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Media Ethics: Freedom of the Press

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Title: Media Ethics: Freedom of the Press


1
Media Ethics Freedom of the Press
  • T2 2009
  • Dan Turton

2
Dan Turton
  • Office MY715
  • Office Hour Thurs 210-300pm
  • Email dan.turton_at_vuw.ac.nz
  • Phone 04 463 5233 x 8651

3
Freedom of the Press 1
  • John Stuart Mill
  • Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion

4
The Harm Principle
  • Mills Very Simple Principle the only purpose
    for which power can be rightfully exercised over
    members of a civilized community, against their
    will, is to prevent harm to others. Mill, On
    Liberty

5
What is Harm?
  • Mill is not clear on this, but in general
  • An action is harmful if it involves a setback in
    some persons interests
  • E.g. Chopping of their leg
  • E.g. Stealing their laptop

6
Two Kinds of Freedoms
  • Freedom of action
  • - Hardly anyone believes that citizens should be
    allowed unrestricted freedom of action
  • Freedom of thought and expression
  • - But should we be restricted in what we can
    think or say?
  • - Mill thinks its more harmful to censor
    expression (even seemingly harmful ones!) because
    of the importance of truth
  • - It is the duty of governments, and of
    individuals, to form the truest opinions they can

7
How the Argument Works
8
The Orthodox Opinion
  • Mill The time, it is to be hoped, is gone by,
    when any defence would be necessary of the
    liberty of the press as one of the securities
    against corrupt government.
  • We cannot be democratically free without a free
    press because we need government-independent
    information to be able to properly evaluate the
    current government and make free
    voting/protesting/information-seeking decisions

9
Some Other Opinions
  • We need an impartial press to provide us facts
    (and only facts) about how we are governed in
    order to exercise our democratic rights
  • But, we cant because
  • There is a liberal bias in the media!
  • There is a conservative bias in the media!

10
Mills More Radical Opinion
  • Even a government acting entirely at the bequest
    of its people should not have the power to censor
    opinions
  • The power to limit expression is itself
    illegitimate. The best government has no more
    title to it than the worst.

11
Mills Defence of Unrestricted Freedom of
Expression
  • No one has the right to censor a dissenting
    opinion, no matter how small
  • If the opinion is right, they are deprived of
    the opportunity of exchanging error for truth
  • If wrong, they lose the clearer perception and
    livelier impression of truth, produced by its
    collision with error
  • We can never be sure that the opinion we are
    endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion and if
    we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still

12
Mills Basic Argument
  • Every dissenting opinion either could be true or
    could not be true.
  • If it could be true, then the dissenting opinion
    should not be censored.
  • If it couldnt be true, then the dissenting
    opinion should not be censored.
  • C. Therefore, no dissenting opinion should be
    censored.

13
(P2) If the dissenting opinion could be true,
then it should not be censored
  • Mill believes this is the most important premise
    in the argument, because he thinks every
    dissenting opinion might for all we know be true.
    Why does he think that? Answer because our
    beliefs are fallible.
  • To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they
    are sure it is false, is to assume that their
    certainty is the same thing as absolute
    certainty. All silencing of discussion is an
    assumption of infallibility
  • while everyone well knows himself to be
    fallible, few think it necessary to take
    precautions against their own fallibility, or
    admit the supposition that any opinion, of which
    they feel very certain, may be one of the
    examples of the error to which they acknowledge
    themselves to be liable

14
Overconfidence
  • In each of the following pairs, which city has
    more inhabitants
  • Las Vegas, Miami
  • Sydney, Melbourne
  • Bonn, Heidelberg
  • In each of the following pairs,
  • which historical event happened first
  • Signing of the Magna Carta, Birth of Mohammed
  • Death of Napoleon, Louisiana Purchase
  • Lincolns Assassination, Birth of Queen Victoria
  • After each answer, subjects were also asked
  • How confident are you that your answer is
    correct?
  • 50 60 70 80 90 100

15
(P2) If the dissenting opinion could be true,
then it should not be censored
  • If we silence an opinion, for all we know, we are
    silencing truth.
  • When we make mistakes and errors in judgement,
    the only way we can remedy the mistake is by
    hearing and considering alternative hypotheses.
  • Our beliefs are justified and rational to the
    extent that they are supported by the total
    available evidence.

16
(P3) If the dissenting opinion couldnt be true,
then it should not be censored
  • True opinions tend to become prejudices unless
    forced to be defended.
  • Unless true opinions are contested from time to
    time, they lose their vitality. 
  • True opinions can become mere meaningless
    utterances unless they are contrasted to
    alternatives.
  • True opinions arent always wholly true.
    Dissenting opinions can help us get at the whole
    truth.

17
A Problem for Mill? When Publishing Opinions
Clearly Causes Harm
  • 1994 Rwandan genocide (800,000 casualties)
    partially incited and directed by the newspaper
    Kangura and radio station Mille Collines

18
Summary of Mill
  • Any opinion could be true
  • We shouldnt censor any opinion because any
    opinion could help lead to the truth
  • Even if theyre false (which we cant be sure
    of), they can still help us appreciate the truth
  • So, freedom of expression should be upheld
  • That includes freedom of the press

19
Freedom of the Press 2
  • Joel Feinberg
  • Offensive Nuisances Limits to the Free
    Expression of Opinion

20
The Harm Principle
  • Mills Very Simple Principle the only purpose
    for which power can be rightfully exercised over
    members of a civilized community, against their
    will, is to prevent harm to others. Mill, On
    Liberty

21
Mills View
22
Mills Basic Argument
  • Every dissenting opinion either could be true or
    could not be true.
  • If it could be true, then the dissenting opinion
    should not be censored.
  • If it couldnt be true, then the dissenting
    opinion should not be censored.
  • C. Therefore, no dissenting opinion should be
    censored.

23
The Orthodox Liberal View
24
The Orthodox Liberal View
  • Some Limitations on Free Expression
  • Defamation
  • Newsflash Dan Turton secretly hates philosophy
  • Causing Panic
  • Imagine the room is more crowded
  • Invasion of Privacy!
  • Your beachfront frolicking front-page news?
  • Incitement to Crime
  • 1994 Rwandan genocide

25
What is Harm?
  • Mill is not clear on this, but in general
  • An action is harmful if it involves a setback in
    some persons interests
  • E.g. Chopping of their leg
  • E.g. Stealing their laptop

26
The Harm Principle A Recent Test Case
  • The modern, secular society is rejected by some
    Muslims. They demand a special position,
    insisting on special consideration of their own
    religious feelings. It is incompatible with
    contemporary democracy and freedom of speech,
    where you must be ready to put up with insults,
    mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always
    attractive and nice to look at, and it does not
    mean that religious feelings should be made fun
    of at any price, but that is of minor importance
    in the present context ... we are on our way to a
    slippery slope where no-one can tell how the
    self-censorship will end. That is why
    Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members
    of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw
    Muhammad as they see him. Flemming Rose,
    Jyllands-Posten, September 30, 2005 (emphasis
    added)

27
The Harm Principle A Recent Test Case
  • In our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober.
    They were not intended to be offensive, nor were
    they at variance with Danish law, but they have
    indisputably offended many Muslims for which we
    apologize. Open Letter, Jyllands-Posten, 30
    January 2006

28
Feinbergs Offense Principle
  • It is always a good reason in support of a
    proposed criminal prohibition that it would
    probably be an effective way of preventing
    wrongful offense (as opposed to injury or harm)
    to persons other than the actor.
  • An action is wrongfully offensive if it willfully
    or recklessly causes unpleasant experiences (but
    not harm) in others without a good reason for
    doing so
  • Unpleasant experiences such as anger, disgust,
    shock, shame, embarrassment, annoyance, fear,
    humiliation, and affronts to ones senses and
    sensibilities

