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Posts Tagged ‘newspapers’

With the Leveson Report just out, and the Year of Faith ongoing, I went back to the document Inter Mirifica, the Decree on the Media of Social Communications from the Second Vatican Council, promulgated on 4 December 1963.

Double Octuple Newspaper Press  by Sue Clarke

It has to be said that this is not the most celebrated of the documents from Vatican II. Many commentators think that it was not creative enough, not sensitive to the moment, not aware of the need for the Church to open out to the world. But it’s interesting to read – fifty years later – the two main paragraphs that concern what we would now call ‘media ethics’ (see paragraphs 5 and 12 copied below).

The primary concern is to protect the freedom of the press, and to highlight the importance of a free media for the common good. I don’t know the background to the document well, but one of the defining features of the political landscape will have been the Cold War, and the multiple threats to freedom that were emerging in Eastern Bloc countries. The main worry for the Council fathers was not press intrusion but state intrusion. So they assert the ‘right to information’.

Nevertheless, this right is not absolute. It requires truth, justice, charity; respect for the laws of morality and the rights and dignity of individuals; and the manner of communication should be ‘proper and decent’. Public authority should protect this freedom of information, but it is also obliged ‘to exercise a fitting and careful watch lest grave damage befall public morals and the welfare of society through the base use of these media’. The language is almost archaic; the meaning is clear.

So you can’t move from Inter Mirifica to a concrete conclusion about which recommendations in the Leveson report to implement, but there are some helpful principles here which seem as relevant as they were fifty years ago.

Here are the relevant paragraphs:

5. It is, however, especially necessary that all parties concerned should adopt for themselves a proper moral outlook on the use of these media, especially with respect to certain questions that have been vigorously aired in our day.

The first question has to do with “information,” as it is called, or the search for and reporting of the news. Now clearly this has become most useful and very often necessary for the progress of contemporary society and for achieving closer links among men. The prompt publication of affairs and events provides every individual with a fuller, continuing acquaintance with them, and thus all can contribute more effectively to the common good and more readily promote and advance the welfare of the entire civil society. Therefore, in society men have a right to information, in accord with the circumstances in each case, about matters concerning individuals or the community. The proper exercise of this right demands, however, that the news itself that is communicated should always be true and complete, within the bounds of justice and charity. In addition, the manner in which the news is communicated should be proper and decent. This means that in both the search for news and in reporting it, there must be full respect for the laws of morality and for the legitimate rights and dignity of the individual. For not all knowledge is helpful, but “it is charity that edifies.”

12. The public authority, in these matters, is bound by special responsibilities in view of the common good, to which these media are ordered. The same authority has, in virtue of its office, the duty of protecting and safeguarding true and just freedom of information, a freedom that is totally necessary for the welfare of contemporary society, especially when it is a question of freedom of the press. It ought also to encourage spiritual values, culture and the fine arts and guarantee the rights of those who wish to use the media. Moreover, public authority has the duty of helping those projects which, though they are certainly most beneficial for young people, cannot otherwise be undertaken.

Lastly, the same public authority, which legitimately concerns itself with the health of the citizenry, is obliged, through the promulgation and careful enforcement of laws, to exercise a fitting and careful watch lest grave damage befall public morals and the welfare of society through the base use of these media. Such vigilance in no wise restricts the freedom of individuals or groups, especially where there is a lack of adequate precaution on the part of those who are professionally engaged in using these media.

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Big changes are taking place in New York City. A quarter of a million street signs, traditionally written in capital letters, are to be replaced with signs that capitalise only the initial letter.

This isn’t an orthographical fetish, but a response to the psychological/physiological fact that capital letters are harder to read. According to the New York Post:

Studies have shown that it is harder to read all-caps signs, and those extra milliseconds spent staring away from the road have been shown to increase the likelihood of accidents, particularly among older drivers.

