Lecture Outtakes: Media Ethics

Media Ethics and Communitarianism

Way back in week 6 we discussed several well-known ethical approaches: Kant’s categorical imperative (which shapes current thought in the North Atlantic countries), Aristotle’s golden mean, and Bentham and Mill’s utilitarianism. The full lecture is available on Scribd.

This week I spent some time discussing communitariansim, which is outlined by scholars Christians, Fackler and Ferré.

The video below is a great example of communitarianism. This is an example of one work to emerge from the Scenarios from Africa project, which is a community-based, collaborative effort to increase HIV awareness and communication in several West African countries, including Burkina Faso, where this video originates.

The author of the script for this film is Olga Kiswendsida Ouédraogo. Olga wrote the script at the age of 20 and was one of 4,000 entries in a 1997 contest that tasked young contestants with creating a short film to educate their communities about HIV/AIDS. (See: Winskell and Enger, “Young voices travel far”).

In their discussion of Scenarios from Africa, Winskell and Enger note that they “witnessed a disproportionate emphasis being placed in HIV/AIDS education on biomedical aspects of the epidemic, to the neglect of behavioural and contextual factors.”

This top-down approach all too often seems to be the case in social marketing (Gloria Malone’s recent op-ed for the New York Times on New York’s new anti-teenage pregnancy campaign underscores this).

Enter communitarianism. In their book Ethics for Public Communication, Christians, Fackler and Ferré contend that previous approaches to ethics in the Western tradition center largely on the individual, while our increasingly globalized, multicultural, and transnational world demands a more dialogic approach. The authors state that “[w]ithout dialogue, there is conquest, manipulation, and imprisonment in antagonistic relationships” (xvii).

It is imperative that those responsible for disseminating messages, visual or otherwise, engage all those concerned to ensure that communication efforts are both effective and ethical.

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