The Ethics of Intercultural Communication

by Bo Shan (Volume editor) Clifford Christians (Volume editor)
©2015 Textbook XIII, 386 Pages


The revolution in media technologies and the political upheavals intertwined with them demand a new media ethics. Given the power of global media corporations and the high-speed electronics of media technologies worldwide, more and more people are either brought together through dialogue and communication technologies or assimilated by them into a dominant culture. In cultural conflict all over the world, people tend to emphasize absolute differences when they express themselves, and under conditions of censorship and oppression citizens are increasingly prone to violence. To take seriously dramatic technological changes in a complicated world of cultural diversity, media ethics does not simply need to be updated but moved forward in a new intercultural direction. The Ethics of Intercultural Communication presents a futuristic model for doing so.
Focusing on Oriental and Western cultures, the book’s key case studies are China, North America, and Europe, where intercultural issues are relevant to an increasingly borderless world. Chapters focusing on a single nation or culture analyze findings from a cross-cultural perspective. Comparative studies appeal to transnational theories and norms.
Multi-ethnic voices in any community are increasingly understood as essential for a healthy society, and the media’s ability to represent these voices well is an important arena for professional development and for enriching media codes of ethics. The news media are responsible for mapping the profound changes taking place and this book teaches us how.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword
  • Introduction: Moral Reasoning in Intercultural Media
  • Section One: Comparative Research on Chinese and Western Communication Ethics
  • Chapter One: The Analects of Confucius and the Greek Classics: A Comparative Approach
  • Chapter Two: The Problem of Communitas in Western Moral Philosophy
  • Section Two: Intercultural Conflicts and Intercultural News Coverage
  • Chapter Three: The Islamic Veil in France: The Body That Communicates
  • Chapter Four: Derailed News Frames and Dynamic Cultural Hegemony: A Textual Analysis of 9/11 10th-Anniversary Reports
  • Chapter Five: Framing White Privilege: Eliminating Ethnic Studies from Arizona Schools
  • Chapter Six: Moral Indifference or Unwillingness in Public Affairs? Comparing Chinese and Western News Discourse in Reporting Moral Issues
  • Chapter Seven: Strange and Familiar: The Othering of Chinese Writer Mo Yan in U.S. News
  • Section Three: The Presence of Group Language Prejudice in News Coverage and Organizations
  • Chapter Eight: Discourse Bias and Face-to-Face Negotiation: Intercultural Analysis of Coverage of the Wenchuan Earthquake
  • Chapter Nine: Crime News: Defining the Boundaries
  • Chapter Ten: Cultural Sojourners: A Study of Western Sub-cultural Musicians in China
  • Chapter Eleven: The Self-Salvation Path of Communication
  • Section Four: Intercultural Competence of Journalists: Surveys and Reflection
  • Chapter Twelve: Intercultural News Reports and Intercultural Competence of Western Journalists in China
  • Chapter Thirteen: Original Voices and New Paradigms: Indigenous Media and Social Transformation in Canada
  • Chapter Fourteen: Moral Motivation Within Media Cultures
  • Chapter Fifteen: Casuistry’s Strengths for Intercultural Journalism Ethics: A Case in Point
  • Chapter Sixteen: A Media Ethics Code for all Time Zones? The Global Use and Implications of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code
  • Section Five: Constructing an Intercultural Public Sphere
  • Chapter Seventeen: The Global Imaginary in Mumford and McLuhan
  • Chapter Eighteen: The Ethics of Human Dignity in a Multicultural World
  • Chapter Nineteen: How Is Intercultural Communication Possible?
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Distinguished Lecturer of Ethics

University of British Columbia

The Ethics of Intercultural Communication is a timely and substantial contribution to the study of how cultures do, and should, communicate with each other through news media, art, imagination, dialogue, and other means. In a global world, linked by global media, there is an urgent need for scholars and others to think and act in the domain of intercultural and global communication.

The background for this book is nothing other than the future of humanity on this small blue planet. As cultures come into tension, and as global problems challenge a massively unequal world, how can the peoples of the world communicate and cooperate ethically to promote global peace, understanding, and justice?

