Lesson
12

Compassionate Society

4 of 7

Media
   

Why is the media one of the important societal arenas the Dalai Lama chooses to emphasize in the quest for a better, more peaceful world?

The influence and power of the media would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago. With this influence and power come responsibilities.

Who is responsible for assuring that the media's influence becomes a positive force?

The reach and influence of the media clearly presents an enormous responsibility for those who control the media.

But it also confers great responsibility on each of us who, as individuals, listen and read and watch. We, too, have a role to play. We are not powerless before the media. The control switch is in our own hand, after all. Ethics for the New Millennium

How might the education system affect individual's understanding of the power of the media and their relationship with it?

Investigative reporting

Investigative reporting is an important service

I respect and appreciate the media's interference. Not all public servants are honest in discharging their duties. It is appropriate, therefore, to have journalists, their noses as long as an elephant's trunk, snooping around and exposing wrongdoing where they find it. We need to know when this or that renowned individual hides a very different aspect behind a pleasant exterior. There should be no discrepancy between external appearances and the individual's inner life. It is the same person, after all. Such discrepancies suggest them to be untrustworthy. Ethics for the New Millennium

But the influence of what someone writes makes it essential that the reporter not act out of improper motives. Impartiality is critical, as is respect for the others rights.

Do you think the media in your community and your society is operating ethically? Is investigative reporting constructive or tainted with ulterior motives? Is the Dalai Lama warning regarding the influence of material culture on ethical conduct relevant in the arena of media?

Violence and sex

The increase in violence and sex in the media is undeniable.

I doubt that the people who are producing this really want to injure society. They simply want financial gain. That is where their priority lies. They seem to have little sense of social responsibility. On the other hand, the public seems to like the sensations from seeing these kinds of programs on television. So the public is also responsible.

The Dalai Lama's concern is whether the effect is ethically wholesome or if it leads to indifference, hardening of the heart and lack of empathy. 

Does the depiction of violence necessarily negatively affect one's empathy and compassion? Does any depiction of violence act as a catalyst for unethical action?

Putting aside the question of media's motivation for presenting violence, which we can assume is primarily commercial, the question for the Dalai Lama is:

Can it have an ethically wholesome effect? If the result of seeing a film in which there is a lot of violence is that the viewer's compassion is aroused, then perhaps that depiction of violence would be justified. But if the accumulation of violent images leads to indifference, then I think it is not. Indeed, such a hardening of heart is potentially dangerous. It leads all too easily to lack of empathy. Ethics for the New Millennium

Besides the obvious concern that media's presentation of violence glorifies such behavior, what other negative effects might continual emphasis on violence have?

Focus on the negative

The constant repetition of sex and violence is one example of freedom of the press leading to an imbalance between negative and positive news, which creates the false impression that human nature is essentially negative.

Every day the media reports incidents of terrorism, crime and aggression. I have never been to a country where tragic stories of death and bloodshed did not fill the newspapers and airwaves. Such reporting has become almost an addiction for journalists and their audiences alike. But the overwhelming majority of the human race does not behave destructively; very few of the five billion people on this planet actually commit acts of violence. Most of us prefer to be as peaceful as possible.

What is the danger in living in a society in which the media focuses on the negative?

An overdose of negativity leads the general public to believe that human nature is basically negative, and that idea ultimately leads to a great deal of frustration. One also loses self-confidence. This is both tragic and dangerous.

To be ethically responsible the media needs to reflect this simple fact.

While regulation of the media is clearly necessary, the only true discipline comes from within.  This implies a responsibility to educate our children so they may be more disciplined and compassionate when they become involved in the media.