The Travels of a Journalist;YANKEE DOODLES MEET CROCODILE DUNDEES (Part C):Brisbane Lecture Examines Buddhist Approach to Journalism
Posted on October 27th, 2010

By Shelton A. Gunaratne ©2010 Professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead

 “Yankee” Jim Bowers, my longtime pal, traveled approximately 14,000 km from Minneapolis; and “Pommy” Nayana Axon, my youngest sister, traveled almost 16,500 km from London to attend my lecture on “A Buddhist View of Journalism: Emphasis on Mutual Causality” Tuesday (7 March 2006) afternoon at the School of Journalism and Communication, University of Queensland. Altogether, about 25 people, mostly staff from SJC, attended the lecture in Seminar Room 1, Building 96. “Aussie” Kanthi Wijesoma, my younger sister, was also present. Pradip Thomas, an associate professor of communication, introduced me to the audience.

The point of my lecture was to show that a normative model of journalism based on Buddhist principles would serve as an excellent guidepost to assess and evaluate the traits of the Eurocentric news paradigm currently dominating the world. The current paradigm reflected secularized Western capitalist materialist values that marginalized the ethical imperatives of Buddhist philosophy.

After I completed my doctorate in mass communication in 1972, I began to realize that my entire approach to scholarship has been wrapped in Western philosophy and its post-Newtonian or Enlightenment offshoot called science. It became clear to me that despite its immense contribution to humanity, science has great limitations. Testability is the primary criterion of science. But most things in the universe are not testable or measurable. Science places those phenomena in the philosophical divisions of ontocosmology (study of existence or metaphysics) and axiology  (study of values). Thus, the reification of science has served the West to denigrate non-Western philosophies and cultures, as well as to marginalize the moral imperatives embedded in the Ten Commandments of the three Abrahamic religions.

In the mid-1990s, I began to delve deeper into Buddhist epistemology (theory of knowledge), axiology and ontocosmology as an alternative framework for the reputedly “superior” empirical scientific method. Western thought, culture and worldview dominate the journalistic/news paradigm that the subjugated colonies inherited from the West. It evolved from the economic, cultural and political processes (capitalism, profit accumulation, individualism, competition, etc.) that enabled a minority of people to dominate the majority.

Buddhist Model of Journalism

My 2006 lecture was an attempt to compare and contrast the goals of Buddhist journalism with the general traits of the dominant Western paradigm. I used the Four Noble Truths as the framework for extracting the principles of a Buddhist news paradigm.

I argued that the following general journalistic principles/norms emerge from the First Noble Truth that existence is dukkha (suffering/sorrow):

  1. Concede that everything is subject to ongoing change (anicca). Therefore, journalism should facilitate change rather than perpetuate the status quo.
  2. Concede that no-selfness (anatta) is the reality of existence. Therefore, journalism should not over-emphasize individualism and egocentrism; it should focus more on cooperative efforts.

The Second Noble Truth asserts that dukkha arises from attachment to desire. Therefore:

  1. Knowing the reasons that lead to dukkha, journalism should not highlight those things that promote attachment to desire.

The Third Noble Truth asserts that dukkha ceases when attachment to desire ceases. The doctrine of paticca samuppƒÆ’-¾da (dependent co-arising) succinctly exemplifies the second and third truths. The following general journalistic principles/norms arise from the doctrine of paticca samuppƒÆ’-¾da:

  1. Journalism should apply the principle of mutual causality for interpretation and analysis rather than the linear cause-effect reasoning. (Buddhist philosophy denies the existence of independent variables.)
  2. Journalism should concede the need for humanity to work in harmony with Nature (all flora and fauna), because everything is functionally interrelated and nothing is entirely independent.
  3. Journalism should promote the maximum of well being with the minimum of consumption; in other words, it should discourage conspicuous consumption.

The Fourth Noble Truth asserts that the Noble Eightfold Path (NEP) provides the way to end dukkha. Also known as the Middle Path, the NEP comprises three functionally interdependent dimensions: panna (wisdom), sila (virtue/ethical conduct) and samadhi (meditation/mental development).  Based on the NEP, the overall guideline for both the profession and practitioners of journalism would be the following:

  1. Follow the Middle Path, and avoid the extremes on any issue. Journalism should convey the idea that people, as well as their environment, mattered.

The dimension of panna calls on the profession and practitioners of journalism to:

  1. Follow the path of right understanding/view (samma ditthi).
  2. Follow the path of right thoughts/conceptions (samma sankappa).

The dimension of sila, which could serve as the springboard for a journalism code of ethics, calls on the profession and practitioners of journalism to:

10.  Follow the path of right speech (samma vaca).

11.  Follow the path of right action (samma kammamntha).

12.  Follow the path of right livelihood (samma ajiva).

The dimension of samadhi calls on the profession and practitioners of journalism to:

13.  Follow the path of right effort (samma vevama).

14.  Follow the path of right mindfulness (samma sati).

15.  Follow the path of right concentration (samma samadhi).

In my lecture, I argued that the implementation of the first set of seven general principles would elevate journalism to the level of a social good. The dominant Western paradigm has lowered the status of journalism to the level of a cheap commodity, the value of which is determined by seven interactive factors: impact, timeliness, prominence, proximity, conflict, novelty, currency and necessity.

