This semester I’ve been doing a subject called ‘Introduction to Journalism.’ Despite initial doubts I’ve enjoyed it a lot.
We’ve spent a lot of time discussing ethics in journalism and what journalists should and shouldn’t be allowed to do. I’ve found that I have something of a tendency to take the moral high-ground. Last week’s question was about whether a need to tell the truth should trump other concerns, like privacy. I had the desire to write ‘NO’ 250 times and submit that as my response. Journalists have a responsibility to not only inform the general populace but respect and protect them. My opinion on the phone hacking thing? That it is not cool. At all. Ever. Your counter argument is invalid.
Then I had an epiphany.
When it comes to comedy I don’t think anything is sacred. Or that it should be. If we start restricting what satire can touch on the grounds that people might get offended, it becomes impossible to know when to draw the line. The strength of comedy (and its power to actually make a difference in the world) lies in its ability to target the important things. The very nature of important things means people might get upset by that. Sometimes I won’t agree with a joke. That does not mean a comedian should not be allowed to make that joke. I will jump up and down in defence of this point.
It occurred to me that these are potentially two rather hypocritical opinions for one person to hold. Why is it that I believe journalists should have to stay firmly within an ethical code but that comedians should be allowed to push the limits of good taste and decency?
I’m sure I’m not the only person who falls into this moral grey area. In fact I’d be willing to bet that rather a large portion of my readers hold these opinions too. So let’s stop and think for a moment- why is journalism so different to comedy?
I have deep respect and admiration for what journalists do. I wouldn’t be doing a journalism course if I didn’t envisage some freelance in my future. Good journalism is a thing to be marvelled at. Unfortunately, not all journalism is good.
Maybe that is wherein lies the difference. We don’t often hear about bad comedy. Bad comedy dies a million horrible deaths in front of audiences who don’t laugh. It becomes clear very quickly when someone has gone too far (I saw a stand-up do this once. Half the audience walked out. It was awful). Bad journalism on the other hand, sells papers. I’m sure you could easily hazard a guess at how I feel about, say, The Sunday Telegraph. They used to publish Calvin and Hobbes. This is a good thing I have to say about them.
No comedian ever tapped someone’s phone. And then there’s the fact that, without sensationalist journalism, very few jokes would ever become controversial in the first place. See what I mean about taking the moral high-ground? Whenever I lay all my arguments on the table like this, I feel as though I’m trying to justify my opinions rather than actually plotting out the issue. Maybe this is all too subjective to ever really arrive at a conclusion?
I don’t have a definitive answer to this question. But it is one that’s been plaguing me rather a lot. Hey look! I’ve written a blog that I want to incite discussion! Never done that before. I’d love to hear what you think about all this.
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