It was striking to see how confused the situation was at today’s panel discussions on press ethics and freedom of press in Almedalen (the Swedish political equivalent of Woodstock for you international readers). Lots of opinions floated around, many being quite valid. The problem was that they were trying to do something impossible in trying to explain contemporary phenomena by using the rearview mirror. 2011 has to be analyzed using 2011 knowledge.
Here are some of the opinions that were wented:
1. It’s bad to discredit somebody who doesn’t deserve it, i.e. isn’t guilty or prosecuted for a crime. While this is true and most people, myself included, agree on this from a moral point of view, you can’t divide up different classes of people so that people who happen to be on the payroll of a major newspaper has different from anybody else. Sure, while the impact of the journalist’s communication may be more powerful than the average dude’s or dudess’, it may not be any more powerful than that of an independent top blogger. Should the degree of responsibility then be based on your reader count in your Google analytics graphs? Perhaps. But it shouldn’t be based on if you are or are not wearing a particular press hat or not since this creates very strange marginal effects and a non-democratic imbalance of power.
2. “It is of public interest to publish ‘These are the richest people in your neighborhood’-type ‘news'”. When trying to explain how this was the case, the defenders of this opinion, themselves being beneficiaries financially from selling this type of gossip-porn, struggled in trying to describe how these “news” in fact provided essential information to the public about the financial situation and progress of their particular part of society. Right. Ok. Yeah.
3. On the other hand, these same people asked the perfectly valid question of why they where the only ones being “(self)-censored” when it came to publishing, for instance, names of suspects of different crimes. And here I agree. See point 1. But this doesn’t mean that it’s okay to slander an innocent person. It does mean, however, that the same rules should apply to everybody. Because I don’t want a system where we have a communicative elite put there by the grace of some political institution or other. There will always be an elite, but this elite status should always be earned on a day to day basis where credibility is the golden standard and the only “hand of god” that should interfere. And what happens to credibility if you repeatedly get caught spreading false rumors?
By the way, if you want to learn defense against these dark arts, take a look at my post on privacy-by-transparency-post here.
While these were only a few of many opinions being beaten around, the general impression was what lingered – the young people of today, by and large, understand and are born into the rules of nature governing communication on the internet. Our adult legislators, press emperors and politicians do not quite get it. And this is an imbalance of historic proportions which should, really, be a wet dream for young rebels with a cause everywhere.