Thursday, June 23, 2005


There have been acres of newsprint and webspace devoted to Rowan Williams' Lambeth Lecture on the media, Public Interest and Common Good. Most people who have spent any significant time thinking about journalistic practice, formation and ethics seem to have welcomed his contribution, whether they agreed with it or not. But some of my fellow-journalists (yes, I'm very pleased to say I rejoined the NUJ recently) have got very worked up about it. Some have even been motivated to read it. Not many, though. And the ones that didn't, or whose grasp of comprehension is a wee bit on the 'challenged' side, have concluded that he is calling for some sort of policing of the internet. Which, of course, is nonsense.

I won't go on about the issues too much here, as I'm planning to pen something for Ekklesia if I get time. For the record, what Williams said about online journalism, as a prequel to comments about 'assessable communication' as a desireable balance between freedom and accountability, was as follows:

The drift in some quarters [of the media] to near-monopolistic practices, the control of the product by careful monitoring of response and periodic re-designing – these evaporate when we turn to internet journalism. Ian Hargreaves, in his excellent Journalism: Truth or Dare, gives a sharp account of the difference made by these developments; surely this is the context in which genuinely unpalatable truths can still be told, ‘unsullied by the preoccupations of the mainstream media’ (p.259)? Yes and no. Unwelcome truth and necessary and prompt rebuttal are characteristic of the web-based media. So are paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry. The atmosphere is close to that of unpoliced conversation – which tends to suggest that the very idea of an appropriate professionalism for journalists begins to dissolve. Many traditional newspapers and broadcasters now offer online versions of their product and many have allowed interactive elements to come into their regular material, for example by printing debates conducted on the web. But they have not thereby abandoned the claims of professional privilege. The question that seems to pose itself is whether a balance can be struck between the professionalism of the classical media and the relative free-for-all of online communication.

To reduce this to "Archbishop says the web is full of paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry and should be controlled by people like me" is to turn meaning into propaganda. And not the ABC's, in this case.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

No comments: