Moral Autonomy and the Communitarian Ethic: Implications for Journalists in a Global Society

Dr. Brian Richardson
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Communitarians propose that ethics arises from society, that social ethics is the basis of individual morality. For example, without truth-telling as a norm, we could not survive as heterogeneous societies. The family or tribal group does not require the norm of truth because verification is immediate and manifest: A member is known to be trustworthy or not, or his or her assertion can be readily tested. The large-scale society, however – including the emerging global society — relies much more on faith in others than on verifiability. Truth-telling must be a cornerstone of that faith, but the communitarians have it backwards: As the philosopher Hannah Arendt says, truth-telling, like all ethical principles since Socrates, begins with the individual, and what the individual owes to others in society. So it is with journalists in a global society: Even a communitarian ethic must begin with individual moral autonomy, the acceptance by each journalist of what he or she owes his or her audience. Even though verifiability is a touchstone of responsible journalism, it is underlain by an audience's faith in the truthfulness of accounts, because verifiability is unavailable to most in that audience.

Keywords: Individual Moral Autonomy, Communitarian Ethics, Journalistic Responsibility, Global Culture
Stream: Media, Film Studies, Theatre, Communication
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Moral Autonomy and the Communitarian Ethic

Dr. Brian Richardson

Professor and Department Head, Journalism and Mass Communications Lexington, Washington and Lee University

Brian Richardson is a professor of journalism and department head at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., where he has taught reporting, journalism ethics, mass media and society and state and local government. He joined the faculty in 1990. Before that he spent 18 years in radio and television news and at The Tallahassee Democrat and The Miami Herald. He has covered the justice system, municipal government, media, education and urban affairs. He earned his master's degree in communication in 1975 and the Ph.D. in mass communications in 1990, both from the University of Florida. He frequently works as a writing coach in newspaper newsrooms, most recently at the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, and for 10 years he spent part of each summer as a copy editor with The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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