This question is not another plaintive cry about the state of the world by well-meaning but naive idealists. It is not a purely theoretical question fit for the philosopher as she dreams about a perfect world in her study. It is a practical question that calls for the mobilization of ethical citizens for reform, guided by deep theory, revealing facts, and humane philosophizing.

To put the matter darkly: We, as an international community, will either figure out how to address our differences or we will live in a world of increasing violence instigated by injustice, ignorance, intolerance, and parochial values. We must summon all of our energy to this task or we will live in a world of environmental and militaristic threats to our species and other sentient creatures.

I view the ethics of intercultural communication as an important part of the construction of a global ethics of communication and journalism, in principle and in practice. The field does concern itself with the ethics of particular ← IX | X → problems and contexts. However, intercultural communication also should be part of this wider world-building project for philosophers, ethicists, journalists, and communicating citizens.

Therefore, a crucial issue is to what extent this book is a contribution to its field and to global ethics. Is it clear about the aims of its field? Does the book ask the right questions and study the right themes, given some conception of the field?

I examine the book in light of these broad questions rather than comment on each of the 19 chapters. The book ranges from philosophical discussions about the principles of communication ethics to case studies of news coverage. My conclusion is that the book asks good questions and rigorously explores important themes. It raises, and challenges us to answer definitively, normative questions about the aim and nature of intercultural communication ethics. I organize my discussion around three major questions.

The first major question is: How should ethical issues in intercultural communication be discussed systematically?

In the book, three types of writing fall under the flexible rubric of “ethics”:

  •  Philosophizing about ethical traditions, as carried out eloquently by the book’s two editors. They explain the lack of ethical theory in Western journalism, compare ancient Greek philosophers with Confucius, and present alternate, communitarian ethical views as a corrective to a Western stress on rationality and individualism.
  •  Empirical studies of news coverage, with an implicit (or explicit) normative intent, for example, studying group language prejudice in reports. Such studies presume that misrepresentation, in its many forms, is unethical and therefore a basis for criticism.
  •  Articles from media ethics on the intercultural competence of journalists and the relevance of virtue theory and casuistry to media ethics.

These three types of writing point us toward the systematic and well-focused discussion of ethics and ethical theory that the field needs. The contributions of the editors are good examples of philosophical ethics. Ethics in the rest of the book tends to be dispersed among many types of writings. In particular, a significant number of chapters in the two sections on case studies are background material; they do not provide extended ethical analysis. Ethics here amounts to value judgments that media coverage was prejudiced or unbalanced. The book needs more discussions such as Chapter 11 that bring together the many interesting points made in the cases so the reader can see the overall implications for intercultural ethics.

The book also is not “an ethics” in the sense of a unified ethical theory that unfolds logically and is applied to cases. As an edited collection, this type of ← X | XI → book was probably not possible. Yet this underlines the need for ongoing systematic discussions linking the many moving parts of an ethics of intercultural communication.

Further, only in the first and last sections, and in a few other chapters, does it appear that “the ethics” in the book’s title refers to a complex ethical structure. For instance, in the journalism ethics of Sections II–IV, “the ethics” of journalism largely refers not to fundamental principles but to values and prescriptions of varying generality. The content ranges from supremely general principles and mid-theoretic precepts to concrete guidelines on how to address recurring situations. Does this book think of intercultural communication ethics as having, or striving to achieve, such a structure? If so, what would be its main components?

Therefore, I arrive at this question: In the final analysis, what does this book mean by the ethics of intercultural communication? What would an ethics of intercultural communication look like? This book opens a pathway for us to follow in answering those questions.

The second main question is: To what extent is the book balanced and diverse in its discussion of issues, use of methods, and inclusion of participants?

One restrictive feature is the predominance of analysis and case studies related to the United States and China. It chooses for depth of comparison to concentrate on this juncture, but in doing so it calls for further research on intercultural issues in other countries such as South Africa, Guatemala, or India. Also, there is an imbalance in criticism. There is plenty of criticism of Western values and media. Such criticism is needed. But where is the balancing criticism of non-Western values and media? In terms of method, the case studies tend to focus on negative examples—cases where news outlets misrepresented an event or did not critique mainstream values. Where are the positive case studies of good intercultural reporting?

