Free press in fragile situations19 Jan 2010
In a retrospective piece in the SMH concerning a new publication out of the University of Melbourne dealing with how media workers responded to and processed last year’s Black Saturday fires, Mallesons IP partner Natalie Hickey writes (among other things) that “It is worth reflecting that a healthy democracy does not need free speech at all costs. Words can wound and information can cause pain.”
What a realisation!
So often in our tabloid, syndicated-to-the-hilt, visually oriented, and, of course, commercially driven media the objective of “the public’s right to know” is utilised as an overriding justification for publication of content that, simply, is unnecessary for the public and unhelpful for those it concerns.
In the Bible, a king called David writes, “You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.” Words can wound, and information can cause pain – and so often our media will “love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right.” (Also David, Psalm 52) The defense that it rates well is inadequate, yet it is enthralling to discover a genuine discussion of journalistic ethics that reflects biblical truth about speech.
God teaches that Christian people are to speak the truth in love, and that, whatever other abilities we may have been given by Him, if we don’t exercise those with love, we have nothing. Oh, that our press would operate on this basis — to do so would serve the “public interest” well!