Notes on Buddhist Journalism—3-It’s another genre of journalism, not a replacement of current
Posted on June 24th, 2011

By Shelton A. Gunaratne© 2011 Professor of mass communications emeritus at Minnesota State University Moorhead

 Shyamon Jayasinghe is not following the path of right speech when he denigrates me from his high intellectual pedestal (somewhere in Australia) wherefrom he shouts,  “This Shelton guy  … likes to revel in his confusion.” The quality of the debate diminishes when a participant uses language intended to demean another.

I have already pointed out that Buddhist Journalism is not necessarily a religious journalism because Buddhism is strictly speaking NOT a religion, but a philosophy or lifestyle to overcome the troubles (dukkha) we encounter as sentient beings. It uses the three-dimensional Noble Eightfold Path as the framework for controlling tanha and the related nidanas“”‚the cause of all suffering. 

People from all faiths can subscribe to the NEP because it does not violate their faith in God. A BJ based on the NEP framework allows people to understand implicitly the evils and pitfalls of the materialist world brought about by the advertising based (Western-style) journalisms.  The focus of BJ is to produce and disseminate news that does not increase craving. It will do so by looking at world events from a Middle Path perspective””‚if necessary by revising the (Judeo-Christian slanted) wire copy produced and disseminated by news agencies.  

Philosopher P. A. Payutto, a Thai Buddhist monk, once said that one doesn’t have to be a Buddhist or an economist [or a journalist] to be interested in Buddhist economics [or journalism]. Buddhist ethical principles and their applications in economic life [or journalistic life] offered a way of being and acting that could help people to live a more ecological [or enlightened] and happier life while contributing to the reduction of human and non-human suffering in the world. [The bracketed additions are mine.]

The answer to SJ’s query whether we have a Christian or Muslim journalism, the answer is yes. Mainstream journalism today is based on secularized Judeo-Christian values. 
This is the supposedly objective/honest journalism that the two namarupas labeled S. Jayasinghe and D. Andre have chosen to defend because of their avijja (ignorance).

In a study conducted in the mid-“ƒ”¹…”60s, Norwegian researchers Galtung and Ruge unraveled the news values, later refined by other researchers, which determined what is news.

Galtung determined that five concepts fundamental to Judeo-Christian cosmology determined the nature of news:

  1. Self or Soul as a permanent entity that emphasized individualism/freedom/rights.
  2. Nature as a phenomenon that humans can control
  3. Space-time in terms of a divided world and bounded time
  4. Knowledge in terms of atomism and deductivism
  5. The Transpersonal (Supreme Being) in terms of “supreme” news values.

Thus, mainstream journalism is essentially a Judeo-Christian strand. For on all five concepts, Buddhist philosophy takes a different meaning: no-self and impermanence; harmony with Nature; unity or mutual interdependence, and infinite time; holism and systems thinking; and non-belief in supremacy because of interdependence.  This analysis should demonstrate the need for a Buddhist genre of journalism.

 The Muslims established the International Islamic News Agency (IINA) in 1972 (with headquarters in Jeddah) as a specialized organ of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. It focuses on news about the Islamic world and Islamic affairs. More than a dozen other Arab news agencies exist today to interpret news from the Islamic perspective. Muslims are discussing the establishment of an Islamic Center for Journalism in Malaysia to develop a framework for an Islamic genre journalism. They have been critical of mainstream (Western) news values, which clash with the rules that should govern all discourse by a Muslim as detailed in Shariah, the Islamic law. The Quran, for example, forbids making fun of other people. Similarly, making a false allegation is a sin for a common man (not excepting journalists). Regarding crime reports, which form the juiciest part of today’s newspapers, such reports are simply not permissible without proof that they deter crime.

