Mindful journalism: towards a new ethics of compassion

Mindful journalism: towards a new ethics of compassion (Image © 2013 Fo Guang Shan of Toronto) Mark Pearson, Griffith University [email protected]ffith.edu.au Twi=er: @journlaw JEANZ conference, Christchurch, 2014 Background and context •  I am a media law scholar, not a theologian, and idenNfy as a ‘secular Buddhist’ i.e., principles without belief •  My interest stems from research work on media law and regulaNon, vulnerability of sources, and ‘reflecNve pracNce’ in journalism What Mindful Journalism is not … •  An a=empt to ‘convert’ you to Buddhism •  An a=empt to impose yet another code of pracNce on journalists •  A bid for the new approach to theory and ethics. (It is complementary to deliberaNve/public/peace/civic/ciNzen/
inclusive journalisms) What Mindful Journalism is … •  A lens (or even theory) offering a set of tools for the analysis of journalism •  A moral framework to underpin ethical decision-­‐making in journalism •  A possible tool of resilience for journalists (work in progress) Core principles are explained in … •  My short blog on the topic at journlaw.com •  My Ethical Space arNcle (December 2014) •  Our forthcoming book (Routledge, NY, 2015) Core ques?ons we are facing … •  Can we keep doing journalism? •  Why should we do journalism? •  How should we do journalism? Mindful Journalism is most useful for the laCer two of these … Theory and prac?ce… • 
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CommunicaNon theories of the press and Libertarian and Social Responsibility systems anchored in Western philosophy and Judeo-­‐
ChrisNan religion. Western libertarian model needs revisiNng with large scale migraNon, erosion of mainstream media and Web 2.0 Leveson and Finkelstein inquiries criNcised gulf between public moral standards and media ethics – the lack of a ‘moral compass’ Why a Buddhist approach? •  All religions offer a moral compass •  Dalai Lama has proposed its secular adopNon in Beyond Religion – Ethics for a Whole World (2011) •  Western embrace of ‘mindfulness’ •  RelaNve brevity, non-­‐theisNc, and lends itself to a behavioural / secular reading Gunaratne (2005): ‘The Buddhist dharma meant the doctrine based on the Four Noble Truths: That suffering exists; that the cause of suffering is thirst, craving, or desire; that a path exists to end suffering; that the Noble Eighhold Path is the path to end suffering. Described as the “middle way,” it specifies the commitment to sila (right speech, acNon and livelihood), samadhi (right effort, mindfulness, and concentraNon), and panna (right understanding and thoughts)’ News and change •  The basic noNon that dukkha – suffering / change / angst – is inevitable and that it is caused by craving / desire can inform our very definiNon of news and our news judgments •  If change is inevitable, then can a journalism of compassion be aimed at easing that suffering rather than simply idenPfying it or exacerbaPng it? (Image © 2013 Fo Guang Shan of Toronto) Relevance? •  Each step -­‐ understanding free of supersNNon and prejudice, kindly and truthful speech, right conduct, doing no harm, perseverance, mindfulness and contemplaNon – has an applicaNon to the modern-­‐day pracNce of truth-­‐
seeking and truth-­‐telling … by journalists, ciPzen journalists or bloggers 1. Right views •  Pain and suffering (dukkha) are part of the cycle of constant change, a fundamental definiNon of ‘news’ •  ‘Right views’ can incorporate a contract between the news media and audiences that accepts a level of change at any Nme, and focuses intenNon upon deeper explanaNons of root causes, strategies for coping and potenNal soluNons for those changes prompNng the greatest suffering 2. Right intent •  Journalism as a ‘calling’ – to ‘make a difference’ •  Necessitates change in mindset from bringing news ‘first’ in a compeNNve sense but ‘best’ and most meaningfully to an audience in a qualitaNve sense 3. Right speech •  Truthful and charitable expression are respected in all major religions •  The noNon of right speech quesNons moral premise of celebrity and gossip journalism •  Yet ‘uncomfortable truths’ must be told even if one is engaging in a form of ‘deliberaNve journalism’ that might ulNmately be for the be=erment of society and disenfranchised people. For example, experts in ‘peace journalism’ include a ‘truth orienNaNon’ as a fundamental ingredient of that approach (Lynch, 2010) 4. Right conduct •  Five Precepts which prohibit killing, them, lying, being unchaste and intoxicants (Smith and Novak, 2003) •  Requires one ‘to reflect on acNons with an eye to the moNves that prompted them’ •  Echoes ‘reflecNve pracNce’ approach of Schön (1987) •  Fairfax Media Code of Conduct: • 
