Ethics Blog: Week 2

In 1947, Robert M. Hutchins’ Commission on the Freedom of the Press released their report on the freedom of the press and the threat that freedom was facing — namely, “ownership concentration, rising costs, and the media’s preoccupation with sensational news” (Shedden, 2015).

Sound familiar?

After reading some of the Commission’s report, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the influence of mass media on today’s society:

The Commission is aware that the agencies of mass communication are only one of the influences forming American culture and American public opinion. They are, taken together, however, probably the most powerful single influence today. (The Commission on the Freedom of the Press, 1947).

The Commission found that while the independence and freedom of the press was under attack, the responsibility to act, well, responsibly, still rested on the media. They would have to become ultra-conscious of their practices in the days to come to ensure their credibility with and influence on the American public.

It would seem that nearly 70 years later, the American media have found themselves in a similar predicament. Twitter, and its instantaneous power to share news globally, has diminished the need for accuracy in place of timeliness. (In fact, Poynter found that “incorrect information travels farther [and] faster on Twitter than corrections” (Silverman, 2012).) 24-hour cable news networks (and Facebook) have given politicians celebrity status and worked tirelessly to ensure the confirmation bias of their viewers and readers brings ultimate loyalty.

Fair and accurate reporting doesn’t bring the same ratings as Fox News yelling at experts, so straightforward recaps are tossed to the side in favor of screaming pundits with tweets scrolling across the bottom of the screen. And, in the process, the American people are less informed than ever.

A second commission is definitely needed; where the planning would get tricky is in the inclusion of social media networks. Do these billion-dollar companies share the role of the press in seeking the truth and reporting it? Should they take some responsibility for inaccurate information spread through their networks or websites?

These questions are tough to answer, but would be a necessary step in ensuring the American people are responsibly informed by the media that are supposed to be serving them.

Sources:

A free and responsible press: A general report on mass communication: Newspapers, radio, motion pictures, magazines, and books. (1947). Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/freeandresponsib029216mbp

Harvey, C. (2016, January 4). Here’s how scientific misinformation, such as climate doubt, spreads through social media. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/01/04/heres-how-scientific-misinformation-such-as-climate-doubt-spreads-through-social-media/

Shedden, D. (2015, March 27). Today in Media History: In 1947, the press reported on the Hutchins Commission report. Retrieved from http://www.poynter.org/2015/today-in-media-history-in-1947-the-press-reported-on-the-hutchins-commission-report/329913/

Silverman, C. (2012, March 07). Visualized: Incorrect information travels farther, faster on Twitter than corrections. Retrieved from http://www.poynter.org/2012/visualized-incorrect-information-travels-farther-faster-on-twitter-than-corrections/165654/