A highly unethical ethics conference?

The Institute of Communication Ethics (ICE) held its annual conference last Wednesday, October 28th, at Coventry University. The meeting was titled “I’m an ethicist… get me out of here” and focused on the concept of celebrity in the media.

Attending from the University of Lincoln were Professor Richard Keeble and Professor John Tulloch. Keeble is a journalism professor at Lincoln, and also the joint-editor of its journal, Ethical Space. Tulloch is the head of the Lincoln School of Journalism, and joint-reviews editor for journal.

The keynote speaker was Nick Jones, a former BBC political correspondent, talking about the use of apologies by politicians in order to make stories go away.

Jones said out that politicians could rely on the word “sorry” in order to placate journalists, and make them feel as if they’d won. But, he pointed out, the apologies were often not for the actual trespass, but for things such as “the way it was handled”.

“Rushing out an apology… is usually a cosmetic. Journalists end up being deflected.”

I can’t help but wonder whether the journalists and academics who made contributed to the conference had also been deflected.

In ICE’s call for abstracts it suggests, amongst other things, whether “the politics of celebrity culture serve to marginalise more significant issues and perspectives (thus contributing to the ‘dumbing down’ of the media and the rise of ‘churnalism’)?”

Jones’s presentation was the only thing that perhaps had real significance (though one can debate the importance of this country’s political games).

The rest of the speakers failed to “step back” and consider the wider issues. None of them considered the manufactured nature of celebrity, but were happy to think and talk about the ethical issues of letting “Bex” into last year’s “Big Brother”, or the presentation of contestants on “Britain’s Got Talent”.

Surely the real ethical issue is that suggested by the institute, and surely the answer is that the most unethical thing to do is waste time and energy that could be better spent on real problems, rather than manufactured spectacles.

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