Media

The ethics of the media is not a new thing, and most modern countries have laws and conventions regulating the proper practice of this vital aspect of society. However, there is still a strong sense among many people that large parts of the media are failing to uphold ethical standards, even putting aside the more serious scandals and cases of blatant wrongdoing.

From a Jewish Social Values perspective, the media has no right to consider itself a 'special case' when it comes to the moral judgements that we all have to make. Gossip and tale-bearing are inappropriate (see entry on Gossip), and being communicated through the 'free press' makes it nomore legitimate. Publicising embarrassing and negative information about people is considered by Jewish teaching a serious breach of ethics, and doing so must be restricted to those necessary for public protection. The media's defence of 'public interest' would in many instances fail to meet the threshold, unless there was a clear case of preventing harm. Exposing hypocrisy in the media would only be justified if it were clear that failure to do would result in innocent people being taken advantage of. The regular tittle-tattle in the press could not be excused, especially as the damage it causes is real and great.

Media is nowadays heavily dependent on advertising. Granted that no media outlet can justify misleading the public when communicating the news, but why is it less concerned about the veracity of what it presents when marketing its sponsors' products! It is the media outlets' responsibility to determine what it publishes . Misleading advertising is fraud, and media outlets that allow this are complicit in dishonesty. Whereas Western law is largely based on the principle of 'buyer beware' (putting the onus on the purchaser) in Jewish teaching, it is also the responsibility of the seller not to mislead. In practice, this means that advertisers have an obligation to give a true portrayal of their wares (see entry on Advertising). Although society has created methods of protesting misleading marketing, in reality much of what is presented to the public is 'spun' and designed to exaggerate the value of the products being offered for sale. The media's part in perpetuating this is not small.

Modesty means showing a degree of discretion, whether in displaying our talents, our material possession or our bodies (see entry on Modesty). For the sake of garnering a greater share of the viewing or reading public and in order to improve ratings, media outlets are tempted to join a race to the bottom. Sensationalism and provocation become key tools in the trade of editors and producers. Jewish ethics regard all aspects of modesty as central to the good life and a moral society. While we can have a legitimate debate about where the boundaries of modesty should lie, it is clear that the media hold a huge responsibility for maintaining standards of societal decency. Media outlets should not be displaying behaviour that normal people would never display in real life. Media is not some unique universe where the norms of society are suspended. Quite the reverse, the media bears a unique responsibility to play a constructive role for which it was originally intended and for which it is rightfully respected.