Do the media have a responsibility to the truth?




No more posting before coffee for me. Sorry.

Sorry, Marley et alia. I’m not really trying to be a dick about this. I just keep hearing that “the media have a responsibility to tell us the truth” and I’m trying to figure out what they actually means.

Worse, I’m out of town for the next couple days, so perhaps this thread can die the death it deserves.

I believe I am one of the posters obliquely referred to in the OP, so I feel like I should put in my $0.02. My problem with the above argument is that it assumes that one set of obligations–an obligation to benefit a business’s shareholders–automatically cancels out any other obligations a business and its members might have. But that position cannot be correct. Suppose, for example, that when Union Carbide caused those thousands of people to die in Bhopal, India, it did so negligently. Hell, assume they did it willfully and maliciously. The above argument entails that Union Carbide did nothing wrong–or that if its action was wrong, it was only wrong because it ended up costing UC lots of money, which ultimately hurt the shareholders. The fact that it killed thousands of people would not be intrinsically relevant. I maintain that such a conclusion is obviously false.

Now this example is extreme, but I chose it to illustrate a point–the mere fact that a business has an obligation to its shareholders doesn’t prove that the business doesn’t also have the normal obligations–not harming/killing, not lying, etc.–that individuals in society have. I maintain that it is so with the news media–the fact that media corporations have obligations to their shareholders does not cancel the other obligations that such corporations have–the normal obligations that any human being has.

The argument can be taken further. I think in business ethics, it is very controversial that businesses are only obligated to their shareholders. Many hold that businesses have obligations to all stakeholders–that is, to all constituencies whose lives are affected by the business’s operation. One argument for this conclusion goes like this–a society allows businesses to exist as legal entities, enjoying the legal benefits of such an arrangement (such as limited liability), because society gains some benefit from allowing such arrangements. A business cannot behave anti-socially, because society only allows businesses to exist as legal entities for the benefit of society. This argument is stated badly, but I’m too tired to think more clearly.

So there it is. Maybe if Andros’s absence causes this thread to die, he can be given special dispensation to revive it when he returns. I’m not sure I feel comfortable arguing against Andros if he isn’t here to defend himself!

Thou shall not bear false witness.

I can’t think of any society that does not suscribe to this constraint.

Misinformation is harmful.

I don’t care what your position is in society. If you deliberately lie or spread unsubstantiated rumour as fact you are unjustly harming people.

We all, the media or the individual have an obligation towards the truth.

I can think of a few … China, Iran, Yugoslavia under Milosovic, etc.

Even white lies? :smiley: (though personally, give me the truth anyday, no matter what).

Yes. But you have to admit quite a few media only care if they get sued for it. And then they only care about losing the suit, not about being right. For some magazines and ‘Daily’s’, the Spiderman 2 guy is only a mild exaggeration.

I wish it were so.

As long as reporters operate under the aegis of “freedom of the press” and 'I’m just doing my job" they have an obligation to the truth.

It sucks that I logged of yesterday when I did, then rather then later.:stuck_out_tongue: I log-in, and all the good replies are taken.

I think you are confusing whether people have obligations with whether they live up to their obligations. Of course, media outlets often fail badly to live up to their obligations–both their journalistic obligations and their obligations just to behave like decent, non-sociopathic don’t exist. People murder; this doesn’t show that murder isn’t wrong.

Sophistry (and foolsguinea before him) came up with the correct, obvious answer. This:

. . . is a false dichotomy. As businesses, they have a responsibility to be profitable. As people, they also have a responsibility to be honest. Since what they say is broadcast so widely and is expected to be accurate, that obligation is greatly magnified.

Those two interests may sometimes collide, but probably not as often as you imagine. The market is somewhat self-correcting in this area, since a news outlet which gains a reputation for being inaccurate will suffer as a business, and plain falsehoods will be very easily uncovered with so many competing media services.

