Toward a Global Media Ethics
If media are indispensable to democratic life, we might expect automatic agreement on the importance of citizens’ (whom democracy is supposed to benefit) having an active say in how media institutions operate. Yet, while few are without an opinion on how media perform their responsibilities-as Onora O’Neill (2002: 90-91) puts it, “An erratically reliable or unassessable press … for most citizens matters”—far fewer would expect their views to influence what media do. Fatalism about media rivals fatalism about politics, but without the safety valve of elections. This democratic deficit in relation to media has many causes, some good, some bad. Good reasons derive from media’s tenacious defense of their independence from politicians and the state; that tenacity is essential if media are to contribute to democratic life. Bad reasons stem from something less healthy: journalists’ (and others’) use of “media independence” as a shibboleth to render illegitimate any outside moral or ethical scrutiny, in particular by citizens themselves.