Media @ McGill

Media Ethics: From Information to Markets


17-18 April, 2009
University of Montreal
Room 1035, J-Armand Bombardier Pavillion
5155 Decelles Ave., behind the main building (map)
Friday 8:30 am – 7:00 pm
Saturday 10:00 am – 4:30 pm

This event is a collaboration of Media@McGill and the Centre de recherche en éthique de l'Université de Montréal. Two members of  Media@McGill - Dr. Marc Raboy and Dr. Darin Barney – will take part in the colloquium.

“This is a timely collaboration between Media@McGill and the CREUM,” says Prof. Raboy, “With all the upheaval we are witnessing in the media environment, it is the right moment to be looking at the way media practices are affected by the economics of the media industries and the impact that this has on our democracy.”

Professor Raboy (Beaverbrook Chair in Ethics, Media and Communications) will present on the ethical foundations of media policy. His paper will look at the ways that “privately-owned, commercially-driven media have resisted state intervention… Ethically, there is no more reason for media institutions to remain in the realm of private life than, say, the education system. The essential question is whether or not public policy can enhance the role of media in the public sphere, not whether it violates the private property rights of media owners.”

Professor Barney (Canada Research Chair in Technology and Citizenship) will present on the 'revenge of publicity'. He says, "Emerging technologies have saturated the public sphere with information, communication and opportunities to participate, but it remains unclear whether this saturation contributes to more, or less, robust practices of political engagement. The question I will be asking is whether the prospects of political judgment are served, or undermined, by the participatory affordances of emerging media technologies."

The event programme is now available.

Media institutions are essential instruments of democracy, but they are also companies and actors in economic markets. We often reproach the media in a way that brings to light these two roles they bear.

The lamentations are common: the regretful slogan “if it bleeds, it leads” suggestive of the sensational character through information is sold, the intensified coverage of “attractive events,” such as celebrity adoptions, that are otherwise minor when compared to other, more pressing politics. These complaints often express as dissatisfaction with media organizations’ fulfillment of their roles as democratic institutions, which serve a number of functions: acting as the guard dogs of valid and truthful information, increasing the quality of public debate, as well as contributing to the democratic vitality of other institutions, to name a few. Yet, as private enterprises, media institutions are also subject to the responsibility of increasing profits, which leaves many to treat information as a commercial product. This second role seems to accommodate, if not justify, the objects of the above lamentations.
Consequently, the following question arises: are these two responsibilities contradictory? Otherwise put, does the economic nature of media institutions bring them to produce information of a higher quality or more information of lower quality?

The objective of this conference can be summarized as addressing these questions. More particularly, we want to try to take into account the adversarial nature of the economic environment in which journalists evolve and conduct their work. While this adversarial perspective is frequently used in business ethics research, it has yet to be systematically applied to studying the roles and responsibilities of media institutions. Our conference aims to explore these perspectives in a manner that brings to light the tensions of a free press in a free market, while examining the practical solutions that are available.


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