A classic dilemma in ethics is whether it is acceptable to sacrifice the few to save the many. In today’s media landscape, it is often more about serving the interests of the few while ignoring those of the many.
In 2016 we have more or less unlimited access to information and news. Ironically though, this makes it harder than ever before to discern what is true and what isn’t. We are overloaded with information and give up.
For more than a hundred years we have had journalists and editors to do quality control of stories that enter the public sphere. They have checked facts and figures for us and presented us with their findings. Whenever they failed to do so, someone else usually found out and loudly lambasted them for their mistakes. This has created an unconscious belief that anything published in papers, radio or TV must be authentic. Even for stories that are not fact but opinion based, the belief has come to be that there’s no smoke without a fire.
These beliefs are now being tested. In a world that’s being taken over by social media, this element of quality control has suddenly been removed. Anybody can publish a story. Once it’s out there being posted and re-posted around the world; and suddenly nobody knows where it originated. If you repeat something enough times, people are bound to believe it. In other words – If it has gone viral, it must be true right?
Traditional media are struggling. Not many want to pay for something the can get for free online. So they end up with two choices. One, they can follow the tabloids and online media into sensationalism and misleading headlines. Two, they can stay true to the code and “seek the truth and report it”. The latter option is a lot more troublesome, it requires research, hard work and time; and the benefits might not be immediate or financial. That is why so many, even those branding themselves as serious media, is treading a slippery slope and focusing on content that can bring in immediate advertising revenue.
Sharpen the knife
In other words, it is getting increasingly harder, even for well-educated and well-read people to figure out what is up and down. When we are constantly bombarded with new information, there’s no time to critically assess and contemplate what we see and hear. Anything can become true if it is repeated enough times.
More than ever we need media that we can trust to tell us the truth; not to spin it in a way which only serves to make money. In other words we need someone to pick up the Knife of Aristotle and make sure it is still sharp and able to cut.
“The ultimate goal of the media would be it carrying out its function well. Media carrying out its function well is found in what it can achieve precisely through it having those traits which make it good”
This post was written as my contribution to an essay competition organised by The Knife of Aristotle.