No ‘middle path’ in Journalism

A media consultant during the Annual Journalism conference cited Mahayana Buddhism to put forward a ‘Middle Path’ for ‘Bhutanese journalism’ based on local values.

This is a democracy, and the consultant is welcome to his point of view on the issue, however, at the same time, it also does not mean that one has to agree to it.

To be fair, this is not the first time such a pitch has been made as a few others within the media fraternity in the past have also questioned the ‘transplanted’ journalism from the West and have advocated for avoiding ‘controversies’ and conflict stories. Here again an appeal has been made to ‘Bhutanese values,’ or even GNH Journalism.

This is not all, as if one talks to some older and more traditional members of Bhutanese society they look at it being ‘sinful,’ from the religious point of view to cause stress in others through journalism, even if the article is a fact based on a corrupt official or politician.

All of the above denotes a fundamental misunderstanding of the very foundation of Buddhism which is actually based on the concept of seeking out the truth around ourselves and within ourselves.

At the very foundation of Buddhism lies the recognition of the four noble truths by Buddha as a result of his enlightenment. The four noble truths are the truths that suffering exists; suffering exists with a root cause of craving, that suffering can be eliminated and that there is a way to eliminate suffering known as the Noble Eightfold Path or also known as the ‘Middle Path.’

The Middle path advocated by Buddha is often misunderstood with compromise or in its literal meaning of taking the middle way in everything. It is not uncommon to hear haggling people unable to reach a mutually acceptable price talking of the ‘middle path or middle way price’. It would be difficult to take a ‘middle path’ in a situation where one see’s a gross moral violation or even crime happening before one’s eyes.

Middle path, at its most basic level is Buddha’s experience in self mortification and almost a kind of extremism against one’s body, practiced by some hermits at the time which Buddha gave up in favour of a more sensible approach. At a more philosophical level it means keeping an open, serene and neutral mind to see the truth of many issues.

The middle path also known as the Noble Eightfold Path does not advocate any ‘compromise’ or ‘middle way’ but instead it is very clear in its moral codes of advocating the eighth paths of right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

Incorporating local values into journalism is also a very tricky proposition. Currently the overriding national culture is silence, usually for fear of offending some superior. This ‘cultural’ affliction is most visible at government meetings. The other overwhelming national culture is a strong aversion to bring out issues and cause controversy even if there is something illegal or unjust happening.

If journalism in Bhutan were to adopt the above two prevailing ‘local values,’ which are often mistaken for ‘wisdom,’ then journalism in Bhutan would truly be in dire straits.

On the other hand investigative journalism which is valued in journalism as the highest form of journalism is considered to be an alien concept to such ‘Bhutanese values’ as it often causes ‘controversies.’ This again belies the fact that for any change to happen and for society to be lifted from its catharsis, controversies are a must. When an issue comes to light it is ‘controversial’ for the agency or powerful person doing the wrong thing as it challenges the status quo, but it is a painful fact of life for the victims and the downtrodden.

An interesting exercise to do would be to observe that usually countries that have a free and open society and media do not advocate for their own countries’ type of journalism. In fact such countries even within the media have competing ideas and priorities. It is usually regressive and closed societies where governments argue journalists to develop certain ‘national characteristics’ and fall within a certain moral code, that is the fief of the ruling regime or party and also code for censorship.

The prestigious Columbia University in New York that has produced some of the world’s best journalists across many countries and cultures classifies journalism as a Master of Science program.

In that sense journalism is a science with certain universal truths and practices that cannot bend to any ‘national or local value systems’. There can be no ‘middle path’ or ‘local values’ coming in the way of the most fundamental principal of writing the truth on the basis of verified facts and evidences. There can be no ‘middle path’ or ‘local values’ in writing for the weak and, if necessary, standing up for the truth even to powerful institutions when they are wrong.

Where Journalism is an art is in dealing with people in an appropriate and respectful way to gain their trust and in doing so information. It is also being sensitive to local customs and traditions while carrying out assignments. However, while being important in its own right this is only a formality which should not be mistaken for the real purpose of journalism which is to get to the truth on the basis of facts and evidences in the greater public interest.

The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.





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