Media Ethics Essay

Submitted By ahonsbe
Words: 2430
Pages: 10

In this paper I will assert that media covering violent political events have a moral obligation to cover all angles and promote peaceful resolutions to conflict. I will begin by providing a brief exegesis of Virginia Held’s work1 in order to evoke key thematic issues which pertain to my essay. Next, I will focus more explicitly on Held’s claim that media outlets have a duty to promote non-violent resolutions to conflict through the utilization of Peace Journalism.2 I will then present two arguments which oppose the basis of my thesis. In response, I will contend that Held has grounds to suggest that the media has a responsibility to support peaceful conflict resolution, and that much of the violence in today’s media stems from its “commercialized culture.” (pg.195)
According to Held, violence is: “the predictable, coercive, and usually sudden infliction upon or damage harming persons.” (pg.187) Held stresses that the idea of violence should be evaluated in a descriptive manner as opposed to normatively. (pg.187) This is due to the fact that:
“there can be.. justifiable uses of violence, in self defense and in the enforcement of justifiable laws, and we should be able to discuss the justifiability of various forms of violence, rather than supposing that once we have identified something as violence we have settled the normative questions.” (pg.187)

In Held’s opinion, political dissidents should strive to achieve change through peaceful means rather than participating in violent acts. (pg.188) However, she suggests that a violent act such as terrorism may be justified “if it is the only effective way to bring about respect for such rights as to personal safety.” (pg.188) Held emphasizes that although she does not encourage terrorism, under extreme circumstance it can be more justifiable than an environment in which social rights are perpetually violated. (pg.188) Held indicates that individuals who partake in violent political activism, such as the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, act in a manner which corresponds to their views of what is politically just and unjust, and “their beliefs about these matters [are] formed in contexts of cultural influences.” (pg.189) Held argues that although some members of society are predisposed to acting violently due to their psyche, in the media “words said and unsaid, and images and ideas present or absent, need to be considered as possibly strong influences on the commission of political violence.” (pg.190) Thus, Held suggests that media outlets are, in part, responsible for the growing levels of violence in today’s society.
Held argues that semantics also play an integral role in impacting the ways in which the public interprets content broadcast in the media. (pg.192) In this sense, semantics refers to the distinction between the meanings of different words or symbols.3 She suggests that when media labels an individual who commits an act of violence as a “terrorist” it is generally perceived more negatively than labeling them a “freedom fighter”. (pg192) An example to consider is President Reagan’s politically motivated depiction of Nicaragua’s Contras as freedom fighters, while labeling Palestinian rebels as terrorists. (pg.192) Held indicates that the subjective description of events broadcasted in the media has the ability to bias viewers’ interpretation of content.
Next, Held alludes to the “contagion effect”, which is the presumption that the media should “resist covering acts of political violence to avoid setting off imitators.” (pg.192) She believes that political violence should not be shrouded from the public eye, though the media has an obligation to report on more peaceful approaches in which disaffected persons may exercise their political rights. (pg.193) Furthermore, Held suggests that the media should be utilized as a forum in which there is “[engagement] in meaningful discussion of what positions are politically right and wrong.” (pg.193) This would necessitate