The media faces a credibility crisis if ethics are not discussed, spin doctor Chris Vick said in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
"The weaker a newsroom the easier it is for people like me to run circles around you," Vick told a SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) debate on "SA Media in an Ethical Spin?".
He referred to reports of journalists being paid to either write favourable stories, or to make sure unfavourable stories were not written.
"Isolated cases give the impression that there is corruption and so people like me can move in.
"There are cases [of this] happening and they should be investigated."
Vick said he felt there had been insufficient discussion within the media about ethics.
City Press executive editor Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya said that when discussing ethics the media needed to decide whose ethics they were talking about.
"We need to discuss ethics and how they are ours, especially in a society that was so divided."
He used the example of a young journalist not realising that taking a "freebie" from someone could be wrong.
"We need to discuss if taking a free lunch from someone means you are in their pocket."
Moya said the media needed to be less intolerant of criticism.
"I found it amazing how us in the media sound like the DA and the ANC when we discuss ethics. When we lapse we become like the ANC that points out the glorious things we have done in the past."
On the other hand, the media acted like the Democratic Alliance by saying that its critics didn't like it, Moya said.
"Unless we... respond properly the problems will always be there. The media needs to snap out of that thinking," said Moya.
Media trainer Paula Fray said the understanding of ethics had to be the guiding principles of journalism.
"If we know what the ethical principles are we should use it as a checklist," she said.
Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes said the establishment of a media tribunal by the government would not improve the ethics and standards of the media.
"Statutory regulation doesn't grow out of the fact that the ethics is bad but because they are uncomfortable with what we are reporting," he said.
Dawes said the Mail & Guardian reviewed its ethics policy and included all staff members' inputs during a workshop.
"There are simple things we can do in our newsrooms," he said.