Do the media have a responsibility to the truth?

Apparently, at least one poster is complaining that it’s so patently obvious that the media have an obligation to the truth that I should be able to simply pick up a High School civics text to know the answer.

And yet, I still haven’t gotten a real answer.

Sure, many if not most individual journalists are personally dedicated to fact, truth, objectivity. Or at least, what they perceive to be those things.

But “the media?”

Now, I assume we’re talking about news media here. The news media which are owned by capitalists. They are beholden to their stockholders and their advertisers and to their customers. They have an obligation to report what will make money. What will gain and keep viewers, listeners, and readers.

That’s their obligation. Not truth–unless their customers demand the truth and hold them accountable.

But I cannot see an inherent obligation or responsibility. I wish there were.
So, for those of you who do believe that media have a fundamental and inherent obligation to truth, or even fact, please, please, please explain to me why they have that obligation and from whence it derives.

The oldest explanation I know of is that they’re using airwaves that belong to the public, given to them for the purpose of providing a public service. Telling the public the news in a truthful way would qualify better than, you know, “we’re capitalists and, even if we’re marketing ourselves as providing news, we’ll say whatever we want if it helps business.”

Yeah, but the same could be said for entertainment broadcasting, and such actions as cancelling Firefly aren’t exactly in the public interest, ne?

That argument only covers the “big three” broadcast television networks and radio. And even then, I’m not sure of its validity. Television and radio news have always been slanted and biased and operated through advertising. Does the Federal Government in the body of the FCC say: we’ll allow you the use of these bands that we’ve decided are public property only if you promise to be forthright and honest in all your news broadcasts?

Sounds like that’s what they did, after a fashion. Nobody thinks the charters will get revoked because of the money involved.


If you are determined to be acting contrary to the public interest, they can fine you or take away your license.

That was how they nailed Stern and the stations that played his show. Indecency is deemed not in the public interest. As would repeatedly intentionally broadcasting untrue news stories.

Even assuming, for the moment, that the broadcast media have accepted a dictate from the FCC to strive for truthfullness in all their news programs, that doesn’t answer my question. It’s a quid pro quo–they accept the responsibility in exchange for the use of the airwaves. That doesn’t address whether or not they already had that obligation, or if it’s somehow inherent to the nature of news programs, or why.

We have to prove that people claiming to tell the truth have an obligation to actually do it?

How about occasionally? Or stories that the journalists involved in believed to be true but weren’t? Or stories that the owner of the station believed to be true but weren’t? Or stories that are only true from a particular perspective?

Sorry, it’s off-track. But I have trouble seeing the FCC as a reliable arbiter of truth.

Broadcasts that purport to report factual news have a responsibility to be truthful just as someone selling property has a responsibility to fairly represent the property he’s selling. Even extremist Libertarians think fraud should be against the law.

Honesty is, in fact, a fundamental obligation of civil & free society. Anyone who claims otherwise is training criminals.

Maybe that’s the meat of the issue.

Does “news” automatically carry with it a connotation of “objective truth?” If it’s a news program, must we assume that it’s claiming to be telling the truth?

Does anyone claiming to provide “news” automatically have some ethical obligation to the truth?

How do folks like Rush Limbaugh or WorldNetDaily fit into that? They both claim to present factual news, but are arguably untruthful at times.

Yes, I think so. The Daily Show goes out of its way to describe itself as “fake news”, which is necessary because the default assumption is that news is an accurate report of recent events.

Rush does not purport to be a newscaster, he is a blowhard commentator on the news.


News is defined as Information about recent events or happenings, especially as reported by newspapers, periodicals, radio, or television. If you’re talking about fake events, making up things people said, or presenting a version of events that differs markedly from what actually occurred, you are not reporting news, you are reporting fiction. News is about what did happen, not what may have happened.

woops :smack:

lol I screwed up. Couldn’t find the font that leaves a line thru stuff, then forgot about it… the word “blowhard” should have had a line thru it.

My apologies.
On the other hand, I don’t know that it changes the sentence at all to have “blowhard” in there.

I hate playing this game, but okay. A sample dictionary definition of news is “<i>Information about recent events or happenings, especially as reported by newspapers, periodicals, radio, or television.
A presentation of such information, as in a newspaper or on a newscast.</i>”
I hope I’m not going out on a limb in saying that words like “events” and “information” connote quite clearly that the events being reported are real and the information is accurate. Yeah, news means things that really happened. Otherwise, words like “fiction” would get involved.

If it purports to be a news program, it’s not “claiming to be telling the truth.” It’s TELLING YOU flat-out that it is telling the truth. Ergo, if this is by design not the case, you are being lied to. I keep getting the sense you want to change the meaning of some words here.

Once again, yes, because anyone claiming to provide news is claiming to tell you the truth.

I don’t think so.

But I think I might be suggesting that the meaning of some words has already changed.

Fair enough.

The truth as they see it, though, right?

Who is “they?” Yeah, the story is told as understood by the reporters and, at times, editors. Who said it wasn’t? Who else’s judgment are you suggesting would be more truthful? You can only report the fact as you learn and understand them.

Likewise, nobody ever said (as you asked earlier) that it’s supposed to be the truth as the FCC sees it. The FCC does not play that kind of role in the process.

Coming back to this… no, the implicit claim is that they are telling you the truth, not “our version of the truth.” I would have done better to say they’re telling you the facts and not The Truth, as raw facts are less debatable than their context, but that doesn’t change the ‘responsibility to the truth’ issue.

No, the medai has no responsibility to the truth. Ergo, Fox “News”, the unabbashed Republican network.

The Media Can Legally Lie.