The moral high ground

July 13, 2011

N.B. My personal views – obviously

The moral high ground can be a lonely place.

But it’s also alarming when the moral high ground suddenly gets crowded.

Understandably a lot of people have been rushing onto it in the past ten days.

This reaction is inevitable. Because what has been revealed goes to the heart of what it means to be human.

The word “inhuman” has been used. That’s a word which resonates with me.

The alleged hacking of murder victims’ answering machine messages feels like an animal eating its own young. Human beings are rule making creatures. It doesn’t really matter what those rules are as long as there are rules. It feels like somehow some people had got to a place where there were no rules at all (legal, moral or any other kind). Without rules human beings start to behave like beasts.

No wonder then that there’s been a collective revulsion. It’s like seeing a shadow of ourselves in a mirror, the shadow of a distant past when human beings had no rules, had no consciousness, were like beasts. For me personally that was very disturbing.

I’m a cynical old buzzard and have seen a few things that make me raise an eyebrow when people talk loftily of the special role of journalism. So when Jeff Jarvis argues that a free press should not be regulated I respond:

The BBC, Channel 4, Sky News are all more tightly regulated than the British press. Their standards are just as high, arguably higher. They practice investigative journalism. This is because of regulation, not in spite of it. One thing that is very clear is that the current system of regulating the press in the UK is broken.

And when George Monbiot says that it’s journalism’s “primary purpose” to “hold power to account” I say:

The purpose of most journalists is to write intelligible copy telling people about things that have happened that might interest them to a deadline (why do we call them “stories” rather than “truths”?). That’s a difficult job in itself (eye witnesses are notoriously unreliable). “Committed or campaigning” journalism does not necessarily lead to better journalism, and sometimes leads to a disregard for the facts. Scribes throughout history have simply reported what the powerful have done, often in a flattering light, and there’s value in that. Journalists are not doctors. The last thing we need is for them to turn into politicians.

One man’s moral high ground is another man’s killing field. Think first, judge later. Check the mirror.

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