09/28/2012 12:25 pm ET Updated Nov 28, 2012

Shouted From the Rooftops

It seems that a day does not pass without another revelation of something that was expected to be kept secret. It reminds one of what Jesus is recorded to have said: "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs" (Luke 12: 2-3). What is the social and ethical responsibility of both professional media (journalists) and individual commentators? This brief comment considers a few of these issues and the reader may expand the policy questions.

What is the personal responsibility of individuals to take steps to prevent their being recorded or photographed? It would seem that there are few places that inherently have "a reasonable expectation of privacy," to use a legal phrase. So should society simply fault the individual who should have known that virtually anything may be recorded in this technology age? What does "invasion of privacy" mean today? Our society seems to be of two minds. On one hand we want full and complete information and on the other hand we desire individual autonomy and privacy. What is an appropriate balance?

The U.S. Supreme Court has been reluctant to impose limitations on speech and the press. Indeed, the First Amendment begins "Congress shall make no law..." At the same time the word "privacy" does not appear in the Constitution. Our society does not engage in censorship except for the most compelling reasons, something that is overlooked, intentionally or not, by individuals from different cultures. So presuming that some things should not be "shouted from the rooftops," is there an ethical consensus that would condemn some revelations? It seems not although one may note some professional standards that move in that direction.

Considering the U.S. cultural dominance in world media, what image does that culture present? Is it a desirable image both in terms of national self-interest and commonly recognized standards of moral leadership? In the context of discussing actions that love takes, Romans 12:17 states: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone." For many in the world, what U.S. society tolerates and proclaims does not meet a standard of "right." Should that trouble us since all cultures have their share of problems? Is our culture shaped by what produces the most profit and fame in the marketplace? Should there be a personal and corporate responsibility to consider something other than profit and fame? If so, what is it?

What is the best manner and forum to have a debate concerning what should and should not be shouted from the rooftops? There are recognized standards outside the boundaries of religion.

The Society of Professional Journalists has a Code of Ethics that may be found online. Under a section heading entitled "Minimizing Harm" the words "compassion," "sensitive" and "good taste," among others, appear. Perhaps minimizing harm is a good place to begin.

This Code of Ethics also states: "Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect." Are humans deserving of special consideration as a consequence of being human?

There are numerous statements of human rights such as "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Part of its Preamble states "it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations." Article 12 states: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."

People of goodwill and compassion should, it would seem, be able to reach a general (at least) consensus concerning what should or should not be shouted from the rooftops. It only remains to do this, if it does not already exist, and to place the same social pressure on those individuals and organizations that are outside this consensus as we may feel to achieve profit and fame. Is this possible?