Tuesday, 28 September, 2021
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OPINION

Global Media Ethics In COVID-19 Pandemic



Dr. Kundan Aryal

IT is still appears to be a distant dream to formulate a set of principles and policies for equitable and responsible dissemination of information worldwide. Global journalism is yet to be able to manifest and reflect a global plurality of views. Amidst the global outbreak of COVID-19, non-Western intellectuals have found many instances of biased practices based on cultural stereotype. In their view, in absence of impartial perspectives, global journalism is doing injustice to the larger section of people around the world.
Western media, in general, observe the ethical standard at home but discard the same when reporting about a non-Western society. For instance, BBC editorial guidelines on privacy state that some activities and conditions may be of such a private nature that filming or recording, even in a public place, could involve an infringement of privacy. But it also states that the public interest must be balanced in freedom of expression with the legitimate expectation of privacy by individuals. Now when there is a significant amount of grievances in the non-Western world, infringement of privacy in the gathering of material could not be justifiable in the given circumstances.
When the Western media cover human plight from a non-Western country, it is necessary to be sensitive about the concerns and interest of local people. The notion of proportionality must be upheld. They may justify their act with the argument that the greater the intrusion leads to the protection of larger public interest. But again the question is: who are the public in their viewpoint?

Double standard
The Western media are even privileged to use their sophisticated technics of secret recording for obtaining materials in Asia, Africa and Latin America where, as they justify, the laws make the normal and responsible gathering of material extraordinarily difficult or impossible. In other words, the technique which is not considered appropriate within their countries could be suitable outside. Thus, there are questions on the conceptual and practical issues concerning the ethics of global journalism. The practice of the Western media has also reveals their double standard.
Nevertheless, even the conventional authority and power of major news providers of the world have been challenged by alternative voices around the world. Recently, Indian scholar professor Brahma Chellaney has observed that by trafficking in images of death, suffering, and private acts of mourning, the Western media coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India has broken one of the first rules of journalism. Stating that to be sensitive to the victims and grieving people is a basic rule of journalism while reporting mass tragedy, he invokes the collective memory linked with the Western media concerning the coverage of the non-West.
In his view, a Western double standard is nothing new and repetition of the same practice would not make it more acceptable. He terms such insensitivity that has been sowing through the coverage of disasters as the lurid orientalism of Western media. The term ‘orientalism’ has been used as negative connotations of a colonialist bias underlying and reinforced by the Western scholarship while dealing with Asian subjects. It is commonly used to refer to a representational strategy that defines the orient and its population as other in opposition to Western civilisation. The binary logic based on orientalism constructs the orient as fundamentally different and inferior to the West.
In 1977, as an outcome of the continued academic support of several US cultural critics such as Noam Chomsky, Palestinian‐American intellectual Edward Said presented the third meaning of orientalism, along with two others, which is something more historically and materially defined. Taking the late 18th century as a very roughly defined starting point, orientalism in Said’s words can be discussed and analysed as the corporate institution for dealing with the orient by making statements about it, authorising views of it, describing it, by teaching it. settling it, ruling over it.
He concludes, in short, orientalism is a Western-style for dominating restructuring and having authority over the Orient. As scholars hold, in media studies, orientalism is generally used to describe a discursive strategy of othering, a cluster of recurring news frames used in news reports and commentary. It also refers to a set of negative stereotypes implied in news and other materials, predominantly related to events in the non-Western parts of the world. An outlook reflected through the news cannot be a global outlook in an actual sense if the news narratives are ethnocentric. It would be merely Europe's, North America's or the West's version of global.

Dominant paradigm
Hence, there are journalism scholars who have argued that despite the historic events of the last few decades and the undeniable impact of globalisation, the dominant paradigm in journalism is Anglo-American or Western European. Now a section of Indian intellectual considers the coverage of the country's devastating second wave of COVID-19 as a case of orientalism in point. The point of objection from India is that the Western media have been filled with images of dead bodies and other graphic scenes that generally would not be visible following a similar disaster in the Western world.
It is not the first occasion when the Western media is being accused of ‘turning ordinary people's private grief into a public spectacle for Western consumption and disrespectful invasion of private affairs.’ Over the decades, the debate continues and a noble quest of reducing the control of global media by a minority of Western countries has been undergoing.
Although a vigorous debate has been kicked off in this connection, it is high time to present the evidence of deviations of Western media from professional standards. Amid a belief in an age of global news media where new forms of communication are being expected to reshape the old practices, parochial crafts based on cultural stereotype and orientalism are hindrances to forging broad understanding and harmony.

(Dr. Aryal is associated with the Central Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of Tribhuvan University.)