There are a few studies of interesting attempts to dialogue across cultural and national borders, but there could be others. What can intercultural ethics learn from truth and reconciliation processes, building ethnic bridges after civil war, and the employment of conflict-reduction journalism? We can learn as much from positive (or significant) attempts at dialogue and dialogic journalism as we can from negative examples of questionable coverage by some Western mainstream media.

The book does not include extended discussions of the ethics of intercultural communication in a digital world. How is social media, and a journalism practiced by citizens, affecting intercultural communication and theories of intercultural communication? Media ethics is wrestling with issues created by digital global media. Is the ethics of intercultural communication undergoing similar developments? ← XI | XII →

Scholars in this volume use general terms such as media, journalism, communication, and Western culture. Too often such terms are used in a sweeping, unqualified sense. Sometimes, Western media is identified with professional mainstream journalism, or a subset of the latter—well-known media organizations in the United States, such as CNN or the New York Times.

In addition, many case studies use methods—for example, text analysis—that leave little room for the important voice of the journalist or news outlet. As a result, the journalist or the news outlet is an abstraction analyzed from a safe academic distance but rarely spoken to or allowed to address the criticisms or theories. If we take this book as representative, the message is that intercultural communication ethics must build on it to further diversify the range of participants, the types of media, and the types of cases.

My final and third major question is a question the book itself asks: Is true intercultural communication really possible? Is an ethics of intercultural communication possible? There are many obstacles, from hostility to strangers to economic (and other) factors, that support a news media that is parochial and culturally intolerant.

The book has the great virtue of fearlessly asking this question, in several chapters.1 Shan asks the question directly in the final chapter and Christians outlines an ethics of human dignity for a multicultural world. Roberts wonders about the likelihood of a media ethics code “for all time zones.” I believe this question will not go away. Rather, it will continue to raise difficult questions about the study of intercultural communication ethics.

One of the most difficult questions is whether theorizing within academia is a sufficient response to the problems of communication in the outside world. I said at the beginning that global ethics needs thinking and acting—the right type of theorizing and the right type of reforming actions. But what actions and what theory?

Can experts be content to theorize about intercultural communications, perhaps multiplying the number of case studies and strengthening its ethical theory? Or does the state of the world require these experts to take action? Should they join efforts in their societies, and the global society, to reform communication systems and challenge unethical communicators?

I suspect that many scholars would reject any engagement that constituted a form of activism as incompatible with analyzing communications in an objective manner. I believe that objectivity and certain forms of activism are compatible, but I won’t argue the point here. Rather, I simply predict that it will become increasingly difficult to separate theorizing in academia and practical reform in the world. Calls for engagement will grow as the impact and importance of cross-cultural communication grows.

In posing these basic questions, I am addressing the field of intercultural communication ethics as a whole, not limiting myself to the book in ← XII | XIII → particular. As an editor of essays on global media ethics (Ward, 2013), I know the challenges that faced the book’s two distinguished editors. No book can cover everything. Hopefully this book will inspire a series of books like it from around the world.

Despite the limitations of one volume addressing a complicated topic, this book is indeed a significant addition to the field of communication and ethics in a global age. Many chapters are insightful and rigorous. They will provide invaluable material for the teaching and discussion of intercultural communication and ethics. There is immense learning distilled into this book, and there is immense learning to take from it.

The fact that the book raises difficult questions without offering definitive answers is, from one perspective, to be expected. From another perspective, it is a strength of the book. It is to be expected because of the evolving state of intercultural communication. Firm answers are illusive in the rapidly changing world of communication. It is a strength in the sense that one of the book’s positive contributions is to make us think hard about its topic. By reading this book, we are prompted to keep asking these questions and to pursue research into areas where we need new ideas, better methods, and stronger evidence.

The Ethics of Intercultural Communication points us toward the future, providing a platform to launch further investigations. It invites us to improve our understanding of global communication society and to support those who construct a more open, diverse, and compassionate world.


