Media ethics: An oxymoron?

Friday, June 29, 2012, 00:00

In his message for World Social Commu­nications Day, Pope Benedict offers an uncommon challenge. As a general rule, communication is about making our voices heard; he indicates silence.

The Pope reiterates that inasmuch as the spoken word is essential in communication, silence is of equal importance.

The person who speaks but does not listen is not a communicator but one who dictates. And to listen is to be silent and harken at what has been said, rather than simply perceive sounds.

The Pope’s message was highlighted at a business breakfast themed Media Ethics, organised by the Church earlier this week.

Those present were treated – and I use the word judiciously – to a presentation by Fr Saviour Chircop, dean of the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences of the University of Malta.

Prof. Fr Chircop pulled no punches. In his inimitable style, he said that when we say we are independent, we protest too much. The collective we, being human, have already spent time in our private lives not going to sources to double-check facts, let alone gossip.

We might have agendas or affiliations our readers or audiences would not know about. We might pander to the salacious instinct of our audience and strive for scoops and the devil take the hindmost… deluding ourselves that we are doing this for the common good.

Sometimes, journalism – and this includes citizen journalism, a latter-day blessing or scourge, depending upon how you look at it – is no more and no less than a weapon in the hands of those who wielded it to their own ends.

Integrity flies out of the window because, alas, all is fair in love and war for ratings. We weave tangled webs and it takes a very sharp reader to detect the bias in an innocuous-looking clump of lead.

And, today, life in the fast lane is so full of clichés that we just skim over what is being force-fed to us and we do not bother to delve into what is being thrown into the mix.

We have heard countless stories of bribes and moles and double agents and how facts become malleable and subjective, so that a story taken from the same source can end up looking as if it happened on two different planets when you read it in – Prof. Fr Chircop said this with a wry smile on his face – different sections of the media.

Nothing is sacred… even social sites are trawled for juicy bits of information about people in the gunsights. We know the names, the proclivities and the friends of those who have been accused of crimes… but we do not learn they have been acquitted… at least not with the same fanfare.

Truth is the casualty.

Fr Charles Tabone, the Archbishop’s delegate for social communications, rightly finds that one can never discuss media ethics “enough”. He is so right.

The minute a journalist gets a slap on the wrist for doing something unethical, the message is passed on to the rest of us that there is no way we shall be stopped from doing the same, or worse.

Self-censorship is something we must all do, but what if I don’t think there is something to censor?

Media ethics, what crimes are committed in your name!

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