The Ethics of Human Dignity in Al Jazeera
BY CLIFFORD G. CHRISTIANS
Al Jazeera was founded in Qatar as an Arabic language satellite channel in 1994. Adding Al Jazeera English in 2006, online digital AJ+, and expanding the news network into specialty and documentary channels in multiple languages, the Al Jazeera Media Network is now a global news operation that rivals the BBC and CNN International.
I am participating as a team member in a three-year study of Al Jazeera supported by the Qatar National Research Fund. Its purpose is to evaluate Al Jazeera’s news policies and programming in terms of ethical principles. This report is an initial statement of research into whether one of these principles, the ethics of human dignity, is relevant for Al Jazeera. Immanuel Kant’s declaration on human dignity is indispensable for Western media ethics, but for the global Al Jazeera, human dignity needs a world definition. The Al Jazeera Media Network is a product of the MacBride Report’s New World Information and Communication Order, seeking to reverse the North to South information flow (MacBride, 1980). The question for the Qatar National Research study is whether Al Jazeera is following the principles of media ethics in fulfilling this new direction in news gathering and reporting.
For communication ethics to be effective in grounding the Al Jazeera news operation, it must be global in scope and multicultural in content. The scholarship to date indicates that if the Al Jazeera Media Network bases its ethical framework on the distinctive worth of the human species, it will have acquired status as an alternative to western rationalist individualism.
Theories of Human Dignity Worldwide
Research in intellectual history makes it clear that human dignity is a central reference point for a number of cultural, social scientific and philosophical debates. “In both the northern and the southern hemispheres, in common law and civilian legal systems, human dignity plays a prominent role” (Düwell et al, 2014, p. 1). Human dignity is the normative framework for matters of international politics in a globalized and multicultural world. The cognitive vitality of this concept in a broad range of societies historically and geographically indicates that it also can serve as a unifying idea for Al Jazeera as an international news enterprise.
In Abderrahmane Azzi’s (2017) analysis, human dignity is both spiritual and relational in Islamic ethics. As he describes it, “the term dignity (in Arabic Al Karama) is derived from one of God’s attributes, Al Karim (cf. Al Hanfi, 1996, p. 9); that is, the value of dignity is bestowed by the Creator and mirrored in human relations” (Azzi, 2017). “The more we reflect on God’s attributes, the more we are able to reflect parts of such attributes in our lived reality” (Azzi, 2011, p. 759; cf. Maróth, 2014).
In Immanuel Kant, human dignity inheres in our capacity to make reasoned decisions voluntarily. Therefore, this summary in his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: “So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” (Kant, 1785, 4:429).
Thaddeus Metz of the University of Johannesburg assesses the history of ubuntu following this definition of human dignity: “For beings to have dignity is basically for each of them to be objectively good for their own sake to an equally superlative degree that entitles them to respectful treatment” (Metz, 2012, pp. 20-21). ( Ubuntu is a summary word for the Zulu maxim umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu meaning “a person is a person through other persons” or “I am because of others.”) In the tradition of African communalism, humanness is obtained through community relations, and because of their capacity for communalism, all members of the human species have dignity (Metz, 2014; Iroegbu, 2005).
Confucius (551-479 BCE) in The Analects uses ren (humaneness) as the term for morality in general. This core concept and the specific virtues that derive from it are rooted in a person’s essential humanity ( ren ). While individual rights represent Occidental values, “dwelling in humaneness” belongs to the human species as a whole. The Confucian tradition affirms that people have a duty to treat other human beings in a way that respects their dignity (Do-Dinh, 1969).