Subtle misrepresentation is much easier to get away with, but that sort of thing depends heavily on subjective interpretation. We might feel that Fox News goes out of its way to distort the truth, but how much of that is just editorializing, and how much is our own biases clouding our interpretation of their coverage? The former is very hard to quantify, the latter is completely unknowable.

That was supposed to read, “media outlets often fail badly to live up to their obligations–both their journalistic obligations and their obligations just to behave like decent, non-sociopathic, **but that doesn’t show that these obligations ** don’t exist.” :smack:

Because they use a public resource (the scarce available radio and television frequencies), broadcasters have an obligation to report the truth as best they can determine. Because FOX News is on cable, they have no such obligation and in fact make no such effort.

Same with CNN

I just don’t see this at all. Why does the mere fact that someone works for a private corporation which doesn’t use public frequencies free that person from his or her moral obligations? How does the fact that person X works for CNN make the obligation to tell the truth, which applies to everyone, suddenly not apply to that person? What is so magical about corporations that they cancel the moral obligations of those who work for them. I disagree with the OP in that the OP seems to think the burden of proof is on people like me to prove that the media has obligations. I’m still waiting for someone to prove to me how working for a private company means you are somehow free from any and all moral constraints (except perhaps the moral obligation to maximize shareholder benefit).

I don’t mean to be bitchy, but I really really don’t understand this argument at all.

I don’t think he was actually making that argument. I think he was just taking a pot-shot at Fox News.

Did anybody read the link provided about the Florida Fox News affiliate case? The reporters in this instance refused to incorporate in their stories elements that ran counter to the facts they’d discovered in researching the story, “facts” that Fox wanted to put in to favor Monsanto Corp. Fox did not argue that there was any truth to the changes they wanted the reporters to make, only that it was within their rights to “spin” the story any way they wanted to. The initial court found for the reporters, the appelate court found for Fox News. The courts found there was no burden on Fox News to report the facts accurately.

Open and shut case, people. We belong to the corporations, according to our judges.

I was just attempting to state the facts. CBS and the other over the air networks are bound to try to broadcast in the public interest by FCC rules. Public interest means reporting the news factually accurately. If it was technically feasible to have many more times the broadcast stations as there currently are, it might be a different story.

CNN, FOX, MSNBC, etc. are on cable and have no such obligations. CNN and MSNBC, except for explicit commentary shows, appear to me as on the level and attempting to cover the news with journalistic ethics. FOX, on the other hand, doesn’t make an effort to be even handed at all. Thanks to the good people at this site , I don’t have to watch FOX. I can read all about their biases here.

I think you are equivocating between what legal obligations stations have, and what ethical obligations they have. The FCC may not legally require cable stations to report honestly, but I have been arguing that such stations still have ethical obligations (obligations which many sadly fail to meet).

No one should be surprised that it’s not that simple.

The referenced link is an editorial screed. I was unable to find a description of the case that didn’t have an axe to grind, though I was eventually able to find one description that grinds the opposite axe: link. Of the two versions, I must say that I find the latter somewhat more plausible. Pertinently, from the second link:

Addendum: Upon further review, I was able to find a pretty even-handed report, which helpfully includes at least a partial description of the changes made in the story: link. My first reaction is that the changes the station asked for meant doing a report instead of an exposé, not covering up the truth instead of revealing it. An exposé would be legitimate, but the station also has the right to run a more balanced piece if it wants to.

*Andros * should be returning from out of town soon, but I am about to leave town. So if he chooses to continue this thread, it will be his opportunity to argue about me without my having a chance to respond! Lord knows we’ve been doing it to him all week.

Eh. Honestly, I’m still trying to formulate the questions in my head.

If I assume that the word news carries with it an implicit assumption of truthfulness, then I have to conclude that everyone who uses the word to describe what they produce has an obligation to be truthful.

But that leaves open the current definition of the word, as well as what really constitutes truthfulness.