Can They Say That?

By Richard Stone

A panel discussion on “Media Responsibility, Ethics and Civility” will be held on Oct. 3 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Peters Education Center adjacent to the Save-Mart Center on the Fresno State campus.

Listening to broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Fresno’s own Ray Appleton, you may well have asked yourself, “Can they really say that?” And the answer, under our nation’s principles of free speech, is usually “yes,” even if the statement in question has no basis in fact and/or seems defamatory.

An alternative set of questions those at Citizens for Civility and Accountability in Media (CCAM) have been asking involves not the rights of the individual commentator to speak his or her mind, but the responsibility of privately owned media outlets—especially TV and radio stations that are granted licenses to serve the public interest on valuable space on the broadcast spectrum by “we the people.”

Should owners have the legal right to use their stations to lionize one political position and demonize others while squelching all debate? Do they have the ethical right to call demonstrably false statements “news,” and then defend themselves saying they only provide entertainment? Should they be held accountable for the effect of their programming on unbalanced, violence-prone listeners?

Then, too, there are larger questions of community viability. Do we as a city or county, or state or country, have sufficient cohesiveness and mutual respect to continue living together? Can we disagree vigorously yet maintain civility? Or are divisions over religion and economics, matters of survival and justice, creating grounds for another civil war? Should the public airwaves be made available to undermine community sustainability?

Such questions will be addressed at a forum to be held under the auspices of the Leon S. Peters Ethics Lecture Series entitled “Media Responsibility, Ethics and Civility.” Panelists will include Les Kimber, founder and publisher of the California Advocate and representative of CCAM; Juan Esparza Loera, editor of Vida en el Valle; Betsy Lumbye, executive editor of the Fresno Bee; Ben Ingersoll, editor-in-chief of the Collegian; and Faith Sidlow, Channel 24 news anchor and a lecturer in the Mass Communications and Journalism Department at Fresno State.

The panel discussion is free and open to the public. Parking permits can be obtained at the campus vending machines; to get the code, check the Web site at http://www.fresnostate.edu/artshum/ethicscenter/. The event is organized by the Ethics Center Lecture Series Committee, in conjunction with CCAM and the “Stop the Hate, Stop the Violence, Build a Culture of Peace” events committee.

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Richard Stone is on the boards of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and the Community Alliance. Contact him at richard2662559@yahoo.com.

  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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