Tuesday, August 08, 2006

freedom of expression?

What is freedom of expression?

Let's just engage in a theoretical discussion about what that would mean. 'Free' is a term to be used in a manner that you have to be 'free' of 'something'. It is not an attribute or state in and of itself like one says an apple is 'red'.

An apple could be 'red' but expression needs to be 'free' of 'something'

Some of you may see what this is leading to - even if we can be 'free' in our expression from government, as we have so far discussed - we are still not 'free' of many other factors - like money (money being more or less equated with power in modern society - airtime and services of media professionals aint cheap) and agendas (as Alexis pointed out). Newspaper reporters and news selection criteria themselves suffer from biases - as we already know.

Sidetrack - As journalists we ourselves have to grapple with these all the time as we select and present information. To be fair we ought to have disclaimers (eg for ST: You guys know who our shareholders are, so take what we say with a pinch of salt) but more often than not, sometimes mainstream press tends to pretend, and the rest of the population just believes, that they're presenting the objective viewpoint from nowhere and in a totally neutral manner.

So its hard to see how expression could be free of everything.

Even if - for argument's sake - all these market distortions were removed and all information and possible viewpoints were presented to the public equally, apart from suffering a bad dose of information overload, could the public freely judge for itself and sift through all this information? (Let's not talk about the standards against which people make these judgements for now - that's a matter of personal worldviews, values and personal ethics)

First of all, the members of the public would not be able to judge freely because they would still not be free of ignorance.

For instance, is it worthwhile for a layman to be exposed to the different medical positions on how HIV is transmitted? It would at best cause confusion, or worse, result in the adoption of activities that may increase the possibility of infection as empirical scientific medical research may have statistically proven. This is why journalists seek expert opinions on matters requiring in-depth knowledge and understanding and present the most reliable information.

Secondly, the public would still not be free of their own personal biases and social conditioning.
People will always have prejudices and stereotypes about anything deemed alien or unknown to them. Someone who hasn't studied much of Middle Eastern history, politics and sociology probably isn't going to be able to make a good decision on whether to send soldiers there and if so on which side.

And as history has shown, many people, even journalists ourselves, are guilty of being presumptious, jumping to conclusions, following the herd mentality and just not being critical enough about the things we see and yet pretending we already know all that there is to know.

So, people too can't freely discern for themselves what's true or not...

I'm sorry if this sounds very long-winded and sidetracked... but my point is that unless we define 'freedom' to be 'freedom from government' only... we risk deluding ourselves that we can be free from everything and hence espouse that mythical 'view from nowhere'....(objectivity?)

Of course, if you think the more viewpoints espoused means we get closer to the truth then every view from everywhere (omniscience) would be required.

(article till this point reproduced from CS401 media ethics discussion on freedom of expression)
God is the ultimate journalist. That's why He's able to pass judgement!


My 2cents - hope you enjoyed it.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, act i wld see it as a media culture thing. Say in Spore, the media culture is such that its so govt controlled and self censorship is so heavily practiced, whatever we are exposed to in the media eg news, we wld naturally tk it as 'e truth'.

But for other countires with higher leverage of 'freedom', the ppl have higher discernment of truth- as in they are better able to judge and decide if that's what they wld consider e truth. Even in e midst of illiteracy, e culture enables them to have better judgement.

heh, my 2 cents. :p


acuransx said...

yup i so agree with that! -

like the way how some ppl take by faith as truth whatever is reported in local mainstream press while others who have other sources of information or know the weaknesses of our local press would treat it with some dose of skepticism.

I mean, local press has not reached the stage of outright lying (which you get elsewhere) but just information filtering and PPC-style presentation/manipulation and headline twisting (refer previous entry on ST? why do you speaketh in parables?)

So in the end, its not about being free of everything so that we may discern truth(not humanly possible) - but to be discerning and critical about everything that is presented to us as truth... knowing the circumstances and originator of the information.... and so on