These perspectives on human dignity are representative internationally. Across history and geography they affirm the special status of the human species or the basic entitlements of all species members. All four theories introduced here—and their similar affirmation in religions and philosophy worldwide—consider human dignity an inalienable property, that is, a non-contingent implication of one’s status as human. Together they endorse the definition of Manfred Stanley, albeit with differing inflections of emphasis and nomenclature:
Human dignity is the respect-worthiness imputed to humankind by reason of its privileged ontological status as creator, maintainer, and destroyer of worlds. Each self shares in this essential dignity insofar as it partakes in world-building or world-destroying actions. Thus, human dignity does not rest on intention, moral merit, or subjective definitions of self-interest. It rests on the fact that we are, in this fundamental way that is beyond our intention, human. … To assert dignity is to both acknowledge the factuality of human creative agency and to accept responsibility for its use (Stanley, 1978, pp. 69-70).
Following Stanley, the commonality of these traditions justifies respect-worthiness as the basic norm of human existence and human dignity as the norm for global media such as Al Jazeera.
Ronald Dworkin’s review of the history of ideas comes to the same conclusion: dignity has a central role in human existence and, therefore, in moral systems (Dworkin, 2010). As Dworkin sees it, what life means and morality requires, and what justice demands, are different aspects of the same large question. Human values in all their forms are unified around one big idea, that is, dignity. It is the centrifugal human nerve. Dignity is the all-encompassing value that controls all social and professional values. For this reason, “human dignity has a central role in the moral and philosophical interpretation of human beings” (Düwell, 2014, p. xxi).
This ethical principle of human dignity, based on cultural diversity rather than individual rights, is presented here as a cross-cultural standard for Al Jazeera. It raises fundamental objections to cultural values that are exclusionary and oppressive and, therefore, applies to the intercultural struggles that are faced directly and intensely by Al Jazeera. The normative principle of human dignity insists on gender equality in the profession; it affirms the identity of the marginalized; it endorses ethnic pluralism; it speaks against the dehumanization caused by poverty worldwide.
However, implementing this multicultural responsibility presumes the press’ freedom to do so. If the media’s mission is carried out by those whose intrinsic worthiness is denied, journalism’s agenda should not be controlled by authorities implicated in this denial. Therefore, in applying this ethical principle to organizational culture, freedom of expression is the first priority of the news media as a whole and of Al Jazeera specifically. Noha Mellor (2016) puts the necessity of free expression in these terms: “In the Arab media landscape…where media and politics are unremittingly intertwined,” it is “difficult for the news media to achieve full professional independence” (p. 349). “All news outlets in the region operate within a wider system of policies and regulations which directly impact on the outlets’ output and freedom of expression. The political factor is the most important in the analysis of the news production in the region” (p. 359). In a mediascape “jam-packed with factional and partisan media, it is a challenge for any outlet to provide the forum for free exchange of ideas and criticism” (p. 360) that the multicultural agenda requires.
“The Qatari constitution of 2004 provides for freedom of speech and the press,” but it remains a difficult task for Al Jazeera with its headquarters in Qatar to implement its editorial independence effectively (Figenschou, 2014, p. 205). As Ezzeddine Abdelmoula (2015) puts it, “There is an acute need for a new paradigm to account for the specific media-state relationship to explain the possibility of democratic media operating under undemocratic regimes” (quoted in Mellor, 2016, p. 354). My research-in-progress indicates that human dignity is the key concept in this new paradigm. An international news model based on the intrinsic dignity of the human species gives the media professions a distinctive identity. The human dignity model would enable Al Jazeera to meet Mellor’s (2016) appeal, “to spearhead initiatives that increase the autonomy of media professionals in an attempt to mitigate the state’s intervention” (p. 363) by provoking “an exchange of ideas and open discussion in a responsible manner” (p. 358). Al Jazeera’s legitimacy to be recognized as a journalistic leader comes from an understanding of freedom of expression in global, not Western, terms. The international definition of human dignity is a non-western framework.