BROADWAY will become Broadway; and a new font, called Clearview, has been developed for the purpose. David Marsh explains:

Officials argue that the changes will save lives and the city’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, also suggested that the new signs might reflect a kinder, gentler New York. “On the internet, writing in all caps means you are shouting,” she said. “Our new signs can quiet down, as well.”

Despite hysterical Daily News coverage that said “several” New Yorkers were “outraged” by the change – it quoted three – the paper’s own poll showed that two-thirds of the public is behind the switch from capital letters.

It won’t surprise regular Guardian readers that I agree with them. The Guardian style guide has long encouraged the gradual move away from capitals. So do other newspapers and websites, although some venerable style guides are still agonising over whether to lowercase internet and world wide web. (Be assured they will do so, perhaps in time for the 22nd century.)

In part, the switch from capitals reflects a society that is less deferential than in the days when the Manchester Guardian would write something like this: “The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER, Mr LLOYD GEORGE, presented the Naval Estimates to Ministers and Members of the House.”

Most readers seem comfortable with a less formal style. A grand total of two people complained about our coverage of the pope’s, rather than the Pope’s, recent visit to the UK. We did receive a letter last week complaining that calling David Cameron the prime minister, not the Prime Minister (a style we have been following for more than a decade) reflected a “lowering of standards”, but such complaints are few.

To return to traffic signs. New York’s commendable decision is an echo of one taken in the UK 50 years ago, when the brilliant designers Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert, given the task of updating the country’s chaotic system of road signs, concluded that “a combination of upper and lowercase letters would be more legible than conventional uppercase lettering”. They produced a new font, known as Transport, which they felt would be friendlier and more appealing to British drivers than the stark modernist style used in continental Europe. The classic British road signage that they designed is still in use. 

Is anyone opinionated enough to disagree with this descent to the lower case? Declaration of interest here: I’ve got into the habit of writing all my email subject headings in lower case, even the first letters of proper names! Is this socially acceptable or social death?

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The Guardian has scanned the front pages of fourteen newspapers today.

You can see the wildly different ways in which the election of a lifetime is being presented: from the Sun’s Obamaesque picture of David Cameron, ‘OUR ONLY HOPE’, to the Mirror’s ‘PRIME MINISTER? REALLY?’ splashed across a grim-looking photo of the same man. You could do a whole degree in media studies analysing the different presentations.

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As you know by now, I try to avoid reading the plot summaries in film reviews. So it was a delight, as a novice blogger, to discover that Julie & Julia is about someone who starts a blog.

We jump back and forward between two lives. We see Julia Child discovering the wonders of French cooking in 1950s Paris, longing to publish her own account of these recipes in English for the American market – an account that was eventually published as the hugely influential Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And two generations later we see Julie Powell, who vows in August 2002 to create all 524 of Child’s recipes in one year, and blogs about her efforts. The blog is still online, and here is her first post.

Masterin' by chrisfreeland2002.

In the dramatic structure of the film – two parallel lives, mirroring each other, full of connections and echoes – we are meant to see Julie’s blogging as the contemporary equivalent of Julia’s writing. Communication and self-expression have now taken a digital form. But what’s so interesting is that the ‘contemporary’ blog is really a means to a much more traditional goal: a book deal. Julie’s dream (in the framework of a romantic comedy), is not to get her man – she is already married; it’s not even to be a successful blogger – the hits start coming in pretty quickly. It’s simply to be recognised by the journals and published as an author.

So the film, based on a true story, has its own take on that continuing discussion of whether the internet and the blogosphere have more significance in contemporary culture than the traditional mainstream media. It shows that however successful someone is in the virtual world, there is a continuing allure in the printed word – newspapers, magazines, books. You could even call it a romance – at least for those old enough to have grown up enchanted by books, like Julie. But this was five or six years ago already; and I wonder how differently the story would play out today.

[As a film, it was patchy. Funny and moving in parts, but much of it feeling like a well produced sit-com. If you want someone to persuade you to see it, there is a glowing review of the film here.]

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