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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/2/17

Ethical Journalism and Press Freedom: The Buddhist Perspective

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The Shakyamuni Buddha
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Press freedom, despite its wider misuse through the nexus of power-addicts and money-mongers, is instrumental to applying democracy.

It is essential to develop a pro-press-freedom public opinion helpful for accelerating collective citizen development. It means that the individual empire-centered approach to applying democracy widens the space of public suffering, which can be coped with by means of the ethical practice of journalism. Since the ethical side of journalism implies enriching the quality of journalism, both in terms of public wellbeing-content and ethical presentation, it must never be misperceived as a hindrance to press freedom. Public wellbeing-content in journalism today has apparently been jeopardized due to excessive emphasis on glamor, prominence and superficiality. Most authentic information lies at the grassroots level. Neglecting this fact does not enrich our fundamental principle of press freedom.

The nature of journalism undoubtedly shows that it is an area of human exercise in which businesses can invest and hope to reap profits through good journalistic practices. While journalistic practices get worse or degraded, media promoters cannot benefit much. This is the reality which must not be evaded under any pretext.

A proper utilization of press freedom would be to let journalism go on as per its fundamental principle of doing good for the public as a whole, rather than benefiting the few and harming the majority. When the few always weaken press freedom in the name of press freedom itself by pursuing a line of profiting in an unhealthy manner at the cost of public interests, it would be the most unwise to expect democracy to function in a healthy manner.

There are a number of international legal and human rights instruments, for instance the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its subsequent human rights treaties, to guide the journalism sector abundantly, rather than just to lip-trumpet.

Practical Implications of the Noble Eightfold Path for Ethical Journalism:

When it comes to utilizing press freedom both for investors and long-term public wellbeing, it would be helpful to derive some important values from the Buddhist code of human communication. For this, the Noble Eightfold Path -- considered as the pivotal synopsis of all Buddhist teachings -- deserves our attention.

Chapter 22 of Digha Nikaya mentions the eight constituents under the Noble Eightfold Path: Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration. All of the eight components can be useful towards developing journalistic insight to utilizing press freedom most ethically and wisely.

Buddhist scholars commonly state that there are more than 80,000 discourses delivered by the Buddha during his active 45 years 2500 years ago. It seems it takes a whole life to go through all those scriptures documented in the Pali language or in translated versions. However, the Noble Eightfold Path, which is the short-cut crux of the Buddha's teachings, facilitates laypersons efforts to understand Buddhism in connection with improving their practical lives. The Noble Eightfold Path is equally relevant and useful for the ethical development of journalism on a global scale. Its eight constituents, scattered in different Buddhist treatises, are briefly interpreted in connection with utilizing press freedom human-centrically for the better.

1. The Right View: The Buddha refers to the Right View as the insight into the four natural truths of the existence of suffering, the origin of suffering, the possibility of ending suffering and the way to practically end suffering. After getting enlightened, he taught about these causes-and-effects Laws of the Nature with regard to people's liberation from suffering or dukkha. However, understanding the natural causes, effects and coping ways of suffering is equally relevant for everyday life. This is something applicable to human communication in general and journalism in particular.

The Right View can apply to journalism, especially in the context of seeking truthful information. In the process of pursuing quality journalism, journalists can remarkably enhance their professional capacity should they internalize and practice the following:

1. Symptoms (Suffering)

2. Diagnosis (Origin or Cause of Problem)

3. Prescription (Treatment or Methodology of Solving the Problem)

4. Procedures (the practical methods of solving the problem)

Journalists have to be research-minded from step one to last. They have to be very investigative in the process of gathering authentic information. Therefore, understanding the general climate of their profession and digging into ground realities is a great need on their side. Thus, the Right View aspect of Buddhist teachings is relevant for journalists. In essence, the Right View is about understanding the truth and getting psychologically prepared to act accurately.

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