                  The doctrine that all human motivation is ultimately selfish or egoistic.

                                • Public Journalism

                                  An approach to journalism that encourages the active participation of non-journalism “professionals” in reporting and formulating news stories.

                                • Q

                                  • Quotas

                                    Racial quotas in employment and education represent proportions of underrepresented racial minorities that a company or school seeks in hiring, promotion, admissions or graduation. When the total number of jobs or enrollment slots is fixed, this proportion may get translated to a specific number. See also Affirmative Action.

                                  • R

                                    • Recall

                                      A term companies use to describe a correction that has been made in a defective product. An example of a recall is the Toyota recall regarding the acceleration issues in the models.

                                    • Red-light journalism

                                      A philosophy that restricts distribution of information out of consideration for the status quo. Usually requires substantial documentation. Operating principle: If there is doubt, do not publish.

                                    • Relationship ethics

                                      An emerging system of ethics that focuses on the ability to make ethical decisions based on caring and sharing within a network of relationships.

                                    • Relativism

                                      A view that denies the existence of objective, transcultural moral values and/or standards of rationality. The only moral values and standards of rationality that exist are relative to either individuals or societies.

                                    • Representation

                                      The process by which a constructed media text stands for, symbolizes, describes or represents people, places, events or ideas that are real and have an existence outside the text.

                                    • Rights

                                      One is allowed to perform an action and nobody should be allowed to prevent that action if it is a “right.” Having a right doesn’t mean one ought to do it, but that one is allowed to do if desired.

                                    • Rules

                                      Formal or informal conventions one is required or conditioned to follow.

                                    • Rumor

                                      Information that has yet to be verified fully.

                                    • S

                                      • Satirical

                                        An adjective to describe sarcasm and irony. It is often used as a comical device. Thank You For Smoking is an example of a satirical film.

                                      • Satisficing

                                        A term utilitarians borrowed from economics to indicate how much utility we should try to create. Whereas maximizing utilitarians claim that we should strive to maximize utility, satisficing utilitarians claim that we need only try to produce enough utility to satisfy everyone. It’s analogous to the difference between taking a course with the goal of getting an “A” and taking it pass-fail.

                                      • Sensationalism

                                        Exaggeration and often adding more and more titillating emphasis to information.

                                      • Skepticism

                                        There are two senses of this term. In ancient Greece, the skeptics were inquirers who were dedicated to the investigation of concrete experience and wary of theories that might cloud or confuse that experience. In modern times, skeptics have been doubtful of the trustworthiness of sense experience. Thus classical skepticism was critical primarily about theories, while modern skepticism is hesitant primarily about experience.

                                      • Social conflict

                                        Elements that bring about disturbances within a given society.

                                      • Social contract

                                        A theory of political sovereignty claiming that the authority of government derives from a voluntary agreement among all the people of a society to form a political community and to obey the laws laid down by the government they collectively select.

                                      • Social justice

                                        An active pursuit of an egalitarian society in which each human being deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.

                                      • Social order

                                        A social condition of stability; one in which behavior of members of the order is highly predictable and is likely to contribute to a hospitable, nonthreatening social climate.

                                      • Social philosophy

                                        The study of government, the state, and issues of social policy.

                                      • Social responsibility

                                        An ideology that suggests each individual and organization has some sort of ethical duty to the larger society or environment.

                                      • Stereotypes

                                        A form of media representation by which instantly recognized characteristics are used to label members of social or cultural groups. While often negative, stereotypes can contain an element of truth and are used by the media to establish an instant rapport with the audience.

                                      • Subjectivism

                                        An extreme version of relativism, which maintains that each person’s beliefs are relative to that person alone and cannot be judged from the outside by any other person.

                                      • Supererogatory

                                        Literally, “above the call of duty.” A supererogatory act is one that is morally good and that goes beyond what is required by duty. Some ethical theories, such as certain versions of utilitarianism, that demand that we always do the act that yields the most good have no room for supererogatory acts.

                                      • Synergy

                                        The combination of two separate media texts or products that share similar characteristics so that one helps market the other.

                                      • T

                                        • Technology

                                          The machinery, tools and materials required to produce a media text. In media literacy terms, technology greatly impacts the construction and connotation of a text.

                                        • Text

                                          The individual results of media production: a movie, a TV episode, a book, an issue of a magazine or newspaper, an advertisement, an album, etc.

                                        • Theology

                                          The study of divine reality or God, sometimes divided into natural theology which deals with possible knowledge about God based on the use of reason alone, and revealed theology, which claims knowledge about God based on special revelations.

                                        • Transcendental Argument

                                          A type of argument, deriving from Kant, which seeks to establish the necessary conditions of the possibility of something’s being the case. For example, we have to believe that we are free when we perform an action; thus belief in freedom is a necessary condition of the possibility of action.

                                        • Transparency

                                          The quality of a media text by which it appears to be natural rather than constructed.

                                        • U

                                          • Universalizability

                                            Immanuel Kant used this term when discussing the maxims, or subjective rules, that guide our actions. A maxim is universalizable if it can consistently be willed as a law that everyone ought to obey. The only maxims that are morally good are those that can be universalized. The test of universalizability ensures that everyone has the same moral obligations in morally similar situations.

                                          • Utilitarianism

                                            A moral theory holding that the value of an action resides in its utility or use for the production of pleasure or happiness.

                                          • V

                                            • Veil of Ignorance

                                              A theory developed by philosopher John Rawls that involves the making of a decision as if one had no knowledge of their place in society.

                                            • Virtual

                                              Something that is a representation rather than the real thing. In advertising, the word “virtually” means “almost.”

                                            • Virtue

                                              Notions of moral excellence or uprightness. Ancient Greek philosophers defined virtues as those character traits that they thought made for a good person.

                                            • W

                                              • Whistleblowing

                                                When an employee expresses his or her ethical concerns related to an employer’s, or organization’s, business practices. The “whistleblower” usually fears blocked promotion, demotion or even firing for expression his or her concerns. Moreover, whistleblowers are usually bound by some form of confidentiality agreement or promise not to make public certain business practices that are otherwise private. The movie, The Insider, depicts whistleblowing in the tobacco industry (based on the real life whistleblower who brought down the tobacco industry) and the consequences, both ethical and legal, associated with the act.

                                              • Word-of-mouth

                                                Informal way in which media products become known by audiences.

                                              • World Wide Web

                                                The World Wide Web is the network of pages of images, texts and sounds on the Internet that can be viewed using browser software.

                                              • X

                                                • X-Men

                                                  Major motion picture released in 2000, starring Hugh Jackman. This movie includes several women who are strong and intelligent characters, but the movie reflects its male lead characters.

                                                • Xin-hua

                                                  China’s news agency. Discussed in Case 10, of Media Ethics, 9th ed.

                                                • Y

                                                  • Yellow journalism

                                                    A movement dating to the late 1800s in which news events were routinely overdramatized. The most notable yellow journalist was William Randolph Hearst.

                                                  • Z

                                                    • Zionism

                                                      A Jewish movement that arose in the late 19th century in response to growing anti-Semitism and sought to reestablish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Modern Zionism is concerned with the support and development of the state of Israel. See Media Ethics, 9th ed., Case 77, for reference.