Culture is a broad term that is often used in a wide variety of contexts. Its meanings can be anything from very narrow conceptualizations such as the notion of high culture to a much broader view of culture being all-encompassing. In addition, scholars identify different types of cultures, such as regional, national, or even global cultures, as well as sub-cultures or cultures of shared social practices. At the social systems level, culture is often defined as relating to shared social practices, meanings, beliefs, symbols and norms. The relationship between journalism, culture, and society is a symbiotic one. Journalism influences culture, but it is also influenced by it. In fact, as some argue, journalism is culture. While journalism’s influence on culture has found extensive attention in the cultural studies literature, cultural and societal influences on journalism have been far less researched. When studies examine broader media system influences on journalism, the focus tends to be on political and economic determinants. However, cultural influences also provide substantial explanatory potential when trying to understand why journalism is practiced differently across the globe. Culture as the broader system of beliefs and practices in a given society, as in the case of cultural values, has an established research tradition in cross-cultural psychology. Three key works on cultural values provide guidance for examining cultural influences on journalism, and involving these in research improves understanding of journalism cultures on a variety of levels. Both normative calls for the preferred role of culture in journalism, as well as empirical studies of the influence of cultural values on journalism demonstrate the value such approaches bring to journalism studies.
A communication style is the way people communicate with others, verbally and nonverbally. It combines both language and nonverbal cues and is the meta-message that dictates how listeners receive and interpret verbal messages. Of the theoretical perspectives proposed to understand cultural variations in communication styles, the most widely cited one is the differentiation between high-context and low-context communication by Edward Hall, in 1976. Low-context communication is used predominantly in individualistic cultures and reflects an analytical thinking style, where most of the attention is given to specific, focal objects independent of the surrounding environment; high-context communication is used predominantly in collectivistic cultures and reflects a holistic thinking style, where the larger context is taken into consideration when evaluating an action or event. In low-context communication, most of the meaning is conveyed in the explicit verbal code, whereas in high-context communication, most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, with very little information given in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message. The difference can be further explicated through differences between communication styles that are direct and indirect (whether messages reveal or camouflage the speaker’s true intentions), self-enhancing and self-effacing (whether messages promote or deemphasize positive aspects of the self), and elaborate and understated (whether rich expressions or extensive use of silence, pauses, and understatements characterize the communication). These stylistic differences can be attributed to the different language structures and compositional styles in different cultures, as many studies supporting the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis have shown. These stylistic differences can become, in turn, a major source of misunderstanding, distrust, and conflict in intercultural communication. A case in point is how the interethnic clash between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs can be exacerbated by the two diametrically opposite communication patterns they each have, dugri (straight talk) and musayra (to accommodate or “to go along with”). Understanding differences in communication styles and where these differences come from allows us to revise the interpretive frameworks we tend to use to evaluate culturally different others and is a crucial step toward gaining a greater understanding of ourselves and others.
The design and dissemination of health and risk messages invariably involves moral and ethical issues. The choice of the topics, the focus on particular recommended practices, the choice of particular groups to be the intended recipients of the messages and their inclusion in or exclusion from the message development process, all raise ethical issues. Further, the persuasive tactics used to influence people to change their attitudes and beliefs and to adopt recommended changes in their lives also raise ethical concerns. For example, persuasive tactics may infringe on people’s privacy when people view images they may find intrusive, offensive, or cause them distress. Tactics that “tug” at people’s emotions may infringe on their unhindered ability to make a conscientious decision. Employing digital media and sophisticated advertising and marketing tactics also elicits ethical challenges both related to their manipulative potential and their differential reach: all of which may contribute to social and health disparities. In addition, the practices recommended in health and risk messages may conflict with values people cherish. For example, people could be urged to change the way they communicate with their spouses on intimate issues, relinquish the consumption of favorite traditional foods—or messages may raise issues that recipients find taboo according to their culture or religious beliefs. Health and risk messages may have unforeseen and unintended adverse effects that could affect people’s emotional and physical aspects by inadvertently contributing to people’s sense of guilt through shaming or stigmatization. Also, on the cultural and social level, such messages may contribute to an idealization of a certain lifestyle or commercialization of products and celebrities associated with the messages. Philosophical and ethical frameworks typically used in communication ethics, bioethics, communication campaigns, and social marketing literature emphasize the central guiding principles of personal autonomy and privacy with the aim to ensure equity and fairness. The obligation to avoid “doing harm” includes concerns regarding labeling, stigmatizing, and depriving; the obligation to help; the obligation to respect people’s autonomy to make free choices, particularly concerns regarding persuasion tactics and manipulations and the use of threat tactics, provocative appeals, distressing images, framing tactics, cultural sensitivity, and moral relativism; the obligation to obtain consent; the obligation to truthfulness; the obligation to sincerity; the obligation to correctness, certitude, and reliability; the issue of personal responsibility; equity obligations including concerns regarding segmentation and “targeting”; the obligation to comprehensibility; the obligation of inclusion; utility and efficiency considerations; the “harm reduction” approach; and concerns regarding social value priorities and “distortions,” which includes prosocial values as moral appeals.
Lisbeth A. Lipari
Communication ethics concerns the creation and evaluation of goodness in all aspects and manifestations of communicative interaction. Because both communication and ethics are tacitly or explicitly inherent in all human interactions, everyday life is fraught with intentional and unintentional ethical questions—from reaching for a cup of coffee to speaking critically in a public meeting. Thus ethical questions infuse all areas of the discipline, including rhetoric, media studies, intercultural/international communication, relational and organization communication, as well as other iterations of the field.
In Western Europe, the notion of public service in the media was originally associated with traditional public-service broadcasters. However, since the 1990s, the general idea of public-service broadcasting and the continuing need for it in a digitized, content-abundant environment have been questioned. In particular, public-service broadcasters’ online activities have triggered controversial discussions and policy responses, not least because of direct competition with online services of the private media. At the same time, discussions have emerged about the meaning of public service and attendant concepts such as public value, challenging the hitherto commonly accepted attachment of the concept to a specific technology (broadcasting) and a specific—publicly procured and financed—organizational setting. In response to this and backed by politics, public-service broadcasters have reinvented themselves as public-service media. They have expanded their remit beyond television and radio into multimedia realms such as the Internet and, in addition to this, have started devoting new attention to the general public as their prime target of accountability—thus opposed to the original exclusive accountability to politics. Such accountability has been pursued, among other things, through direct cooperation with the public or other ways of connecting with it, for example, through personalization efforts and participatory formats. Although the public has rhetorically become the prime target of accountability, there is little discussion or acknowledgement of the actual perceptions that the public has about the general idea of public service and how public-service broadcasters accomplish this task. With few exceptions, studies continue the dominant paradigm of audience research, which construes the public almost exclusively as consumers.