Thursday, July 16, 2009

Guidelines for Responsible Media

“The press is the best instrument for enlightening the mind of man, and improving him as a rational, moral and social being”
Thomas Jefferson

In our day and age we have an incredible amount of information at our fingertips, facts and opinions pour into our heads 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No time in history is the integrity of an honest media and the responsibility of the individual to objectively analyze all information more important. I extend this beyond the main stream media (MSM), to all the independent news feeds and even the “Bloggers,” each commands an implied veracity to their statements based on propaganda. All the more reason for two basic principles of media to be maintained and recognized; firstly the media sources should only report honestly, objectively and with integrity, second the audience should research the reported facts objectively and demand their media be honest. These two principles are the only way media can truly be an instrument for the good of mankind, and the second is integral in securing the first.

“To the press alone, chequered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression”
James Madison

I think we are at a time when these two basic principles of a free and honest press are not well kept. This is not specifically one or the others fault, both media sources and the audience are equally culpable. Media has traded honest integrity for sensationalism and editorials, one specific media source espouses a motto, “Fair and Balanced” and seems completely oblivious to the point of media as an instrument of freedom, which is to say that it should always be “Factual and Objective”. The “Blogosphere” and Independent news sources are no better, they rarely even pretend to be honest media at all, they post unfounded opinions based on personal belief with rarely a fact to back up such claims they report. Most bloggers refuse to or better stated are unable, to refer to sources, either because their source does not report what they did, only led to the conclusion, the source is poor quality or in most cases, there is no source. The audience is just as bad, they rarely if at all check their media beyond the first exposure, in the rare case where works are cited the audience usually does not check these, and will set the claim that the source cited works, so it must be true. The Internet audience is a step worse, posing as both audience and source; they work, probably unwittingly, to proliferate the unfounded opinion articles with the quality cited works, with wonton disregard for fact. The real issue is that since the audience does not recognize the difference in the two types of articles they treat them equally. There is usually no reference to the original article, if there was one and it was not received in an e-mail, nor are there any works cited in the original article included in most reposts. With this phenomenon you have even the best article holding the same value as a work of opinion, with no proof to back up the claims. The audience that takes media at face value presents media at face value, which only serves to make all media worthless.

“Freedom of the press is not an end in itself but a means to the end of [achieving] a free society.”
Felix Frankfurter

The only remedy to the situation is an attentive skeptical audience, they should all act as if they were from the Great State of Missouri, the show me state. The audience must be responsible enough to avoid sensationalism, discern opinion from fact and resist the tendency to trust any source without corroboration and factual basis. One cannot trust the media to avoid bias, and must always assume the first principle is broken, as it is not in the direct control of the audience to control the content of the media. The only answer, I repeat myself for emphasis, is the second principle, research the facts reported objectively and demand honesty. A free press is integral to a free society, and a free society is dependent on responsible and attentive populace, this is a logical axiom one cannot escape all rests on the shoulders of a responsible and attentive populace. This is another instance of “freedom is not free,” if you are expecting an honest media without doing your part to ensure it, you do not deserve an honest media, and you directly risk your freedom. Every time you are complacent with your media, of any variety (MSM, Independent News Feed, Blogs), you advocate this:

I cannot force you to be responsible, I cannot force you to look at the disease and treat it, I cannot force you to agree with me and I will not try, I can only bring you the observations I have made over the years and the logical conclusion of them. Though I will be honest, I look with skeptical attention to anyone that is willing to disregard this message; I am forced to question their motives or their sanity.

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