1. I addressed this question at length with respect to the creation of a global media ethics in Ward (2015, ch. 8).


Ward, S. J. A. (2013). Global media ethics: Problems and perspectives. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Ward, S. J. A. (2015). Radical media ethics. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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Moral Reasoning in
Intercultural Media


In this age of globalization, journalists have increasingly entered the intercultural context. How do we transform traditional principles of media ethics? How do we resolve moral conflicts through ethical convergence? How to construct a new media ethics? How can media professionals become moral subjects who carry moral responsibility? In this introduction, the two editors have an academic dialogue on these issues faced by the media. They reflect on classic moral concepts such as values, principles, and rights, as well as how to use them appropriately within an intercultural background.

Shan: As a Chinese scholar, I’d like to discuss with you an important issue: how to do moral reasoning. Specifically, what is moral reasoning—the details and processes of moral reasoning—in the intercultural context?

Christians: The question of how to do moral reasoning in an intercultural era requires our learning from each other. This is an interest of many of us in different parts of the world. We conclude together that the media are creating a global age that is realigning the world not around politics but language and culture; clearly politics and economics are included, but the realignment is deeper than that. So the question of how we help each other do moral reasoning in this context is of great interest to me, and I deeply appreciate that you are focusing on it. ← 1 | 2 →


Shan: My first question is, How does media ethics become an issue from historical and realistic perspectives? According to my understanding, in 1888, Charles A. Dana, the chief editor of the New York Sun, created eight codes of ethics for journalists. Is that, then, the time in the ethics of journalism when journalism changed from a trade or craft into a profession?

Christians: This is correct history, with the professional societies assisting by their development of codes in the early 20th century. The reality is that media ethics did not arise from philosophy but came from media practice. Certain leaders of journalism saw ethics and codes in medicine and in law and concluded that if journalism wanted to be a profession with status, it must follow medicine and law. Journalism education was inspired by that idea: We need educated journalists, not just those who learn it on the run. Codes of ethics were seen as the internal standard for journalism as a profession.

Shan: So can we say that introducing media ethics was a turning point in the development of American journalism?

Christians: Yes, you can understand codes of ethics as motivated by status, and therefore an indicator of journalism’s turn to professional standards. There are a few references in history to reporters and editors who wanted ethics because of failures in the field, who felt that journalism was not doing its job right. They didn’t fret about status, first of all, but complained that journalism had too many weaknesses, and they wanted to correct them. There was some incentive for ethics from journalists who were morally good, but that was a minor stream. The primary motivation was gaining status by the imitation of medicine and law. Journalism was on a new professional pathway that it still follows today.

I have written about this from the perspective of philosophy. From 1888 to 1924, philosophers such as G. E. Moore were doing important work on moral reasoning. But philosophers had no interest in journalism; they were not consulted on journalism education. There are three periods in the United States in which ethics emerges in journalism. And in each of these three major turning points, philosophy is nowhere to be seen. Its resources are not used or made available to journalism ethics. Philosophers became interested in medicine and there was tremendous work on bioethics, for example. Philosophers became interested in law and some in business, but not in journalism. This means that within journalism, we were doing our best in ethics, but we did not use all the educational resources that were available to do it right. ← 2 | 3 →


XIII, 386
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
media usa china europe
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XIII, 386 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Bo Shan (Volume editor) Clifford Christians (Volume editor)

Bo Shan, PhD, is Professor and Vice Dean in the School of Journalism and Communication and Head of the Media Development Research Center and of the Center for Intercultural Research at Wuhan University. His publications include The Problems and Possibilities in Intercultural Communication, The Spiritual Space of Junyi Tang’s Philosophy, On a Comparison Between Chinese and Western Journalism, and Chinese Journalism and Communication in the Twentieth Century: On Applied Journalism. Clifford Christians, PhD, is Research Professor of Communications, Professor of Journalism, and Professor of Media Studies Emeritus at the University of Illinois-Urbana. His co-authored publications include Moral Engagement in Public Life: Theorists for Contemporary Ethics, Normative Theories of the Media, Ethics for Public Communication, Communication Theories in a Multicultural World, Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning, and Key Concepts in Critical Cultural Studies.


Title: The Ethics of Intercultural Communication
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