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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Do journalists need a 24-hour news agenda?

Is there anything in human nature that says we ‘need’ 24-hour rolling news?
Of course not, the factor that determines whether or not we ‘need’ 24-hour news is financial.
Like Gucci bags or the Apple ‘tablet’, 24-hour news is a commodity, created in the market place and consumed by customers. It is possible to envisage a life without 24-hour news, as it is possible to envisage a life without a mobile phone or a 150 gigabite mp3 player.
However, once the Pandora’s Box of this ‘need’ has been opened, it is difficult to shut it again (though the thought of stuffing 24-hour news into a box, slamming its lid and straddling it like an overloaded suitcase, does have cathartic appeal).

Anyway I ask this question about 24-hour news because of an exchange on the radio this morning between two Today Programme journalists (well one a journalist, Norman Smith, the other, the presenter Justin Webb). The exchange took place in response to a report by the Better Government Initiative which suggests, (among its many findings which the BBC to its credit also covered) that rolling 24-hour news might be having a negative impact on the decisions politicians make.

During the exchange Mr Smith described the civil servants’ report as a ‘lament about modernity,’ [cue eye-rolling in the studio] conjuring the idea that civil servants who bemoan 24-hour news might be nostalgic for a ‘more sedate’ age when the business of state was conducted differently old chap.

Now I don’t want to get bogged down in the well-worn ethical discussion about whether or not news ought to consist of a journalist interviewing a fellow journalist about a story that could be seen as critical of other journalists in general. I also don’t want to go on about the ‘false consciousness’ that journalists seem to suffer on this issue. Isn’t 24-hour news a product? In principle, might not journalists have reservations about 24-hour news themselves? Is it the 24-hour news agenda itself that results in a situation in which journalists - starved of contacts willing to appear on the Today Programme at 7am – resort to interviewing each other?

What a rubbish argument. We have already established that 24-hour news cannot be stuffed back into a box. But what we have not established clearly is the effect a rolling 24-hour news agenda can have on the quality of the decision-making process.
The report by the Better Government Initiative, far from advocating a return to a ‘more sedate’ age, merely asks whether we need to, at least consider, what effect the media has in influencing the poor decisions that politicians sometimes make.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Good and Conscience: will Tony Blair use 'Conscience' as justification for his decision to invade Iraq

A ticket ballot has been arranged for members of the public eager to hear former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s, evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the invasion of Iraq.

I’m interested in Mr Blair’s account of the role his conscience played in the war.

A number of arguments have been outlined to explain why we went to war. Most of the arguments have failed to convince most people that the war was justified.

Conscience appears to be Mr Blair’s ultimate justification for invasion and, if used at the inquiry, it will be fascinating to see how he makes his argument.

His evidence is clearly of interest to ordinary members of the public (hence the need to hold a ticket ballot for attendees), but I wonder if any moral philosophers will be present in the audience.

I am currently reading GWF Hegel’s argument about ‘Conscience and the Good’ contained in his Philosophy of Right (sections 129-141)

It gives an interesting account of the role that conscience plays in deciding on what is the right thing to do.

Hegel was particularly concerned that the formal, content less and abstract nature of the subjective consciousness could lead the moral subject to take up erroneous positions when judging the right or moral thing to do.

He further outlined the pitfalls that conscience can fall into, its fallibility, its susceptibility to caprice and the danger that conscience justifies arbitrary acts. Ultimately Hegel warns us that a pure reliance on conscience can serve to undermine the difference between right and wrong. For example, I might tell you that I act with a good conscience when I hold open a door for you. But I might actually hold the door open for different reasons. I might be holding it open for the person walking behind you, or in order to lock the door behind you in order to imprison you.

I don’t know whether Hegel’s account presents anything like the definitive account of the dubious operation of conscience in deciding moral questions. But if it does, then it might have important implications for what I think was Mr Blair’s motivation to go to war.

I hope to write a comprehensive blog that considers Mr Blair’s position alongside Hegel’s arguments once the former PM’s testimony is available.