The Great Divide: The Media – Its Role and Responsibilities

Journalists in the United States get the right to say pretty much anything they want. Unlike journalists of other countries, they have very little that holds them responsible. The federal government is prohibited from interfering because of the first amendment. However, they take this right as a given with little thought of where it comes from. The reporter thinks they are entitled to this liberty as though there is some higher calling in being a journalist. What the journalist and everyone else tends to forget is that their right to a “Free Press” comes from their U.S. citizenship. It is not an inalienable right. Yet they behave as though their responsibility to there profession is more important than their responsibility to their fellow citizen. The news media’s responsibility is exclusively to the citizen.

The media is always selling this idea of the journalistic ethic. Where is this mythical ethic being practiced? Editors and editorial boards routinely omit stories or place the ones they wish to deemphasize in positions likely to not be read. However, when they want something it is always in the name of the publics right to know. Reporters will comment on information to control the context of how the information is perceived. They cannot just state the facts. Often times the language used is designed to get an emotional reaction over an analytical one. After all, outrage always sells. Ninety percent of these ethical journalists vote along a single political party line. Yet, they would have us believe that their personal perspectives have no impact on the quality of their work. Much of the division we have in this country falls squarely on the shoulders of the news media. They abuse their privilege and only tell us what they think we should hear. They are the first and frontline contributors to our social discontent.

The founding fathers went out of the way to include freedom of the press in The Bill of Rights while denying the federal government the power to regulate the press. However, there was the expectation that the media would be the loyal opposition. Not to a party, philosophy, religion, or institution but to be the opposition equally to all sides of our public discourse. The ethic is to accurately report the news without bias and ask the tough questions equally. Allow for a dialog so that the citizen can decide. When the press becomes the news, takes sides, displays favoritism, manipulates facts, they are not living up to their supposed ethic. They are committing the worst of crimes envisioned by the founding fathers in a democratic republic. The violation of the public trust.

For those who believe that corporations are inherently corrupt or evil, consider the news agency. They make money by selling media and advertising. The more circulation, the more viewership, the more money. Commerce by any definition. However, where almost all other forms of commerce are regulated, the press is exempted. They can put any kind of poison into the public consciousness without consequence. As a consumer, if one does not like a company, or the product of a company, one can purchase from another or not purchase at all. The media however is different. It is like air or a government law. We consume the product without consent. We are effected by the information from sources we do not choose. This happens all the time. Walking past a turned on TV or a radio news report at the top of the hour. It is all there and we are consuming the data. If the information is biased, true or false, liked or disliked, we still consume it. Not much liberty on the consumer side is there.

Unlike any time in history, our technology provides us with a great many advantages, but we do not often recognized the disadvantages. The 24 hour news cycle has changed news. It has had the effect of making mountains out of molehills by what is reported and molehills out of mountains by what is not reported. The immediacy of the communications creates the perception that an event is happening right down the street. Little stories that have huge potential for effecting the future get bypassed or ignored for the sensational, the violent, the horrific. It colors our perspective of our world. We like young teenagers entering puberty are thrown from one emotional reaction to another. Everything is an issue. We can barely get a grasp on the core problem of one issue before we are off on another issue with the next news story. This is all done in the name of some false sense of morality or public service but always better ratings.

It is time for the media to move into a new set of standards that reflects the change in technology and gives the consumer more choice and control. The days of not having enough space in the paper and time on radio and TV are gone. The need for editorial decisions on what is front page and back page information need not exist. Everything that can be covered and should be covered without bias. News should be presented by three contextual categories. The facts, the point of view (POV) of the participants involved, and commentary by pundits who want to color the event or mold the issue. There should be ethics and rules around each category to insure fairness and accuracy. The reports should be labeled with these categories. No more mixing of the categories together confusing opinions and politics with facts. Let the consumer decide what they want to hear and how they want to hear it.

Journalists like to cloak themselves in airs that what they do is a calling similar to being a priest. They throw their moral tones on right and wrong around like manhole covers informing each of us how to feel and think about what they report. The practitioners of this profession should be held in far less esteem than they currently are. They are simply not as smart or ethical as they make themselves out to be. The media does not own the corner on morality. We as consumers of news should become far more discriminating. Believe less, question more. Regulating the news: having politicians and bureaucrats control information flow would be even worse than what we have now, but their needs to be change. We cannot have an honest debate over our differences as long as news providers operate outside any ethic and cannot even report the facts.

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