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The Ethics of Human Dignity and Freedom of Expression

Part of the Contemporary Gulf Studies book series (CGS)

Abstract

When human dignity is a universal principle and not defined in Eurocentric terms, it means honoring the intrinsic worthiness of all human beings. The issue for the Al Jazeera Media Network as an international organization is whether in its programming and policies, it is committed and how, to the ethical principle of human dignity. In the Eurocentric North, human dignity is anchored in individual rights and the legal order. An ethics of human dignity, rooted in the dignity of everyone without exception, is a cross-cultural idea in the monotheistic religions (Islam-Christianity-Judaism), Confucius, Immanuel Kant, and African communalism. It is affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. The normative principle of human dignity insists on gender equality in the profession, on affirming the identity of the marginalized, and on ethnic diversity. These issues are treated where appropriate throughout the book. For this chapter, the ethics of human dignity as inherent worthiness is applied to language considered offensive because of race or religious extremism, cyber hate speech, and atrocious images. Following this ethical principle for organizational culture, freedom of expression is a fundamental prerogative of the news media in opposing censorship. This chapter argues that the issues of free expression and censorship in the Al Jazeera Media Network should not be based on the Western concepts of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, but should be governed by the cross-cultural definition of human dignity as the intrinsic worthiness of human life.

Keywords

  • Freedom of expression
  • Hate speech
  • Human dignity
  • Media ethics
  • News media
  • Universals

The theory sections of this chapter in earlier and abridged form were published in Media Ethics, 29(1), Fall 2017, “Research-in-Progress: The Ethics of Human Dignity in Al Jazeera” [mediethicsmagazine.com].

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Samuel Fleischacker’s The Ethics of Culture (1994) is instructive on the need for universal principles to orient our thinking and practice. Unless there are principles of universal scope, we commit the distributive fallacy, that is, we allow one ideology or community to speak for the whole.

  2. 2.

    An international charter of human responsibilities was launched in 2001 at the World Assembly of Citizens held in Lille, France, to stand alongside the multiple international documents built on the necessity of human freedom (https://www.charter-human-responsibilities-net/).

  3. 3.

    Tarek Al-Noman emphasizes the fact that in the Arab-Islamic cultural context, “the ruler assumes the burden of responsibility, requiring the people or r’ya to pay back for this sacrifice in the form of loyalty, the pledge of allegiance, bay’a, and total support with non negotiable obedience” (Sizoo 2010, p. 22). The Lingala word for responsibility, mokumba, is a synonym of weight and pregnancy, not only of a woman but also of the chief and the elders who are carrying the weight of social pregnancy (Sizoo 2010, pp. 23–24).

  4. 4.

    Herein lies the challenge to the philosophy-of-language tradition. If the media’s freedom is a moral right, who will guarantee its moral rectitude? Where does one turn to ensure that society will be served responsibly? The focus has been on what journalism can do internally to regulate itself convincingly. Codes of ethics developed as intramedia mechanisms among news media professionals are typically understood as the most effective agent of self-regulation. But professional codes are limited by the local, regional, or national contexts in which they are formulated. The responsibility-positive-freedom model has an ethical basis commensurate in scope to the media’s global reach.

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Christians, C.G. (2019). The Ethics of Human Dignity and Freedom of Expression. In: Sadig, H. (eds) Al Jazeera in the Gulf and in the World. Contemporary Gulf Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-3420-7_8

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