After a hard day of doing very little yesterday, I settled down to watch the news last night. It appears that the world is in a sorry state- an impending financial meltdown in Europe; an occupying sit-in on Wall Street, a Carbon Tax imposed against the wishes of the population in Australia – and we lost the Rugby World Cup Semi Final!
It was a little depressing, but I also noted something else which I feel might even be more depressing – it was the way in which that news was imparted. We have a large number of channels to choose from here, but I felt the same problem was being shown on every channel. It seems that we are no longer being informed of the news, we are being subjected to their particular interpretation of the news.
More often than not the news programmes of even the State broadcaster are becoming opinion pieces than straight forward presentations of the facts; often telling us what we should believe rather than what it is about.
With so many problems facing us, and so many different interpretation of the facts how are we, the population, going to decide what the truth is, and who we can believe?
Let’s begin to apply the Ethical Test to the communication we are receiving and see which – if any – pass the test.
The Five Step Ethical Test is used by many public speakers to evaluate the ethical standard of their purpose and their presentations. We know that to have our message accepted we must be credible speakers, and that means that we must be judged by our listeners as believable sources of information.
The first Step looks at the speaker’s intention; the purpose of his speech and its consequences – both intended and unintended. Speaking out against a country selling arms appears to be a great idea; surely it would lead to less armed conflict and that outcome would certainly meet the ethical test.
But what would happen if the purchaser was a small nation facing overwhelming aggression from a larger neighbour; could that lead to more instability and even the risk of having one nation unable to defend itself? Weapons are not only used for aggression, they are also used for defence. The jury might be out on that one; so why should I believe you?
Secondly, we examine the truthfulness of the information – and here is where we can often be deliberately misinformed. An ethical speaker would recognise the objections to their opinion and answer them with rational rebuttals; unethical purveyors of information often merely ignore them.
With easy access to the internet, it is inevitable that opposing points of view are going to reach the population eventually, so if, as a proponent of a specific course of action you simple refuse to address my objections, or brush them aside; and if negative views are deliberately withheld, or even more worrying when they are deliberately kept from the population by undeclared censorship – then why should I believe you?
The Third Test is the emotional test; what standards and values is the speaker appealing to; and with that goes the question how is that appeal being made?
The same set of facts can be presented in a positive as well as a negative way, and there is no reason why any person seeking to create an emotional appeal to a rational argument should not present that appeal in the most positive way.
But – the deliberate use of negative language to create an emotional reaction which is not warranted by the facts brands you an unethical speaker.
‘The Prime Minister visited a farming community in Queensland to explain the need for a Carbon Tax’ these are the facts.
At Radio Station A, we hear: –
‘The Prime Minister received a warm welcome from an enthusiastic Queensland farming community when she took time out from her busy schedule to personally explain the necessity of the carbon tax.’
So here we have the picture of a warm and caring person, taking the time to personally explain to a group of grateful and welcoming farmers the reason for a very necessary government policy. Everything is absolutely lovely then …
…. except at Radio Station B we hear this :
A deeply unpopular Prime Minister was given a rowdy welcome when she set out to justify this iniquitous carbon tax to some long suffering farmers.
Perhaps it’s not quite so lovely then – and really, why should I believe either of you?
And finally; how does the speaker respect the opposition? People who are attempting to make sense of what may appear to be senseless news can often have a number of questions, fears and apprehensions and they deserve to have these addressed.
Merely calling your opponents unacceptable names, attacking them personally; ignoring their right to have their objections heard and addressed does not lend an air of credibility to any speaker – in short it is not an ethical way to inform the audience, whether it be just a couple of hundred or the nation’s population – so why should I believe you?
If any one of these five steps is used deliberately by a supposed unbiased source of news, it labels them unethical.
So what’s the burning question where you are?
Is it the Financial crisis; lack of democracy; fiscal irresponsibility; biased media or just why did Australia loose to New Zealand? Why not apply the Five Steps Ethical Test to those who are bringing you the stories – and you might find yourself asking “Why on earth should I believe you!”