The Ethics of Television

The paper Is Nothing Sacred? The Ethics of Television was written by Michael Ignatieff with a heavy reference to an Ethiopian situation, where a nurse was involved in selective feeding of starving children. The British nurse was confronted by a television reporter and was asked about what she felt by deciding who was to get fed and who was to die (Michael 57). At that time, Ethiopia was facing drought and, therefore, many people faced death out of starvation. The incident was then televised across Europe, and this led to massive contribution of money and food by the Europeans to the dying Africans. The response by the Europeans saved many people in the country.

The writer highly regards the job done by television that saved many peoples’ lives, but at the same time, he accuses television of moving too slowly to report to the world on what would happen in Ethiopia. Michael argues that despite being in the front line to deal with hunger of the people in the camp, the television should have televised the case early enough to ensure that there were minimal deaths, and then the situation would not reach the epidemic level it had. He also argued that it would not make follow-up since they are in business to make headlines. He also points out some negative impacts that television has on us:

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On the one hand, television has contributed to the breakdown of the barriers of citizenship, religion, race, and geography that once divided our moral space into those we were responsible for and those who were beyond our ken. On the other hand, it makes us voyeurs of the suffering of others, tourists amidst their landscapes of anguish. It brings us face to face with their fate, while obscuring the distances – social, economic, moral – that lie between us. (59)

He further claimed that the images taken from Ethiopia would not have any assertion but would rather instantiate the obligation to help those starving.

The writer hailed the job done by television in bringing internationalization in the world. Racial, religious and other lines that differentiate people were put aside as everyone who watched the Ethiopian case felt the humane need to volunteer. This was a major score for the television industry. He, however, argues that television would not be the best medium to pass important information regarding people since they are in business and do not care much about the root causes and aftermath of situations. Michael notes that Christianity was the first to show discontent in slavery and promote equality and, therefore, important moral decisions should be passed through institutions like the church and not business minded television.

Michael Ignatieff presents many incidences when television has not delivered the actual issues on the ground. He has showed that television is being regarded with high reliance and that people tend to forget their business positions. Media really do not care much about the impact created by their coverage as long as they keep their business running. Television also attempts to create the extreme positions of a situation by taking extreme pictures and televising them to report an incident. This would at times cause an undeserved response by the rest of the public.

Thus, Michael Ignatieff appreciates the good work that television does that includes televising and lobbying for aid in situations such as Ethiopian famine (Michael 59). He also appreciates its important role in politics and reporting, which is true and should be applauded. However, despite the good and appreciable job that television is doing, Michael warns that television companies are still in business and would do anything that they could to increase their profits. They would, therefore, not mind to exaggerate and create Utopia in order to achieve this. They should, thus, not be allowed to pass all social information, but should be accompanied by more social-minded groupings such as the church.


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