A significant trend in media ethics is the attempt to construct an ethics for media that are global in reach and impact. A major initiative is the Global Media Ethics Project – a series of roundtable meetings with journalists and scholars in various locations around the world. In November 2011, scholars and journalists from gathered for the third roundtable of the project in Delhi, India for an intensive discussion of ethics in an ever-changing global media. Shakuntala Rao reports on the third ethics roundtable.
Most scholars, media professionals, and journalists agree that globalization has been responsible for major transformations in the structures of media production and reception. As media worlds get rearranged, it becomes necessary to focus on the ethical principles that underlie media practices and content around the world. The Global Media Ethics Project (GME) has been an ongoing effort to bring together and intellectually engage scholars, journalists, and students from various regions of the world and from varied theoretical perspectives. Core members of the GME project have been: Clifford C. Christians (University of Illinois, Urbana, USA), Shakuntala Rao (State University of New York, Plattsburgh, USA), Stephen J. A. Ward (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA), Herman Wasserman (Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa), and Lee Wilkins (University of Missouri, Columbia, USA).
History of the Roundtable
Roundtables convened thus far have aimed to stimulate professional and scholarly debates in media, globalization, and ethics. Discussions have focused around issues of social responsibility of media, truth and accuracy, universal ethics, ethics and globalization, economic, political, and cultural factors influencing media ethics, new media, and codes of ethics. The first Global Media Ethics Roundtable was held at Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa in 2007. Scholars from several countries in Africa, Canada, Europe, Asia, and USA participated in the Roundtable. The papers presented during the Roundtable were published by Routledge Publishers as an anthology titled, Media Ethics beyond Borders: A Global Perspective (edited by Stephen J. A. Ward & Herman Wasserman). The 2nd Global Media Ethic Roundtable, convened in Dubai during March 2010, was a collaborative effort between the Global Media Ethics Project and Zayed University and another initiative to give salience to local dimensions of global media ethics. This Roundtable, featuring 11 speakers from North America, South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, sought to shed light on the dynamics of evolving media ethics standards in a region about to experience large-scale communication driven revolutions. The scholarly papers presented during the Dubai Roundtable were published as a special issue titled, “Explorations in Global Media Ethics” in the journal, Journalism Studies (with guest editors as Muhammad Ayish & Shakuntala Rao).
Several members of the Global Media Ethics (GME) project met for the 3rd Roundtable at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), Delhi, India, in November 2011. IIMC is ranked as India’s best and most competitive school for journalism and communication and is considered to have a global reputation matching those of Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Management. The general theme of the Roundtable was: “Democracy, Justice, and Globalization of Media.”
Given the contemporary changes in the Indian media landscape – and India’s emergence as one of the largest media markets in the world – Delhi was an ideal place for the 3rd Global Media Ethics Roundtable. As the world’s largest democracy and an emerging economic, global, and military power, Indian media and journalism practices require critical scrutiny and analysis.
Professor Gita Bamezai, who heads the Department of Communication Research at IIMC said, “The meeting of media practitioners and academics at IIMC was an occasion to position ethics in a broader framework and bring diverse perspectives to argue for a rethink on ethics. The market trends [in India’s media] has weakened the raison d’etre of media to provide meaning and substance to socio-political life but things are looking up again since the ethics debate has started resonating clearly and surely.”
Herman Wasserman, one of the members of the GME project writes, “As a scholar of media in South Africa, the many similarities between the Indian and South African contexts invite comparisons between media ethics of these countries. India and South Africa share a colonial past, are both considered emerging regional economies but are characterized by huge internal inequalities and deep poverty. Indian and South African media are economically and technologically sophisticated and media in both countries are examples of flows and counterflows of global media, with global content being localized and local content being globalized.”
“At the same time,” Wasserman notes, “journalists in both these countries have to ask themselves how to respond ethically to the huge internal social inequalities and what social justice means in context of widespread poverty and continued marginalization of various sections of the citizenry. The media ethics roundtable in Delhi confirmed my beliefs that in order to better understand ethical responses required of journalists in South Africa, comparisons with other regions – like India – are important.”
Global Ethics in Practice and Theory
The two and a half days of the Roundtable began with a keynote speech by Bharat Bhushan, editor of one of the largest daily newspapers in India, Daily Mail (Mr. Bhushan has since left the newspaper). The scholarly presentations of the GME project members were mostly theoretical. The presentations: “Global Justice and Civil Society” (Clifford Christians),” Journalism Ethics, Justice and Globalization of Media” (Shakuntala Rao) and “An Ethics of Listening: Thoughts on the disjuncture between Media, Democracy and Citizenship” (Herman Wasserman).
Presentations from the Indian participants focused on social justice, marketing of news, gender and caste issues in media, and tabloidization of news content. Some of the presentations were: “Politics of Representing and Image Makeover through Feminization of Media: Making a Case for Removing Aberrations and Anomalies” (Gita Bamezai), “Social Justice and Media Ethics” (Sumedha Dhani), “News for Sale: Ethical Coverage and Democratic Public Sphere” (Vipul Mudgal), “Paid News: How Corruption in the Indian media Undermines Democracy” (Paranjoy Guha Thakurta), “Media Ethics in a Socio-Economic and Cultural Context” (Sevanti Ninan) and “Gandhian Values of Media Ethics in Contemporary Society” (K. M. Shrivastava).
Why are such roundtables and the search for global media ethics necessary for cotemporary times and the future?
“The Roundtable [in Delhi] was an opportunity to discuss and listen to valuable work done across different continents on media ethics,” asserts Bamezai, “The issue of ethics has assumed a very strategic position for both the media practitioners and governments since media has made inroads in areas which were earlier exclusively the domain of the executive and judiciary. Media, for example, played a singular role in changing the face of Middle East countries by shaking off the yoke of orthodox regimes. The perception of threat posed by the media, whatever we may label this new role, requires an impartial study of media practices, global trends, and transparency in governance.”
Stephen J. A. Ward, member of the GME project concludes wisely, “We need to construct a global media ethics because we live amid a media revolution that blurs geographical, cultural, and temporal boundaries. Urgent global issues and the power of global communication point to the need for a media ethics that is global in its principles. With global reach comes global responsibilities.”
Papers from the Delhi Roundtable are being anthologized as a book titled, “Ethics and Justice in the Age of Media Globalization” to be edited by Shakuntala Rao, Uday Sahay, and Herman Wasserman.
Shakuntala Rao is Professor of Communication and Journalism at State University of New York, Plattsburgh, New York, USA. She received her Ph.D. from University of Massachusetts-Amherst, M.A. in Communication Studies from Penn State University and B.A. (honors) in Philosophy from MirandaHouse, University of Delhi, India.
Shakuntala’s research and teaching interests are the areas of global media, postcolonial theory, media ethics, and popular culture