29
Wrongful Offense or Offense?
  • When you feel queasy because you happen to see an
    accident victim while at the hospital, then the
    victim has not wronged you your offense was not
    caused wrongfully
  • When a colleague sends you a surprise picture of
    an accident victim via email and it makes you
    queasy, then they have wrongfully caused you
    offense

30
Dealing with Offense
  • Wrongful offense should be dealt with by law, but
    not criminal law if civil law or regional
    legislation can better deal with it (because
    offense is not as serious a problem as harm)
  • E.g. cease and desist orders with threats of
    fines
  • Extreme or prolonged wrongfully offensive will
    probably be harmful
  • At the point it becomes harmful, then the harm
    principle should deal with it

31
Balancing Freedom Offense
  • Curtailing someones freedom requires a good
    reason
  • Causing offense by itself is not necessarily a
    good enough reason
  • The damage to the offender that prosecution would
    cause needs to be outweighed by the damage to
    other members of society through their unpleasant
    feelings caused by the offense
  • Other considerations should also be considered
  • Including the accessibility of alternate options
    open to the offender, the motives of the
    offender, and the location of the offending

32
How Offensive is too Offensive?
  • Are there any experiences that, while harmless,
    are so unpleasant that we can rightly demand
    legal protection from them at the cost of other
    persons liberties?
  • Taxi drivers are on strike. You are on a crowded
    bus for 30mins to the airport. If you get off you
    will miss your connecting flight to your dream
    holiday

33
A RIDE ON THE BUS Affronts to the Senses
  • Story 1. A passenger who obviously hasnt bathed
    in more than a month sits down next to you. He
    reeks of a barely tolerable stench. There is
    hardly room to stand elsewhere on the bus and all
    other seats are occupied.

34
Feinberg is Offended!
  • Feinberg offenses in any of these six categories
    could be extreme enough to warrant prosecution
  • Therefore, some non-harmful actions/expressions
    do cause sufficient offense for the state to have
    reason to restrict their use even though that
    impinges on the liberties of people
  • I.e. we need the Offense Principle as well as
    Mills Harm Principle to properly restrict
    freedom of action/expression

35
Limits to the Free Expression of Opinion
  • The Harm and Offense Principles should limit
    freedom of expression in the following cases
  • Defamation and Malicious Truth
  • Invasions of privacy
  • Causing panic
  • Provoking retaliatory violence
  • Incitement to crime or insurrection
  • But not in cases of sedition (where it is not
    going to lead to the exceptions above)

36
Creating Feinbergs View
37
The Press Privacy
  • The press can publish anything of legitimate
    public interest (based on harm principle and
    above restrictions) even if it invades someones
    privacy
  • The persons right to privacy is balanced against
    the publics right to know
  • People who have put themselves in the public eye
    have legally forfeited much of their privacy
  • Reluctant public characters
  • can become news and lose
  • much of their right to
  • privacy involuntarily!

38
Willie Apiata VC
  • Reluctant hero, Willie Apiata VC, became public
    property (to some extent) whether he liked it or
    not
  • He became news, the public became interested, and
    journalists tracked him down because the public
    have a right to know about legitimate matters
    of public interest
  • Still it is a balancing act
  • And, photographs and descriptions with no
    plausible appeal except to the morbid and
    sensational can have very little weight in the
    scales

39
  • So, balancing his privacy and the publics right
    to know probably means that photos of him at the
    beach should not be published but his heroic
    actions should be even if he doesnt want them
    to
  • But his recent book means that he has given up
    his right to privacy at the beach

40
Summary of Feinberg on the Freedom of the Press
  • Actions and expressions should be restricted by
    the harm principle and the offense principle
  • The press should be allowed to publish anything
    of legitimate public interest that does not cause
    a greater balance of harm or offense
  • It should be very rare for a published opinion to
    be restricted (or punished) because of the large
    furthering of public interests from publishing
    compared to the small harm or offense caused a to
    much smaller group

41
Freedom of the Press 3
  • Phillip Montague
  • Government, the Press, and the Peoples Right to
    Know

42
Mills View
43
The Orthodox Liberal View
44
Creating Feinbergs View
45
Montagues Main Points
  • Montagues Negative Claim
  • The moral justification for a free press is not
    to be founded on a general freedom of expression.
  • Montagues Positive Claim His view
  • The moral justification for a free press is to be
    founded on a right to know.

