“Towards an Ethics of Global Media — Truthfulness, Hospitality, Care”
This talk will ask: what philosophical resources are available to think about the wider normative frameworks about the ethics of media as they operate on scales up and including the global? The talk will draw on my book Listening Beyond the Echoes: Media, Ethics and Agency in an Uncertain Age (Paradigm Books 2006). Such debate is very much needed since media are crucial in representing to us a common world, yet this is a world where we know there is little agreement on normative frameworks. A framework in which the questions for exploration in a global media ethics can be delineated does not exist in any textbook on journalistic ethics or journalistic code.
By ‘global’, I do not mean that universal ethical principles are readily available on a global scale, only that we should discuss media ethics in terms that can take account of the ability of media messages to be globally circulated, however local their intended audience. I will take, as a starting-point, the tradition of neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics, specifically Bernard Williams’ argument in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985) that modern moral complexity requires the more flexible framework of ethical rather than moral philosophy, although we need to move beyond the obvious restrictions of original Aristotelian ethics. It is necessary to relate the general question ‘how should we live together through media?’ to what are plausibly the aims of media as a human practice, following the general method of Alisdair Macintyre (After Virtue 1980). From there, I suggest, three specific dispositions or communicative virtues follow in relation to journalistic practice: the directly truth-related virtues of accuracy and sincerity or authenticity (Williams Truth and Truthfulness (2002)); and a third virtue which Roger Silverstone (Media and Morality 2006) called hospitality, but which I prefer, following the recent work of Paul Ricoeur (Reflections on the Just 2007) on ‘linguistic hospitality’, to understand as more akin related to an ethics of care.
The talk will end by considering the obvious gap between philosophical abstractions and the decreasing resources available for news production, not least in the international news sector. Does this condemn philosophical approaches to media ethics to irrelevance, or is it precisely the abstraction of such approaches that allows them to interrupt the increasingly difficult ethical situation of working journalists?