Bioethics, Communication Problems: Need for Media and Pressure Group Activism

- R.N. Sharma, Ph.D.
Flat Nos. 15-16, Building 'A' Moraya Residency, Sus Road,
Pashan (Opp. Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya)

Pune 411021, INDIA
Email: vibhor1@vsnl.com

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 11 (2001), 102-105.


Introduction

The central theme in the concept of "bioethics is love of life" (1), and the moral quality which can be brought to it, as embodied in the book by Macer of similar title (1). Bioethics includes both interpersonal ie intra specific (within humankind) relations, and interactivities between humans, the multifarious life forms, the home planet and its environment, and the Universe at large including fundamental, intellectual and spiritual precepts. Love (of life, or in general) is potently a moral desideraturm, and therefore an essential proposition of bioethics. It is necessary to redefine and emphasize the meaning and nuances of bioethics since despite the latter's simplicity and sincerity, communication gaps have allowed doubts and confusion about it to grow. There have been insinuations about the lack of transparency, and/or ambiguity about the movement and its motives. Such skepticism has been particularly manifest in the poorer and developing countries (Fig.1).

Bioethics and the Green Movement

Parallels and communication gaps.

A parallel may be drawn between Bioethics and the Green (Peace) movement. The less well to do human communities, especially those around or below poverty line, are cynical about professed environmental concerns. To some extent, this sentiment arises since most such concerns stem from the affluent, and highly consumeristic societies that have been primarily responsible for global environmental degradation. Further aeitiology of the resentment of the have-nots can be easily traced to their preoccupation with immediate dire necessities of mere survival, which do not leave margin for objectivism or altruism of any kind in the daily grim battles of piecemeal existence.

Rights and Controversies.

The plethora of 'rights' espoused by various movements, including bioethics, aggravate the confusion and general resentment in fragmented diaspora of humankind. Thus, even unprejudiced championship of human rights have detractors among ethnic, fundamental religious demogogic groups and cults. Vociferous defense of other 'Rights' for animals, plants, and even rocks (2) do not exactly make Bioethics popular, however noble and lofty the intentions. Genetic engineering is a latter day issue embroiled in bitter arguments among implacable opposites. In this hiatus of confusion and controversy, the lay public, both the average, ill informed, and even the better aware, instinctively, in a knee jerk kind of reaction seek to distance themselves away. In the process, bioethics has become a question mark for many segments of human communities across the globe (Fig.1).

Role of the media

Beginning with the printed word, the media in its cyber transformation has become a truly powerful genie which has, among other achievements, contributed to the ever nearing boundaries of the global village. However, it is singularly unfortunate that despite the power and potential of instant dissemination of events and opinions, glaring misanthropic anomalies continue to arise, and even flourish. Beginning with the Nazi evil, consanguine devils have scarred humankind again and again. The Khmer Rogue in Cambodia, the Voodoo Horror show in Haiti, the Idli Amin nightmare in Uganda. The medieval horrors so gustily being perpetrated in Afghanistan, the shameless shenangians of military tin pots in Myanmar and Pakistan, the Pagan lassiez faire masquerading as Religious fundamentalism…… . The list continues unabated, and unabashed, with little more than whispers of condemnation from rest of the obviously incapable, if not indifferent human communities, and an inept and equally impotent world media. Indeed, the latter, with all its supposed power and reach has sadly failed miserably to jog the collective conscience of mankind into taking remedial measures, let alone punitive action.

Nations and religions may be difficult to harness in the current geopolitical, and the fragmented socioeconomic diaspora of mankind. However, Impotence of the media also comes to the fore in lesser situations too, especially in developing countries. Regrettably, even in nations which do not merely profess but actually practice genuine democratic liberality, India being a prime example.