Organizations need norms beyond their own values in order to be self-critical. Comparative studies across media technologies and different cultures require transnational principles for interpretation and assessment. “Only an ‘outside’ lets us know that we are limited and defined by these limitations; only an ‘outside’ shapes us” and enables us to evaluate circumstances and move forward constructively (Fleischacker, 1992, p. 223). Without principles of universal scope, ethical theory and professional practice are trapped in the distributive fallacy, that is, one ideological bloc presuming to speak for the whole. In harmony with the intellectual traditions around the world that affirm the intrinsic worthiness of the human species, the ethics of human dignity develops a morality of multiculturalism rooted in our common humanity.
Freedom of Expression
This research-in-progress concludes that the issues of free expression and censorship in Al Jazeera should not be based first-of-all on the Western concept of individual rights, but governed instead by the cross-cultural definition of human dignity as the intrinsic worthiness of human life. Scholarship on Al Jazeera, for the most part, has concluded that it has used its independence to “broaden the range of topics that people in the Arab world can talk about publicly” (Figenschou, 2014, p. 11).
It has been applauded since its founding in 1996 for its ability to contradict censorious governments and break social taboos. Al Jazeera provided the major coverage of the revolutionary protests from Tunisia to Egypt called the “Arab Spring” from December 2010 to mid-2012. By the time of Al Jazeera’s coverage of this dangerous and difficult, often violent, uprising in North Africa and the Middle East, it “had over fifteen years of practice in how to circumvent regional censors and how to continue covering Arab realities after being banned or shut down from various countries and areas” (Figenschou, 2014, p. 17). Since Al Jazeera’s mission is explicitly international, its effectiveness as a leader in the “narrative of change” (Lynch, 2011; cf. Lynch, 2013, pp. 56-176; cf. Figenschou, 2014, pp. 11-17) will be enhanced when its legitimacy as a free press is based on global perspectives rather than on the Western definition of freedom. The issue is intellectually complicated and requires clarification from the history of ideas.
Freedom of Expression as a Political-Legal Concept
Freedom of expression comes out of classical western political theory which depends on the dualism of individual and society, with rational individual choice accountable to the rules of the social contract. The political-legal perspective that considers free expression an individual right is the legacy of the British empiricist John Stuart Mill. In On Liberty (1859) Mill argued that “there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.” Mill contends that the maximum liberty of expression is required to advance discussion to its logical limits. Mill believed that opinions carry intrinsic value to the owners of those convictions; therefore, to silence expression of those opinions is an injustice to a fundamental human right. For Mill, the only instance in which action or expression can be legitimately suppressed is to prevent direct harm to the others’ well-being. Neither economic consequences nor morality justify suppression of speech.
Autonomous individuality is ineradicable and non-negotiable in Mill. Since we are self-governing independent beings, living our lives according to our own purposes is obvious and essential. As Mill insists in his political philosophy, On Liberty , “The free development of individuality is one of the principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief ingredient of individual and social progress” (1859/1975, p. 50). The supremacy of individual autonomy is also the foundational principle in Mill’s Utilitarianism (1861) and in his manual for empirical social science, A System of Logic (1843). Since individual liberty (in Mill) has priority, the most effective way to produce maximum happiness is by the freedom to develop one’s personal preferences. Individuated selves have priority over the domain of the good.
Mill is presuming—uncritically—the tradition (known since Athenian Greece) of rational choice theory. Classical Greek philosophy is built on the premise that the good life for the human being is one in which actions imply or follow a rational principle. Plato and Aristotle shared a common rationalism as identifying our essential humanness. The view of human nature in classical Western theory centers on the uniqueness of the rational faculties in the human species and places extraordinary emphasis on the human actor’s capacity for rational thought. This version of rational being was made iconic by Rene Descartes in 17th century France. He portrayed human subjects as interiorized mental entities; the essence of the self is res cognitans, a thinking substance.
Kant’s rationalist ethics is likewise based on the belief that only through human reason can autonomous agents attain knowledge for living well. Instead of prizing care and reciprocity, for example, concepts such as freedom of expression are developed that move from the premise of rational human nature to conclusions about the authority of rules and precepts for socio-political organizations. Through rational processes, authorities create such basic policies as freedom of expression that subjects and citizens must follow and against which all criminal acts can be measured. In summary, at the centerpiece of freedom of expression is uncoerced subjectivity, a theory of human nature presumed to be unproblematic and upon which an apparatus of neutral standards is constructed.
