RESPONSIBILITY IN JOURNALISM

by Archbishop Stylianos of Australia

 

Cut off from the world for twenty whole hours within an Olympic Airways jumbo en route from Athens to Australia, I read what are commonly acknowledged as being the most respectable Greek newspapers and magazines with undivided attention. As I observed the articles of contributors and letters of readers that expressed ideas and viewpoints which were not only strange but also almost crazy, I felt that I was drowning in "misinformation" (as we have come to describe professional slander and deceit!).

Concerning the Press of the Greek community in Australia, there is no need to comment here because we often have the opportunity to evaluate or deal with it within the course of our daily responsibilities. This is done by either congratulating it or by criticising it to the point of employing sobering measures. Therefore, I thought to write a few general comments about responsibility in journalism and to state some unpleasant facts by way of axiomatic observations, so that maybe those who are "responsible" can take notice of things that should be self-evident.

 

First observation

We have blindly translated the English term "mass media" into the Greek language. It would of course have been more correct to say "general media" because the term "masses" does not adequately describe or honour the group of people which the Greeks always called "demos" or "society" This is also why the relevant terms in Greek were always "demo-siologist" and "demo-siographos" (journalist).

By informing an entire group of people in one particular region through the same medium, one is not justified in thinking that they are an undifferentiated "mass" no matter how much one would try to "place upon them" one's own way of thinking and evaluating (since it is well known that it is not possible to present and transmit straight news without commentary).

 

Second observation

With the law concerning "freedom of expression", and especially because of its excessive and illicit abuse, we have the false sense that we are protecting the very foundations of democracy. Yet in reality we establish and maintain the most shameful totalitarianism of the individual and of the professional staff who rely on him or her. The late C. Tsatsos was correct when he wrote, "There are obvious dictatorships of the sword and erroneous dictatorships of the pen". In this case, there is basic confusion as far as it leads to the exact opposite of that which is being sought. We say that we seek freedom of expression in order to protect the free "expression" of personal viewpoints (which is a sacred and inviolable right of each person, even of the mad person). However, in reality we are protecting the uncontrolled spreading of one person's opinion on a mass scale, and in a powerful and unbeatable manner, at the expense of the unprotected citizen who has no journalistic tool. Thus, instead of "enlightenment" and "information", we have a systematic darkening of the truth and a "reorientation" which inevitably leads to "aggravation". Yet, if this basic confusion between "expression" and "transmission" could be perceived, then others would naturally see the "crime" committed by those who misinform. This clearly pertains to unprovoked slander, because the injustice of "slander" is not restricted only to the individual who concocts "false news", but also to the person who "transmits" this in any way.

 

Third observation

Whoever gave the individual who writes and publishes an article the right to believe that he or she is "authorised" by public opinion to "enlighten" it, and even to "express" it and "represent" it? In spite of this, it is usually the case that editorials, whether the writer is known or not, always dare to claim that they express public opinion or at least their readers' opinion. This of course is not the case, no matter what the number of readers or listeners may be (the so-called "tirag"). For it is clear that reading something does not mean that one approves of it.

 

Fourth observation

"Pluralism" as far as viewpoints are concerned simply means that there exists the right and legal means for both sides to be heard ("audiadur et altera pars" is a weft-known axiom). However this in no way implies that the field of media is "up for grabs" and that anyone can enter and say whatever one feels like, without any hesitation and without elementary censorship of the words and of the spirit of these words. Isn't the levelling of all viewpoints, having first been affirmed or at least pardoned — even those that strongly refute the "law of contradictions" — the most dangerous form of laicism and moral indifference? Where, then, and by what means are we to draw the dividing fine between the permissible variety of interpretation of certain given data on the one hand, and the irresponsible harbouring of illusions by inexperienced or malevolent persons on the other?

Consequently, it would not be inappropriate to conclude these general observations about modern journalism with a characteristic comment that was made to me several years ago by a fine author and journalist in Greece. He described the lack of feeling and cynicism with which most people within the profession are trained by revealing to me that the first ride and the simplest advice given to them is: "In the beginning you learn how to write in order to be paid. Afterwards you will learn how to get paid in order not to write".

Any other comment would be superfluous.

from Voice of Orthodoxy, vol 14/8, September 1993
official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archbiocese of Australia

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