View Single Post
Old Thursday, September 26, 2013
comp Engr's Avatar
comp Engr comp Engr is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 531
Thanks: 604
Thanked 267 Times in 198 Posts
comp Engr will become famous soon enough
Default zohaib babar


Freedom of the press - where to draw the line?

Ethics (the term comes from the Greek word ethos: custom or practice) is that branch of philosophy whose purpose is to describe moral sentiment, as well as to establish norms for good and fair behaviour. In the context of journalism, this is a question about what is good and what is right journalistically. In the search for answers to these questions, my assumption is that democracy, though afflicted with many weaknesses, is nevertheless the best form of government. A functioning democracy is founded on a communications sector that functions adequately and allows informed public opinion to develop freely.

This is why, in a democracy, journalists have a special political purpose and responsibility. Democracy is, above all, a culture of dialogue, in which the opinions of dissenters are respected. For example, the highest German court (the constitutional court, the "Bundesverfassungsgericht") holds that freedom of the press and freedom of speech are the essential elements of a democratic state, because only the continuous struggle between opinions and constant intellectual debate will safeguard democracy. It is not surprising that coups d'état which crushed democratic societies prioritised destruction of free media. So do totalitarian regimes, often using extreme brutality, do their utmost to prevent press freedom emerging.

Freedom of speech and the media is an achievement of the European enlightenment, which must be fought for over and over again and always be defended. Every society has experienced that the powerful in politics and business don't want their affairs critically observed by the media and so find themselves under public scrutiny. Corruption and abuse of power happen everywhere, all the time, and fighting them is a task central to democratic journalism.

I am working on the assumption that in a complex, pluralist, modern society there can be no one absolutely correct ethic. A single journalistic ethic always valid everywhere in the world is currently just as unthinkable. In different countries, a variety of elements form the focus of the ethical debate. Currently in the US (1997), the debate is above all about violence and decency; in the UK it is about tabloid journalism (e.g. reporting on the royal family); in Israel the secrecy of military intelligence is under discussion; and in Germany the impact of the commercialisation of TV (scramble for ratings, superficialisation of programming, sensationalism) is at the forefront of the ethical debate.

You can keep adding to these lists ad infinitum. In the following pages, however, the assumption will be made that there is indeed a fundamental and generally acceptable basis for a journalistic ethic - namely human rights. The argument put at international level that human rights are a typical Western invention that may not count in other cultural contexts is in my view intentionally deceptive. In arguing like this, regimes that hold human rights in contempt want to distract attention from their own disgraceful acts in any way they can.

I am nevertheless aware that my position throughout could have an ethnocentric bias and it is possible that I am under the spell of a logic denounced strikingly by Nigeria's Chinweizu, in his poem "Coloniser's logic":
"The natives are unintelligent - We can't understand their language."
In order to avoid this kind of ethnocentric perspective, authors from different regions were asked to take a position on the journalistic ethic. There were then two possibilities:

1. No terms of reference would be given for the writing of the articles, and for the aspects of ethics being dealt with. The possible advantage would be that a wide variety of points of view would be brought together, albeit at the cost of comparability. The result would ideally be a multi-faceted mosaic of the international ethical debate.

2. Different important aspects of the international ethical debate would be predetermined by myself. And it would be asked that these be dealt with in ways relevant to the respective regions. The disadvantage here is that my view of things, with all its limitations, would be predetermined or forced on the other authors as a structure, so to speak. The advantage comes in enabling an.

international comparison of the ethical debate.

I decided on a compromise. In an introductory essay, I make the points I deem worth discussing. It was asked that these be considered in writing the articles. Thus, throughout, there was a predetermined content structure. At the same time, however, the authors were asked to lay special emphasis on the aspect of the ethical debate which, in their opinion, is either not valued highly enough, not even considered, or ignored as irrelevant. Thus, a situation where unreasonable weight is given to my understanding of journalism or my understanding of the international debate on journalistic ethics should have been avoided.

Incidentally, I am quite aware that my reference to the UN's Universal Declaration on Human Rights from 1948 is by no means unproblematic. After all, the Charter of the United Nations also contains the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. Moreover, many countries reject the position that human rights are universal. I would merely mention one case (of many), in the declaration adopted in Bangkok in 1993 where it was emphasised that human rights must be looked at in various historical, cultural and religious contexts. In interpreting human rights, special traditions and Asian values (Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism) must be taken into account. Instead of an individualistic Western understanding of human rights, collective values must become the point of reference, such as the right to a life without hunger, or the right to work. In other words, quite in keeping with the spirit of the 1986 declaration of the UN General Assembly, where a right to development was proclaimed, for states and people.

In this context it is important to refer to the fact that the United Nations stated the following in its "Declaration on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations": "...we reaffirm that democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms...are interdependent and mutually reinforcing." This tenet is emphasised again in the same document: "While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of all States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, the universal nature of which is beyond question. It is also important for all States to ensure the universality, objectivity and non-selectivity of the consideration of human rights issues." The provocative question is this: Can human rights (in the Western sense) only be achieved in countries that are already developed, and does this also mean that completely different journalistic ethics are the inevitable consequence of this? Moreover, the right to freedom of speech also comprises, in many Western countries, the rights to distribute pornography - an unacceptable interpretation of the concept of freedom of speech for many cultures or countries. The question is: where to draw the boundaries of freedom of speech? This book also tries to answer this question - at least this was the intention. How far this has been achieved is up to the reader to judge. I would like to make clear my normative position on the task of the journalist, with another poem by a Nigerian author, Naiwu Osahon, entitled "The Impotent Observer":

"Don't just sit there gaping at me like an impotent observer because life is a serious matter, suffering is real, and the man writhing in pain is not dancing for amusement."

In other words, I hold the view that a journalist must never be an "Impotent Observer". Journalists can be very "potent" and have proved this many times in the exposure of corruption or of human rights abuses among other things. The power of independent journalism manifests also in the case of the opposition movement in Myanmar, where Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, would have been silenced long ago but for international press coverage.

For the assistance I have received in the composition of this introductory essay, in the development of the matrix of questions and in the preparation of the book, I thank, in alphabetical order, Dr. Dieter Bauer, Reinhard Keune and Gunther Lehrke of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bonn.
God has sent us to do something special,Life is once for all but not to be Repeated by a pendulum.
Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to comp Engr For This Useful Post:
sadafnoorelahi (Sunday, November 10, 2013)