The "free" press

How "free" is the press in any society, particularly in those still struggling to erase the sceptre of poverty with all its attendant evils? The simplest answer would be, of course, as much as the given society's overall conscience. This conscience, however, is likely to be disjointed and moth-ridden in communities concerned more about the daily bread than any other material or spiritual commodity. Probably, this is why most developing nations, including India fail to qualify on the anvil of even elementary probity of public and private conduct. However, whatever the socioeconomic or other compulsions, with adult franchise, a free press and a generally 'open' society, the existing levels of moral and monetary corruption in countries such as India cannot be justified. The culprit is obviously human cupidity, and embraces as a casual corollary, negation of elementary bioethical virtues. The situation in India is most instructive. The press has been free in independent India almost without interruption, banning only the infamous period of the "Emergency" . Yet India figures high on the list of the most corrupt countries. Corruption cannot survive in any open society to the degree it is not merely flourishing, but growing undiminished in India. Sharma (3-6) has made some tentative analyses and prognostications of possible roots of this cancer and its impact on present and future Indian society and nation. When the conscience of a whole people gets perverted into egocentric and self-seeking blind alleys, the press cannot remain a paragon of virtue. It too succumbs to the lures of private gain of cash or kind, and this is one fall which is the worst, and the saddest. Indeed, it has been remarked of the Indian Press that during the Emergency, "they crawled when asked only to bend". Today, in India's more than acceptably liberal democracy of a million rights and no responsibility, no one can dare to ask anyone else to stoop in any way. Today, when even the mendicant on the street corner can abuse any and all in the land without any trepidation, the Indian Press continues to curry favours by preferring to sing rhapsodies of cheap and criminal politicians. Of course, there are courageous and path-breaking exposures at times. But these are quickly stifled and consigned to obscurity and oblivion by just a whisper from Authority. The reason? Apart from the fundamental crisis of Conscience Sharma (3-6) has pointed out elsewhere, simple economic equations entailing the power of the State and Central Governments to withhold the lucrative, indeed, life-sustaining public advertisements, also have the capacity to harass in manifold subtle and crass ways, invariably tilt the scales in favour of discreet prudence. The Press thus cannot remain unaffected by the 'looking the other way' syndrome which has become a distinctive trait of a cynical and uncaring polity of India in all walks of life, and all situations. Except that when this encompasses the institution of the press, with the rest of the media bound to follow suit in due time, the one hope of redemption from all round depravity also vanishes. Bioethics, with its current penchant for clamouring for rights, or action, on issues of essentially marginal local importance, can hardly get a fair hearing, let alone a fair deal from the slimy power and lucre brokers ruling the Indian roost today. The bigger, more universal bioethical assertions will find any number of platitudes of endorsement, but little, if any concrete action. The Indian media, especially the press, stand blatantly indicted in their gross ineptitude to take on the corrupt and depraved Indian establishment (Fig.2).

Only the Indian media and the public, as also somnolent, corrupt and inept state machinery, including a rather uncertain judiciary, would allow former Prime Ministers, and several State Chief Ministers, indicted, or even convicted of gross criminal acts of omission and commission to procrastinate their punishment indefinitely, and often succeed in escaping the prison bars altogether. Or permit regal splendour and outrageous political and economic laissez faire to its elected public representatives and their cohorts in the bureaucracy (5-6), while the multitudes toil and grind in abject deprivations, both material, and of the spirit. Add to this carnival of chicanery the inane and asinine preoccupation of the Indian polity, including the media, with minorytism. India, the ancient citadel of humankind's loftiest religions, has the dubious distinction of being a country without an official/state religion. Bowing to some linguistic groups' linguistic chauvinism, India has a spate of 'official' languages, but no National lingua franca. The 'free' Indian Press considers majority bashing and cocking psuedo-intellectual snooks at traditional majority religion aspirations a noble posture and contemporaneous virtue.

Figure 1 _________

BIOETHICS

Fallouts of the phenomenon of Life on……….



LIFE ENVIRONMENT EARTH

UNIVERSE

SPECIES

PEOPLE

***************************************************

WHAT IS BIOETHICS ? LETS TRY PUSHING IT

DOWN WITH BIOETHICS


WHO CARES!!

Figure 2

THE MEDIA VIS A VIS BIOETHICS

COMMISSIONS & OMISSIONS

COMMUNICATION DELIBERATE GENERAL

GAPS HOSTILITY CONFUSION

SIDESTEPPING/EVADING ISSUES

WANTON MISREPERESENTATION

THE REASONS [PRESSURES]

POLITICAL [GOVERNMENTAL]

ECONOMIC [REVENUE - GOVERNMENTAL]

SOCIAL [POPULISM]

INHERENT [BIAS, IGNORANCE]

OTHER ??????