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“Would I be proud of what I have done?” “Do I think it’s the right thing to do?” 5. Right living •  Buddha idenNfied some occupaNons incompaNble with pure living: poison peddler, slave trader, prosNtute, butcher, brewer, arms maker and tax collector •  How does engagement in prying, intrusion and rumor-­‐mongering advance the enterprise of journalism or the personal integrity of an individual journalist who chooses to ply that trade? •  Does this help us disNnguish the journalist from the pretender in the blogosphere? 6. Right effort •  Normally meant in a spiritual sense – a steady, paNent and purposeful path to enlightenment •  But in journalism? InsNtuNonal limitaNons and pressures threaten a journalist’s commitment to an ethical core, requiring the ‘right effort’ to be maintained at a steady, considered pace through every interview, every story, every working day and ulNmately through a full career. 7. Right mindfulness •  ‘Witnessing all mental and physical events, including our emoNons, without reacNng to them, neither condemning some nor holding on to others’ (Smith and Novak, 2003). •  Pausing to reflect with compassion upon implicaNons of acNons upon others – sources, other stakeholders parNcularly the vulnerable, the effects upon their own reputaNons as journalists and the community standing of others, and public benefits ensuing from this truth being told in this way at this Nme. 8. Right concentra?on • 
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Being ‘in the zone’ with clarity of purpose Producing important reportage and commentary within Nght deadlines, paying regard to stakeholders and to the broader public interest It is in this moment that it all comes together for the mindful journalist – facts verified, comments from a range of sources a=ributed, compeNng values assessed, angles considered and decided and Nming judged All within a cool focus amid the noise and mayhem of a franNc newsroom or a chaoNc news event Focus: Right speech •  Truthful and charitable expression are respected in all major religions •  The noNon of right speech quesNons moral premise of celebrity and gossip journalism •  Yet ‘uncomfortable truths’ must be told even if one is engaging in a form of ‘deliberaNve journalism’ that might ulNmately be for the be=erment of society and disenfranchised people. For example, experts in ‘peace journalism’ include a ‘truth orienNaNon’ as a fundamental ingredient of that approach (Lynch, 2010) Right speech in the nega?ve Buddha reported to have said in the Magga-­‐vibhanga SuCa: An Analysis of the Path: “And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, abstaining from divisive speech, abstaining from abusive speech, abstaining from idle cha=er: This, monks, is called right speech. (Bhikkhu, 1996).” •  lying •  divisive •  abusive •  idle cha=er •  speech that does harm to self or others Right speech in t
he p
osi?ve Vaca SuCa (Bhikkhu, 2000): Buddha idenNfied five qualiNes that render a statement “well-­‐spoken, not ill-­‐spoken … blameless and unfaulted by knowledgeable people”. / “It is spoken at the right Nme. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affecNonately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-­‐will" (Bhikkhu, 2000). • 
correct Nming (or in season) • 
truthful and factual • 
affecNonate • 
polite • 
beneficial • 
pleasant and soothing • 
worth treasuring (significant and memorable) • 
reasonable • 
circumscribed • 
reinforcing other teachings (or moral values) • 
with good-­‐will (or ‘right intent’, another step in the path) Rules of Right Speech In the Abhaya SuCa on right speech, the Buddha addresses Prince Abhaya: [1] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them. [2] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them. [3] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper Nme for saying them. [4] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them. [5] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them. Right speech / right mindfulness •  ‘Witnessing all mental and physical events, including our emoNons, without reacNng to them, neither condemning some nor holding on to others’ (Smith and Novak, 2003). •  Pausing to reflect with compassion upon implicaNons of acNons upon others – sources, other stakeholders parNcularly the vulnerable, the effects upon their own reputaNons as journalists and the community standing of others, and public benefits ensuing from this truth being told in this way at this Nme. •  Cf. Donald Schon’s ‘reflecNon in acNon’ Dialogue with Rahula “Whenever you want to perform a verbal act, you should reflect on it: 'This verbal act I want to perform — would it lead to self-­‐
afflicNon, to the afflicNon of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful verbal act, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflecNon, you know that it would lead to [these things] then any verbal act of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflecNon you know that it would not cause afflicNon... it would be a skillful verbal acNon with happy consequences, happy results, then any verbal act of that sort is fit for you to do. While you are performing a verbal act, you should reflect on it: … Having performed a verbal act, you should reflect on it...” (Bhikkhu Bodhi, 2006). Case study 1: Perth Now race comments (c) ‘...unNl these young people gain the respect and graNtude of all races then they will conNnually be thought of as violent and criminals, can’t keep using the same excuse forever, everyone else has to gain the publics [sic] respect, why in the hell should that exclude aboriginals?’ [Comment 102 of 114 posted by annoyed of perth 1”50am July 12, 2008] (d) ‘...now ‘the elders grieve’. Where were they when the li=le kids needed supervision late at night’ RIP criminal and poor li=le boys.’ [Comment 91 of 114 posted by Marion of Perth 5:37pm July 11, 2008] (f) ‘...criminal trash like these young boys’ [Comment 66 of 114 posted by Kylie of 1:59pm July 11, 2008] (h) ‘Let em [sic] all fight and kill each other i [sic] say!’ [Comment 51 of 114 posted by Unreal! Of Perth 12:09pm July 11, 2008] (j) ‘...I doubt the families will ever be able to behave themselves at the funeral’ [Comment 36 of 114 posted by John of 10.52am July 11, 2008] (Clarke v NaPonwide News Pty Ltd trading as The Sunday Times [2012] FCA 307 Available: < h=p://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/FCA/2012/307.html > ) Case study 1: Analysis Two categories under the schema might apply, given the impossibility of proving the fact or truth of opinions. [2] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them. [3] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper Nme for saying them. Also, the repeaNng of the wrongful speech of others is unacceptable under Buddhist doctrine, as detailed in the Saleyyaka SuCa above (Thera, 1994): ‘He speaks maliciously: he is a repeater elsewhere of what is heard here for the purpose of causing division from these, or he is a repeater to these of what is heard elsewhere for the purpose of causing division from those, and he is thus a divider of the united, a creator of divisions, who enjoys discord, rejoices in discord, delights in discord, he is a speaker of words that create discord. ‘ Case study 2: The abducted child The Australian, 3 February 2009, p. 3 ‘
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If they are located, the child will be subjected to further trauma. From other recent cases, he is likely to be literally snatched from the mother by police in the early hours of the morning and placed in a secure detenNon centre. He will be deprived of contact with his mother before being put on a flight to Sydney accompanied by strangers. He could be then placed in foster care -­‐ again with strangers and sent to a new school or kindergarten. He may have as many as four foster homes before the case is resolved in the Family Court. If the mother returns with him she can be arrested ... which won't help him at all.
Schema analysis: [2] "In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.” Reflec?ng in ac?on. How o\en do we: •  Think about thinking? (metacogniNon) •  Feel about feeling? (empathy) •  Think about feeling? (compassion) RouPne meditaPon can involve each … Such medita?on/pause might: •  Allow compassion in reporNng •  Help find focus in chaos / conflict (courage under fire) •  Build resilience to deal with trauma •  Perspec?ve: the organic place of news in the much bigger picture -­‐
#firstworldproblem Mindful Journalism •  US journalist Doug McGill (2008) has proposed the use of Buddhist ethics to create a ‘journalism of healing’ and a ‘journalism of Nmely, truthful, helpful speech’. •  Some might find a moral compass in the ‘right speech’ step of the Eighhold Path by which to measure their words to tell necessary truths with reflecNve compassion. •  It might also offer media ethics researchers a useful schema by which to weigh the morality of reporNng in journalism and Web 2.0 professional communicaNon. Mindful Journalism •  Basic teachings of one of the world’s major religions/philosophies can offer guidance in idenNfying a common – and secular -­‐ moral compass that might inform our journalism pracNce as technology and globalizaNon place our old ethical models under stress •  In a global, mulNcultural and instant publishing environment the challenge is to find models that might inform our reading of codes of ethics and serve as a moral compass Mindful Journalism “Utopian”? This was framed as a potenNal shortcoming of the book, but I would argue that it is an overwhelmingly posiNve a=ribute. In the midst of dismal outlooks for the future of mainstream journalism, we believe we have illustrated the applicaNon of an idealist – perhaps even “utopian” – roadmap for journalists to draw upon when confronted by an ethical dilemma or career-­‐shaping decision. Gunaratne recently explained to me that scholars trying to denigrate Buddhism have used the “utopian” tag previously. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of Buddhism – and, by implicaNon, of mindful journalism -­‐ because it actually proposes an aspiraNonal set of normaNve ethical guidelines with the expectaNon that few people might actually achieve them. This gap between the norms and our traits, or actual performance, is what is known as dukkha (suffering), the key trait of life that the Buddha idenNfied as a feature of existence. Striving for the ideal offers the opportunity to reduce that gap, thus decreasing the suffering experienced by ourselves and others impacted by our acNons. I suggest that a journalism aspiring to the relief of suffering – a mindful journalism – is the kind of journalism one should expect of a noble profession.