The media has no morals

Posted on 12. november 2011


By coincidence I stumble upon a discussion on BBC called ’The Media has No Morals’ as a part of the 2011 Festival of Dangerous Ideas. Here journalists from all over the world discuss the morals of journalists in the Sydney Opera House.

Journalists make their case for or against the headline of the event. The background for the event seems to be the Murdock case. And throughout the debate the audience is asked whether they agree with the statement in the event’s headline. At the beginning of the debate 58 % of the audience agree with the statement, 17 % disagree and the rest in undecided.

But an important question is whether the media is considered to be the individual journalists or the industry as a whole especially the people in charge, the directors and owners of the major media houses – the socalled ‘Murdocs’? As a journalist I think it’s the first.

And, though of course I’m biased, but I really think it’s too easy to just turn anger at the media as a general thing without morals. Because the media consists of individuals – individuals who take great risks to uncover the truths including sometimes even risking their lives. For me that is very moral. This might sound naïve but not least here in the Middle East this is a very real reality for many local journalists I have met.

One of the speakers emphasizes that the debate will typically be a discussion where the people supporting the statement points to all the negative effects of the media and those opposing the statement drawing on the positive examples of the power of the media.

‘Sure what we need to do is encourage the best and drive out the worst,’ he says.

Another argument is also, that the audience decides. Consumers often know what is good and bad media. By buying the trash they hold some responsibility or are at least hypocrites to complain about its existence.

As the audience is being allowed to ask questions a young boy of maybe 15-16 years asks how the speakers see social media affect morals of media?

Egyptian journalist and supporter of the statement, Mona Eltahawy, argues that social media is removing the idea of objectivity and confusing opinion with news.

But if the media is immoral, what is then the solution? – A larger degree of regulation, control and licensing? I personally consider this to be a step backwards and a victory for oppressive regimes and controlled media. In a democracy with free press, bad media is (unfortunately) a something that comes with it. But controlled, monitored and censured media is much worse. At least, if the media in free it also gives room for the good stuff – and for development of better media.

As the event finishes, many among the audiences have apparently become skeptical of the headline, and the finishing survey shows that now 45 % agree while 50 % disagree.

Watch videos from the debate:
IQ2 debate: The media has no moral