Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Moral Journalism

Call me naive, but I think it is un-contentious to suggest that the popular media helps to shape social attitudes and beliefs. The broadcast and print media may be the sole source of information for many people.

Is there, then, a moral responsibility for journalists to offer well researched, truthful information? This isn't to deny the opportunity of political or personal bias; only that mixed in with the spin there should be nuggets of actual fact.

The Daily Mail in particular is notorious for abandoning any connection with reality, allowing their writers to ascend in flights of bilious rhetoric that barely contain the merest whiff of an actual fact. Rather than inform the public debate, they deform and debase it. Peter Hitchens comes to mind as a chief culprit of this 'journalism', a perpetual wordsmith who soothes the middle classes with a patina of authority on things penal. If people are willing to pay them, and if others are willing to buy their views, why should I care? I care, as should you, because so many people assume that such luminaries have a genuine knowledge of what they speak, and this helps to broadly shape opinions. That is very dangerous, leading to an inflamed populace demanding policy changes based upon lies and distortions.

The best illustration of media stupidity flowed from a certain tabloid’s campaign to 'out' sex offenders, leading to marches and attacks on innocent people. To pretend that newspaper managers are so stupid as to not foresee this is an insult. No social good was achieved, only social harm.

To return to the beginning, then: Should journalists have a moral responsibility for the social effects of what they write?


  1. Good blog Ben. Stick with it and keep up the good fight. Good to see what you have to say is making some waves and rattling some cages.

  2. @Madalbert. I too was shocked at the response of the majority of the comments to the Guardian article. Considering the holier than thoug attitude of Gaurdian readers to Mail readers it made me realise how much followers of both sides of the political spectrum shy away from reasoned debate.

  3. The idea that "the media" are there to serve a common good is a falacy as old as newsprint itself.

    You only have to look at 19th century newspapers, the penny dreadfuls etc to quickly conclude that we are, if anything, living in an age of tolerance and probity from the news media.

    However, in our attempts to attack the media for misleading the public, lets not fall into the same trap ourselves.

    The infamous incidents with the outing of paedophiles was actually nothing like as significant as was painted by the other newspapers - who naturally wanted the claim the moral high ground (and higher sales) from demonising their competitors.

  4. It goes back to the old saying "Why let the truth stand in the way of a good story".
    The newspapers are there to make money for theer rich owners, not to provide a well balanced information service.
    With reference to the paedophiles media coverage, was there not a paediatricians surgery in Wales damaged by a 'well read' section of the local community !

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  6. I don't think there's even a question, simply a statement: Journalists have an ethical responsibility to their audience.

    Simply because so many have no morals (and abandon any ethics) doesn't mean the responsibility isn't there.

    And IanVisits, I'd say that one lynch mob is one too many.

  7. I read a brilliant sentence the other day on this topic (I can't remember where - think it was the slacktivist's blog)

    "Anybody is entitled to their own opinion, but you aren't entitled to your own facts!"

  8. Brits get off on indignation. It makes them feel warm and cosy. The commentariat knows this and happily applies the match to their combustible emotions.

    Funny way to start the day, showering in Mr Hitchens' bile-flecked spittle. But there's a heck of an appetite for it. Or thirst, should I say?

  9. I get fed up with the media politicising justice, it isn't only the Daily Mail. As far as I am concerned, the Daily Mail dug a pit for itself when it predicted the inevitable failure of a group of human rights cases, one of which was mine. In fact I won my case against UK Government from inside prison.

    What scares me somewhat is the media's tendency to launch campaigns of victimisation. They do no-one any good. Justice suffers, an innocent person may be torn to pieces and the public's lust for revenge remains as insatiable as ever.

    If you have not yet read al-Megrahi's appeal grounds you should do it soon. They are at:

    To say nothing of his innocence or his guilt (because I know nothing), if al-Megrahi was convicted on such flimsy evidence the court might have convicted almost anyone. Moving goal posts spoils the game, corrupts the judicial system. This is one thing the media have to answer for.

  10. Journalism is dead and has been for sometime now. Murdoch rules the roost and uses his newspapers to attack his enemies. He hopes by June to have us all pay Online for the trash he prints. Start printing some truths and we may think about it...on the other hand we may not. Plenty of information on the net and I for one do not need Murdoch or the garbage that comes from his papers for my news.

    Thanks Ben and keep up the good work.


  11. 'Daily Mail is shit'...what a surprise!
    'Journalism, morality - let's have a heated debate'...yawn.

    Why not use all that free time you have, hard-gained academic qualifications and supposed unique perspective on the justice system and actually pen something original...if you want to have a penological debate, why not get on with it, instead of pointing out things that are blindingly obvious.

    I'll start you off with something - the 3r's: restitution, retribution and rehabilitation.
    You've been appointed to cabinet and have a free hand over the Monistry of Justice...so, how would you deal with the sentencing, rehabilitation and reintegration of convicted murderers? What is a fitting punishment for this crime? How do you rehabilitate these offenders, can they be rehabilitated? How would you assess the residual level of risk to the community? When is it safe to release murderers? What sort of measures with regards to safety for the public would you put in place?

    This is your blog, mate, so write what you want. You'll always get a cheer from a handful of readers who will lap up any old shite. But if all you are going to do is complain that prison is boring or point out the obvious, you won't be likely to change a thing. Far from rattling cages, this blog is dull and unoriginal.


  12. How exactly does one make restitution for murder???

  13. Absolutely agree with you. People make their choices when it comes time to vote based on what they read in the media so the media absolutely does have a moral obligation to help people make informed choices by presenting the facts in an unbiased manner.

    But forget political ramifications, what about the pain and embarrassment they cause real human beings when they get their facts wrong?


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