By principle, journalism is public. By practice, journalism today has gone more corporate. This is the crux of the matter for us to meditate on the theme of press freedom. In Nepal, porters ( I am only comparing the figure) earn 10 times than journalists in general. Although there is a debate on whether journalism is a profession or a public service, there should be no doubt at all that even a full-time social worker must get a proper amount for living costs. A spirit of social work in journalism would be far better compared to that of a corporate house employee. As a corporate house employee, you will have to prove higher loyalty to the corporate mission of upsizing their profit, with a secondary thought to public interests. As a social worker, you will gain moral strength to prioritize public well-being that does not exclude media entrepreneurs in the very human sense.
What is press freedom?
Press freedom, philosophically, is a theoretical concept of representing the human right to freedom of expression and opinion. Practically, press freedom is a vital component of the democratic system.
The proper utilization of press freedom empowers people, not only with direct information dissemination but also with critical and analytical policy communication that lays pressures on state and non-state stakeholders in the country. But misuse of press freedom enslaves people, dullifies their mind and dehumanizes the political character of the nation.
Global campaign for press freedom mostly and most usually is focused on journalist safety, media’s right to collect and disseminate information and entertainment without hindrance from the state and non-state factors.
What do theories of mass communication, journalistic principles and ethics stand for? They all advocate for public interests. Mass media have a public duty. Private entrepreneurs expect to reap profits from the public good. Their profit goes down with the declining image of their media institution. Thus, maximizing the degree of public good that mass media do to people is the surest way to collecting better profit. But just the opposite is often perceived; as a result, misuse of press freedom becomes a problem.
Human beings do have biological instincts and subconsciously follow them. Had their mind been confined to those biological instincts, would they ever be able to function with an endless flow of creativity, imaginativeness and innovativeness? Had they lived just on instincts, would the human society be structured like this? Would there be the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its subsequent treaties, national constitutions and laws to guide their actions? Had they been limited to their biological instincts, would they have such check-and-balance systems? Nevertheless, since individual human beings and their formatting corporations have dared to think of limiting human beings to their biological instincts so that consumerism, hedonism and lustfulness would retain for long, contributing to their profit missions. This is where press freedom debate should focus, seeking noble values for a peaceful and happy world, without mass exterminations in the name of this and that.
Enriching Press Freedom through Noble Values
Indeed, wiser would be to connect the idea of press freedom with the universally acclaimed noble values, especially the ones strategized by the Buddha, who always acted as an empirical teacher and analyst on mind-matter relations and their repercussions in the human society. The Noble Eightfold Path is the most significant methodology synthesized from all of his teachings throughout his life. The eight steps in the Noble Eightfold Path defined by the Buddha include the Right View, the Right Intention, the Right Speech, the Right Action, the Right Livelihood, the Right Effort, the Right Mindfulness and the Right Concentration.
These eight steps, nonsequential, can be categorized into three major sections: Morality (Sila), Concentration (Samadhi) and Wisdom (Pragya). The section of Morality includes the Right Speech, the Right Action and the Right Livelihood. Similarly, the section of Concentration consists of the Right Effort, the Right Mindfulness and the Right Concentration, while the section of Pragya comprises the Right View and the Right Intention. All of these eight steps are inseparably inter-connected and should be considered integral components.
In line with the Buddha’s noble guidelines, media workers need to understand that each action has its corresponding consequences, i.e. output is equal to input. Therefore, media workers are required to respect the right to life and the principle of harmlessness; they must not take what is not meant for them. Avoiding indulgence in sensual pleasure is equally important for them because sensualism deviates them from their noble duty to serve people watchfully. Discarding false, harsh and slanderous speech or message is highly important for the quality and accuracy of their journalistic practices. Similarly, the Buddha emphasizes on avoiding idle chatter. The idle chatter in journalism practically concerns superficial, propagandistic and less informative communication. When journalists cannot overcome their covetousness, their vulnerability grows. Ill-will produces hate speech—a serious problem in the global communication marked by racism and hegemonism. Hate speech is instrumental in destroying peace and harmony in the human community.
Thus, the Buddha’s communication theory of the Right Speech is related to not only interpersonal communication but all kinds of communication, including mass communication and journalism. Abstaining from false speech, Abstaining from slanderous speech, Abstaining from harsh speech, Abstaining from idle chatter are the major principles of right communication.
Press freedom, a powerful battery to the engine of democracy, can be a process of ennobling the process of our journalism and communication. The better we are able to utilize it, the better our society becomes in overall terms. The worse we use it, the worse we get collectively. In other words, press freedom is related to our mental and moral cultures. If we regularly train ourselves in good mental and moral cultures, the degree of our wisdom grows better. If we train ourselves in negative mental and moral cultures, we fall down to a level where we love to cling to ignoble values. Therefore, ennobling press freedom is directly related to ennobling our own mental and moral cultures. This is what we must emphasize more than reacting insanely against the consequences that originate from ignoble mindset. For cause-and-effect analysis of press freedom, the Buddhist approach defined spiritually in the Noble Eightfold Path strategy would be the best help.
Bodhi, B. (2005). Retrieved April 7, 2013, from www.buddhanet.net: www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/noble8path6.pdf
Nepali, M. (2013). Retrieved May 1, 2016, from Groundreport: https://www.groundreport.com/dimensions-of-press-freedom-a-nepali-perspective/