The interpretation of guidelines 8 through 15 in relation to journalism and the comparison of the resulting normative model with the traits of the Western news paradigm will require the space of another article. [Note: The journal, Javnost””‚The Public (Vol. 16 (2), 51-76), published the revised version of my lecture in 2009.]

Week 1 in Brisbane

On the first Thursday (2 March 2006) after our arrival in Brisbane, Yoke-Sim and I visited the SJC complex on UQ campus to orient ourselves to changes in the surroundings. Yoke-Sim lived in he International House on UQ campus when she studied for her M.A. in sociology awarded in 1979. In the afternoon, I had a long conversation with Jan Servaes, the head of the SJC at the time. Servaes was the editor of my book The Dao of the Press published in 2005 by Hampton Press. 

Servaes and I both were specialists in developmental communication and culture. He invited me to give the Queensland lectures.  The second lecture I gave was titled “Globalization or Not?” (Monday, 6 March 2006). It was an address to Levi Obijiofor’s International Communication class. After the late morning lecture, Servaes and his wife Patchini took Yoke-Sim and me for lunch at the Staff Club, where Obijiofor also joined us.  The same evening, the Hagans (Geoffrey and Kathy), with whom we did the Wales tour in 2010, took us for dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Milton.

On Tuesday afternoon, after my public lecture, I joined a reception organized by the SJC to welcome associate professor Martin Hadlow to its staff and as an appreciation for my talk. Bowers and members of my family got to know the SJC staff at this gathering. (My mother, then 92, could not attend because she was not in a fit condition to leave her Brisbane nursing home. Another reason for our visit to Brisbane was to see her.)

The previous weekend, the day after the Khoos’ lavish dinner at Gambaro’s Seafood, the Bowerses (Jim and Kathleen) joined us (Nayana, Yoke-Sim and me) for a train trip to the Gold Coast. The 70 km trip from the Roma Street station to Nerang, Qld., helped Bowers to hobnob with a few curious Crocodile Dundees, who thoroughly enjoyed Bowers’ valiant effort to slip in a few outback slangs into his conversation. At Nerang, we took a shuttle bus to Surfers Paradise.

Rain and wind spoiled our time on the Gold Coast. Thus, we spent most of our time in Surfers Paradise exploring the Cavil Avenue shopping complex and amusement spots. Bowers made the return train trip also enjoyable for himself by chatting with the locals on board.

The Bowerses also were the guests at a dinner party at my sister Katnthi’s home in Wishart, Qld.  There, Bowers met with several Sri Lankans who have settled down in the Greater Brisbane area.

After we terminated our joint tour with the Bowerses in Yeppoon Sunday (March 12), Yoke-Sim and I returned to Brisbane to be the guests of the Hagans for three nights. The same Sunday afternoon, the Hagans took us to a family get-together of Kathy’s siblings in Westlake, Qld. That’s where we met George D’Souza, Kathy’s older brother, and his wife Doris who were visiting from Sydney. When we told them that we planned to stay a night in Sydney before we left Australia back to the U.S. on Thursday, they invited us to be their guests at their Sydney home.

Sydney Stopover

Wednesday (15 March) morning we said goodbye to the Hagans and left Westlake for the Brisbane airport in our rented car.  On the way we stopped to see the Raos (Ayyalaraju and Nirmala) at their home in Chapel Hill, Qld. Rao was a faculty colleague of mine at the CIAE in Rockhampton. After retirement, he moved to Brisbane, where he got involved in ethnic radio broadcasting.  With great pride, he played samples of his broadcasts four our edification.  Nirmala prepared us a delightful vegetarian meal.

When we landed in Sydney later, D’Souza was at the airport to welcome us. He took us to Lugarno (pop.26, 477), NSW, about 23 km southwest of the airport.

It became apparent to us that D’Souza, a retired railway employee, lived in an idyllic scenic spot surrounded by the woods of the George’s National Park. We enjoyed the view from the back deck of his home, where galahs and a variety of other birds stopped by for morsels of food. Late afternoon, the D’Souzas took us for a walk along the northern bank of George’s River heading towards the Salt Pan Creek. After returning home, D’Souza gave us a tour of Lugarno city and the boardwalk.

The D’Souzas treated us to a sumptuous dinner. They introduced us to their daughter, Carroll, and her husband, Andrew Rigby, who engaged us in convivial conversation during dinner.

Our flight to San Francisco Thursday (16 March 2006) was scheduled to leave Sydney at 4 p.m.  Yoke-Sim and I spent the morning enjoying the scenic splendor of our surroundings. We joined the D’Souzas for both breakfast and lunch. They gave us a ride to the Sydney airport early afternoon.

Two years later, our son Junius also enjoyed the hospitality of the D’Souzas when he visited Sydney.

 

(This is the 11th and final   article in the series titled “About Bowers, Boats and Buddies.”) 

Picture 1: The author addressing a seminar on the Buddhist view of journalism at the University of Queensland (7 March 2006)Photo by Jim Bowers

 

 Picture 2: Forest Street, Lugarno, NSW, where we visited the D’Souzas.

(Photo by J Bar.  Wikimedia Commons)

 

 Figure 1:  Location of Lugarno, NSW

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