In the past month a lot of us have been thinking about ethics, particularly as they relate to populist movements worldwide, and to the recent travel ban put into effect by the U.S. President’s executive order. Both have created concern among many members regarding the legality of these events, and their ethical legitimacy or problematic outcomes.
These are only some of the events that have caused many of us in ICA to think carefully about our shared ethical commitments, as a diverse body. The terrain is complicated. How should ICA as a diverse body communicate our agreed-upon codes of ethical conduct in research and in our organizational work and conferencing? How might naming and protecting ethical practices sometimes put at risk terms and behaviours that go unnamed? By what methods and approaches should we interpret and analyse the ethics of mediated stories, media outlets, populist movements? What does resistance to controversial ethical mandates look like?
ICA is taking on some of these questions at our conference in San Diego. We are holding a special panel on national populist movements around the globe; it unites global scholars who can ably discuss, in critical perspective, the varying forces shaping national populist movements in Europe, Africa, North America, and beyond, teasing out their distinct origins, cultural work and their differing impacts on governance, movements and cultural practices. Another panel will dialogue on the question of when and why ICA should issue political statements, reflecting carefully upon our existing policy on political statements. Another session hosted by scholars from South Africa with much experience in the matter considers the potential impact and problematics of organizational and conference boycotts. Another session, cosponsored by the Council of Communication Associations and the National Association for Media Literacy Education, will tackle the issue of media literacy in a postfact (or “alternative” facts) world.
In addition, at our January meeting, the board voted to strike a task force to consider how we wish to understand and communicate ICA’s ethical standards and obligations as an organization. The task force is specifically asked to review and update ICA’s sparse ethical statement; it is currently entitled the “ICA General Statement on Standards” (see ICA home page, “Guiding Principles”). The task force will also consider the question of whether ICA desires a conference code of conduct. When we look to other communication and sister organizations we find extended statements on organizational ethics, and white papers discussing the complex issue of ethical conduct in academic association research and in organizational work. For example, the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) has produced a thoughtful white paper on the problematics and benefits of ethical codes, discussing issues arising when assessing risks associated with personal conduct, and specifically arising in digital research practices. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) provides a strong code of conduct, reflecting researchers concerns that raw data, when shared at conferences, has the potential to be redeployed in inaccurate manners. The board agreed it is time for a nuanced and rigorous discussion of how we, as communication scholars in the digital age, understand and communicate our ethics. The Task Force is constituted by ICA members representing different areas of research and who represent diverse areas of the globe.
These are challenging times and I am very much looking forward to the insights of our ICA scholars from this task force, and from everyone who participate in our special panels, Blue Skies and throughout the conference. Dialogue and the discovery of new ideas, is our work and is often what can sustain us.