Although the mass media is prone to pontificate about "objectivity" and "editorial balance", in reality such slogans often hide moral irresponsibility, writes John Smith.

John Smith
John Smith

I well remember an ABC interview with John Pilger, expatriate Australian radical journalist, in which he was criticised for bias. When challenged for his unequivocal commitment to the underdog he simply retorted, "What was the other side of Auschwitz?"

There are times when objectivity is confused with lack of focused commitment in life. Perspectives ensuring "middle of the road", "there are always two sides to every story", "let's not be emotional about it" are sometimes just sickening platitudes. To the tortured prisoner, the East Timorese protester and the homeless kid, such wise clinical neutralities and faint condemnation of oppression are salt in the wound of their powerlessness. To them," so-called media objectivity sounds like, "Let's make the issue so complex or spongy that none of us feels obliged to risk taking an unpopular stand".

A crippling aspect of modernity is our incapacity to commit without total evidence and ultimate proof. Our focus on scientific objectivity immobilises us because ultimately nothing can be absolutely proven. And there are always small details which do not support the main issue. The fact that there are benevolent and honest millionaires and over-regulation of economic matters has a downside, ought not prevent us from dealing with the atrocious moral evil of the one-cent-in-the-dollar bankrupt walking away to nuptial bliss in a "Sanctuary Cove" of protected cynicism and self-indulgent hypocrisy.

The fact that it cannot be conclusively proven that marijuana smoking is a cause rather than a trigger of schizophrenia ought not prevent the media taking a clear stand on a drug which has been revealed to be a serious threat to both physical and mental health.

The fact that we are a pluralist society with an extraordinary range of belief systems ought not prevent us from including ethical and moral "oughts" in the education of the emerging culture on "generation next" kids in high school. The fact that there are many single parents, blended families and even gay domestic arrangements ought not prevent us from taking anthropology seriously and deliberately teaching clear social and moral values. I'm sick to death of hearing about safe sex in the absence of responsibly faithful, truly loving sex. Recreational sex may be stimulating entertainment but it is not the same as socially cohesive or ethical relationships.

In the NSW Department of Education policy statement The Values We Teach, we are rightly advised to "encourage. . . the search for meaning and purpose in life and an appreciation of spiritual values". With its huge influence on public and private values, the media needs, as the values document states, to give "more recognition to the place of the family and family values and. . . the responsibility of parents in the area of morals and values". Even if genuinely misguided, mere reporting on statistics and public opinion on fundamental principles of life is often an exercise in moral irresponsibility and cowardice.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.