However, the evidence from the United States, which allows its free press to sensationalize crime reports to maximize profits, shows the contrary. Most recent statistics show that the U.S. ranked eighth on per capita crimes (eight per 100); and it ranked first in total crimes committed  (11.9 million). Trade in deadly weapons and hunting for pleasure, which violate the path of right livelihood (samma ajiva) in the Buddhist NEP, are legal in the U.S. Moreover, handling criminals costs more than $300 a person every year in taxes.

I implore SJ to refrain from trying to score debating points by vilifying an opponent. As a good Buddhist, he extends his compassion to me when he says, “We had better leave Shelton with his confusion. He is trying to join the heroic ranks by identifying with a noble cause.” Apparently, SJ’s mastery of psychology or clairvoyance has enabled him to dig my motive for initiating this debate.

Domingu Andre, the other critic, says, “Shelton has made several false statements such as that I support something called “One Journalism” (OJ). I do not know what that is and I am the least interested in it. Shelton’s claim I have “faith” in OJ is a lie and a clear violation of a fundamental precept of Buddhism.”

This cry comes from the same namarupa who earlier asserted that journalism deals with the honest treatment of current news and comment,” and that by placing adjectives like Buddhist one creates a journalism of propaganda.  I presumed that his journalism sans adjectives meant mainstream journalism, which I call One Journalism.

The fact is that impermanence (anicca) has changed the nature of journalisms with the co-arising of a number of genres. Journalism by genre includes alternative journalism, broadcast journalism, citizen journalism, documentaries, investigative journalism, opinion journalism, photojournalism, and visual journalism. Journalism by field includes business journalism, entertainment journalism, environmental journalism, fashion journalism, science journalism, sports journalism, and technical journalism. Some  prefer to call these subcategories of journalism. 

The political system prevailing in each country also affects the nature of journalism practiced therein. Oriental philosophies accommodates the Daoist view that everything is made up of yin and yang“”‚the opposite or complement of each other. Thus, libertarianism (yin) cannot exist without its opposite, authoritarianism (yang). The political system of each country lies somewhere on a continuum between libertarianism and authoritarianism. Journalism practiced in any country varies from libertarian-oriented journalism to authoritarian-oriented. No country can have perfect press freedom because of the mutual interdependence of the media system and the political system.  Thus, each country determines the type of journalism it wants.

I hope I have put forth a strong case for the practice of a Buddhist-oriented journalism that appeals to predominantly Buddhist countries. Because BJ has no aspiration to oust mainstream journalism, it should receive the endorsement of all.

Jan Servaes has drawn the attention of our list to Laszlo Zsolnai’s book Buddhist approach to economic transformation  (Springer, 2011). We should ponder on the following excerpt from its preface:

Today happiness is a top priority in economic, psychological and sociological research. In the last several decades the GDP doubled or tripled in Western countries but the general level of happiness “”…” the subjective well-being of people “”…” remained the same. Happiness research disclosed evidences, which show that the major determinant of happiness is not the abundance of material goods but the quality of human relationships and a spiritual approach to material welfare. Buddhist countries perform surprisingly well in this respect.

 What further back up do we need to support a Buddhist approach to journalism?

2 Responses to “Notes on Buddhist Journalism—3-It’s another genre of journalism, not a replacement of current”

  1. rohana Says:

    Shelton I wouldn’t worry about what Shaymon says as he is well known to be a joker in Melbourne and most of the time don’t know what is talking about.

  2. AnuD Says:

    Asian thinking is based on Buddhism which is the Eastern philosophy. Western philosophy still tries to explain morality, ethics, evil etc., etc., Indians might say it is Hinduism as India does not have Buddhism as the prominant religion and as Buddhism is absorbed into Hinduism.

    Because of western thinking which is based on Christianity we have lot of problems.

    It looks China is trying to either revive it’s Buddhism probably, they understand how important it is to keep that easternthinking alive. My thinking is otherwise, asians will not be able to grow up to their full potential.

    In that sense, Journalism also need to change. We need revolutionary or rebellious journalists who learn from the western school and then apply it in our own way or journalists who don’t know anything about the west and they create their own from the scratch.

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