Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What are ethical duties when confronted by injustice?

Teaching has its moments when you lead students to a certain point, and you may have made your conclusion, you might think that the conclusion is quite clear, obvious even, but your students just don't want to make that leap. When it comes down to it, they don't agree with you. They don't see it your way. Perhaps they are from a different generation or just have not seen the world your way. Perhaps they never will.

I was thinking about that today as we discussed Out of the Picture, a report by Freepress on the ownership of television stations by minorities and women. The report, not surprisingly, paints a pretty bleak picture of the situation in the United States, where the vast majority of stations are owned by white men. Even areas that are quite heavily populated by minorities are not served by stations owned by minorities.

We discussed the issue, and discussed the implication - and then I asked the critical question: Does this have to do with ethics? I can make the connection, because to me it concerns issues of social justice. But the students didn't see it that way. The white men own what they own because they are well connected. Sure. But this is legal, right? Nothing wrong with being rich.

I pointed out that the broadcast spectrum is really a public good, to be allocated so that the public benefits. But these children of Reagan Era have a different perspective. Anything hinting of affirmative action is bad. And having a policy that gives some sort of preferential treatment to minorities is bad.

I did not ask my students this question, but it intrigues me. How is this situation ever going to change, unless the government takes some action to remedy the imbalance?

I'm not out to convince them of anything - per se. But I want them to really see the reality of the media world around them, and ask themselves if it is really a just situation. And if it is not just, what is the ethical response? What is the ethical response to injustice?