46
Montagues Negative Claim
  • The moral justification for a free press is not
    to be founded on a general freedom of expression
  • It could be the case that freedom of expression
    was limited in some way for ordinary citizens,
    but not for the press or some other special group
    (academics)
  • The moral justification for a free press should
    be based on the role that we expect the press to
    play in our society

47
Montagues View
48
General Claim Rights
  • General rights are rights held against the world
    at large
  • Claim rights create corresponding obligations
    from others
  • E.g. the right to education creates the
    obligation to provide education
  • General claim rights create obligations on
    everyone else to do or not do certain things

49
General Claim Right to Property
  • Everyone else has the obligation not to interfere
    with your property or make decisions about it
    (even if they dont affect you)
  • E.g. The lazy Neighbour

50
General Claim Right to Privacy
  • Everyone else has the obligation not to interfere
    with your privacy or make decisions about it
    (even if they dont affect you)
  • E.g. The pervy Neighbour

51
Active vs. Passive Rights
  • An active right to something is the right to try
    to obtain that thing for yourself
  • A passive right to something is the right to have
    that thing provided for you
  • E.g. kids in NZ have a passive right to education

52
The Right to Know
  • Needs an area of discretion
  • Cant have a passive or active right to know
    everything!
  • So, people have a right to be provided with
    information relevant to making certain decisions
    about their well-being

53
Justification for a Free Press
  • The freedom of the press to print opinions about
    relevant matters is mainly justified by the idea
    that a free press is likely to encourage
    government disclosure of relevant information
  • Relevant info is any info that helps citizens to
    determine the course of their own lives, pursue
    their own well-being
  • E.g. political info Does John Key really
    believe in climate change?
  • E.g. health info Are cigarettes really good for
    me?

54
An Objection to Montague
  • If Montagues justification were the only one
    available, then justified legal rights to freedom
    of the press would be too limited in scope. It
    would extend only to the publication of material
    about the workings of Government.

Montagues Response
These foundations can justify a broader freedom
of the press on grounds like the following
55
Montagues Response Cont.
  • People can have rights to information that is
    non-political in nature but which government
    officials might be disinclined to divulge.
  • E.g. Effects of education legislation on student
    well-being
  • There might be information possessed by public
    officials with which citizens have rights to be
    provided, and which the officials are quite
    willing to divulge, but which the press is better
    able to disseminate.
  • E.g. Tsunami warnings
  • There are grey areas where whether people have
    rights to be provided with information is
    extremely difficult to discern with any
    confidence, and in which the press might
    justifiably be given the benefit of the doubt.
  • E.g. Clintons sex life?

56
Summary of Montague
  • We have a passive and active
  • general claim right to know
  • (seek and be given) information that
  • is important for determining the course
  • of our lives
  • Political information is important for this
  • A free press makes it much more likely that we
    can obtain this information
  • Therefore, our right to know (about certain
    things) justifies a free press

57
Presuppositions Common to all Models
  • When the press is totally free, the public is
    more likely to obtain true info about any domain
  • The public has a right to know at least some
    things
  • Mill the public always has a right to true info
  • Orthodox Liberals the public has a right to true
    information (except when that causes greater
    harm)
  • Feinberg the public has a right to true
    information (except when that causes greater harm
    or extreme wrongful offense)
  • Montague the public has a right to true
    information (but only if it helps us determine
    the course of our own lives)

58
Chomskys Challenge
  • A free press still seems to fail to provide us
    with the whole truth
  • The five filters on truth
  • Size, ownership, and profit orientation,
  • Advertising,
  • Sourcing,
  • Flak,
  • Anti-communism (and its ideological
    counterparts).
  • Watch Manufacturing Consent for free
  • http//video.google.com/videoplay?docid-563188239
    5226827730
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