 

The deception/disservice of glib reportage

It is only in India that the press 'voluntarily' refuses to recognize a spade, let alone calling one by its name. Taking cues from the spineless, vote oriented, misguided stance of political parties, the press in India identifies criminal, or even anti-national and terrorist culpability only as of 'a particular community' , when the whole country knows which community this is. This merely further encourages brazen antisocial, antinational, indeed inhuman activities of ghetto minded radical religious groups who have proved not only in India but in the world at large their constitutional inability to coexist in peace with anyone. This ostrich like policy of the Press and the politicians alike further frustrates, depresses and disorients other highly nationalistic, reformist and humanist groups.

In this cacophonous bedlam, the only Switzerland of the East, India which has a record of never shutting its doors to anyone, slithers towards a gloomy and uncertain future. Maybe even fragmentation and collapse. A vision of doom which should shock not only Indians and their well wishers, but the world at large.

The modern media

The modern 'avtars' of media, Radio, TV, Internet are as, if not more powerful than the Press. However, these too unfortunately seem inclined to take their cues from the latter, or worse, from Authority. The official Radio and TV channels are, of course the hand maidens of a crass officialdom, rightly saddled with the unenviable reputation of being unreliable and untrustworthy, and low on the list of public acceptability, let alone preference. The private channels are better in being more open in news as well as critical analyses of people and events. Despite entertainment being their primary raison d tere, many of them have programmes attempting to expose the corrupt and corruption, and these have found high favour with the viewers. All is not lost, then, so long as India remains free in essence.

The Bioethics Conundrum

What place can a humanist concept of love, probity, peace and universal co-existence like bioethics have in the dismal and morally chaotic situations which prevail in India today? And if such is the scenario in India, acknowledgedly a very (more than acceptably so) liberal democracy, what chance can it have in Banana republics and military dictatorships of dubious democratic antecedents among the diaspora of developing nations.

Communication avenues through Pressure Group activism

A small, forlorn hope lies in the possibility of reawakening consciences of whole peoples by pressure group activism. The latter, by definition excludes politically or economically powerless groups such as academics or reformists, who, much as they might try, will not be very effective in reaching, or convincing a disillusioned and cynical populace. Here, the effective 'Pressures' can be exercised by political, trade and media personae who must first be made to empathize, then sympathise, and finally communicate/popularize the aims, objectives and precepts of bioethics, and convince the general public of its relevance and application to their everyday lives as well as the environment, society, country and the world. This needs concerted, dedicated and sustained efforts by bioethics activists for support at the International level, percolating down to carefully identified national and local resource persons or organisations (there are few, if any, in developing countries). The path is treacherous and full of pitfalls since the power and money vultures are always seeking to hijack such enterprises, especially if deemed lucrative economically, or having potential to buttress their power equations.

Conclusion

Hope is, or should be, an abiding tenet of bioethics. The need today is for a compact, essentially informal and mutually empathic, fundamentally honest and sincere, radically different platform for policy and action for bioethics, at the international, National and the grass root levels. The existing fora, despite their good track record and impeccable credentials, unfortunately do not seem equal to the onerous task of meeting the bill as outlined above so long as they conform to conventional, stereotypic, and bureaucratic modes of thought and function.

References

  1. Darryl R. J. Macer : Bioethics is Love of Life. Eubios Ethics Institute. 1998
  2. Frank J. Leavitt : The Rights of Rocks. In Bioethics in India Eds. Jaypaul Azariah, Hilda Azaiah and Darryl RJ Macer. Eubios Ethics Institute. 1998
  3. R.N. Sharma : Asian/Indian Man : An Agonising Appraisal. In Bioethics in Asia. Eds Norio Fujiki and Darryl RJ Macer. Eubios Ethics Institute. 1998
  4. R.N. Sharma : The Runaway Corruption - Cynicism Syndrome in Asian Cultures. The Asian Bioethics Seminar, Tokyo. 1999
  5. R.N. Sharma : The Indian Ethical Scenario. In Environment and Bioethics. Eds Frances P Xavier and others. Loyola College Publications, Chennai. 2000
  6. R.N. Sharma :Disenchantment with Science Research and Careers in India. V World Congress of Bioethics. London 2000

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