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Tag Archives: cultural sensitivity

Globalization creates a unique situation when it comes to ethics and values. Ethical journalist should treat sources and subjects as human beings deserving of respect. They should recognise that gathering and reporting information may cause harm and discomfort. Pursuit of information is not a license for arrogance. They also need to instil ethical sensitivity in them. Ethical sensitivity is the ability to be empathetic to other people’s situations and feelings. It is also the development of good communication skills including voicing one’s own ideas and the development of proper expression of emotions. Ethical sensitivity involves openness to other cultural modalities and experiences and being accepting of feelings and viewpoints that are different from one’s own.

suh vs ls


Most of the devoted  Christians in the world will be offended by the picture (left) above published in the Indonesian news weekly, Tempo, on February 6, 2008 after the downfall of President Suharto. The picture was a replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper which included Jesus Christ and His disciples; and the headline read, ‘After He Departed’.

Is it ethical for journalists to publish offensive images to entertain the readers?

We need to be careful to appreciate the difference between cultural sensitivity and cultural relativism.  Cultural sensitivity is understanding that diverse cultures have different contexts for and perspectives on what are proper and respected.  Cultural relativism says that because a different culture does not agree with a particular ethical standard that we should not apply that standard in that culture. However, there are ways to see the connection between other culture’s value and our own. Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) argue that different people have different interpretations of texts due to different perspectives based on culture and social experience.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics calls on journalists to “avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.” That respect for cultural sensitivity includes journalists’ obligation to “examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others”.

Journalists should ask themselves if those offensive images they publish are intentional to bring about negative emotions in their audiences. Entertaining some groups of audiences while offending the rest ( e.g. Christians ) may not be wise way to increase the credibility and popularity of one article.


1. ABC News 2008, ‘Indonesian weekly apologises over Last Supper Suharto cover’, ABC News, viewed on June 14, 2009 at 10.55 p.m. <>.

2. Bruce Hamm, Business Ethics in Market Place, Leader Value, Viewed on June 14, 2009 at 12.14 a.m.

3. Linda Jue, “NY Post Failed in Its Ethical Obligations by Publishing Cartoons” , viewed on June 13, 2009 at 10.35 p.m.

4. Suzzanne Pitner, Good Media, Good Kids: A Four Component Model of Media Ethics Developed by Notre Dame, Suite, viewed on June 14, 2009 at