Journalist. Media development professional

Quran Burning and the US media: It’s a question of ethics

The first amendment is a genius piece of work. It gives American journalists the freedom to express and air information, it gives ordinary citizens the power to vocally criticize authority, and it also gives the priest of a small church in Florida the right to publically burn Qurans on the ninth anniversary of September 11.

Terry Jones

Pastor Terry Jones. Photo credit: AP

Although burning a holy book doesn’t legally violate the US Constitution it is a clear provocation and should be, at least in my book, defined as hate speech. This priest in Florida knows he could do this but the question really is: should he? It is the same question that I ask the American media that has managed to blow this small story out of all proportion. This story could have been briefly covered as an isolated incident happening in a small Florida town. Instead, the media grabbed it and ran. They extensively covered it, analyzed it, and brought talking heads to debate it. Yes, they have the right to publish and air whatever they wish – and expand or diminish any event but, again, should they?

A story that could have been easily forgotten has now become an event that is being watched globally. It will go down as another example of “Muslim-hating Americans.” It will be exploited by extremists in their attempts to recruit future followers. In their attempts to extensively cover Islamophobia, can journalists actually endanger American lives?

The Arabic media has slowly started to pick up the story in the same pace that they picked up the Danish cartoons story which eventually unleashed more than a few bombshells.  Here is a round up of the Arabic media coverage of the Quran burning  story.

Media practitioners should be careful when they decide whether to cover or bury a story, for today the consequences of this decision can be grave.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appealed to the media today asking them not to cover the planned burning event on September 11 “as an act of patriotism.” I don’t see shying away from giving big attention to a small story as an act of patriotism per se, but mostly as a question of ethics. But ethics, as we well know, can be elusive.

7 Comments

  1. Ken Samac's Gravatar Ken Samac
    September 8, 2010    

    This should be published internationally, because it is so accurate. This could have been a “back page” story in one day. But after all; hate really brings in the ratings!

  2. September 8, 2010    

    Indeed, ‘hate’ really brings in the ratings. Glad you enjoyed this piece, Ken.

    Best,

  3. September 9, 2010    

    It is astonishing to me that it has only recently been reported how very small this church is. Media is very quick to publish anything that makes people of faith look bad.

    It they had done their research, as a reporter in FL and Daily Kos have, they would have discovered this pastor’s questionable personal holdings and co-mingling of funds. Media did not choose to pick that up, which would have ended this story and proved him to be a publicity hound.

    I am beginning to wonder if ethics and journalism will ever be synonymous again.

  4. September 9, 2010    

    Interesting point, Kinzi. Sadly, media thrives on sensationalism.

  5. <fb:name linked=Jeffrey Scott Tynes's Gravatar" src="http://0.gravatar.com/avatar/972a11a2496bd8d70e2f8f34fff01bad?s=45&d=wavatar&r=x" width="45" height="45" /> Jeffrey Scott Tynes
    September 9, 2010    

    This is the evolution of “if it bleeds, it leads.”

  6. <fb:name linked=Jeffrey Scott Tynes's Gravatar" src="http://0.gravatar.com/avatar/972a11a2496bd8d70e2f8f34fff01bad?s=45&d=wavatar&r=x" width="45" height="45" /> Jeffrey Scott Tynes
    September 9, 2010    

    There is a precedent for this. In a similar burning vein, there have been a number of incidents where individuals contact the press to let them know they are going to pour gas on themselves and set themselves on fire. Believe it or not, there was some debate in some circles about whether or not to cover it. But the obvious answer is not to, not to provide an audience to a nut. Quite literally media coverage fans the flames and the guidance we were given was clear – do not use coverage to incite violence.

  7. Dad Tynes's Gravatar Dad Tynes
    September 16, 2010    

    Again, your observations are right along with mine. The media is too often looking for deadlines beats whatever the cost.

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