The Philosophy-of-Language Perspective
Rather than simply assume the individualism and formalism of Mill’s trajectory, and be trapped in its limitations, we can make substantial progress on freedom of expression in a multicultural world with a different philosophical foundation. The intersubjective philosophy of language is the opposite of individuated linear rationality. When human existence is intrinsically lingual, and we grasp meaning in lived experience, we have a different basis of knowledge. Freedom of expression is not understood as an individual right , first of all, but a human necessity for activating our intrinsic worthiness as lingual beings.
In the ethics of human dignity, freedom of expression is not considered the outcome of solitary subjective attitudes. Language is contextual, but because use of language is universal to the human race, our understanding of freedom of expression ought to be governed by a cross-cultural principle, the intrinsic worthiness of human life. This perspective on the centrality of free expression requires that we start over intellectually, not from autonomous individuality, but from the universal idea of the human species’ intrinsic worthiness. For a redefinition of freedom of expression that is multicultural, the philosophers of language are of particular relevance, with Ernst Cassirer, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur representative of those who define humans as expressing their humanity in language. Hence, the interactive human community is the normative ideal, in opposition to the solitary self as the normative ideal.
People are born into linguistic systems where values and meanings are either presumed or negotiated. Contrary to the individual-and-society dualism in the freedom-of-expression tradition inherited from Mill, people know themselves primarily as beings-in-a-lingual-relation. “Language” and “human being” are not separate and isolated concepts, but one is ultimately inextricable from the other. The public sphere is conceived as a mosaic of particular communities, a pluralism of ethnic identities and worldviews intersecting to form a social bond—but each distinctive as well. The idea of language in the intersubjective human condition is an alternative to the individual rationality of free expression in legal terms that disembeds the self and operates by procedures.
The symbolic philosophy-of-language idea establishes a definitive form in the 20th century in an intellectual trajectory from Ferdinand de Saussure’s Cours de lingistique general (1916) to Ernst Cassirer’s four-volume Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1923-1929/1953-1957/1966). For Cassirer, symbolization is not merely the hallmark of human cognition, but our representational capacity defines us anthropologically; therefore, Cassirer (1944) titled his monograph summarizing the four volumes An Essay on Man. He identified our unique capacity to generate symbolic structures as a radical alternative to the animale rationale of ancient Greece, to Descartes’ rational being, and to Kant’s categorical imperatives.
Defining language as an active presence in the constitutive structure of human existence means that humans are creative beings. Understanding is the “basic structure of our experience of life” (Gadamer, 1970, p. 87). The essence of understanding is not individualistic rationality but interactive dialogue through which humans engage each others’ cultures. In Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, language is not a vehicle of private meaning and subjectivism, as rational choice epistemology assumes, but belongs to the community where it is nurtured in reflection and action.
The symbolic theory of language gives us a different understanding of communication than the one presumed in freedom of expression as a political-legal concept. Communication is no longer seen as an external exchange of signs. It is not a bridge between two social entities that exist as political or economic domains outside it. Communication is the medium of human existence as intersubjectivity , that is, communication is our mode of belonging together with others in a community (Gadamer, 1989, p. 404). Dialogic intersubjectivity, not the autonomous self, is primordial to the human order.
Mediated languages are not first of all technologies that organize content, but they are intermeshed in the ways humans as cultural beings create and authenticate meanings (Carey, 1989). In the lingual understanding of human existence, we know ourselves through our symbolic expressions, and mediations are symbolic forms in and through which life is meaningful. In her Philosophy in a New Key (1942), Suzanne Langer argued that symbolic action is a distinctive feature of the human species, with such concepts as freedom of expression a symbolic construct derived from the interpretive domains of image, myth, and metaphor. The symbolic realm is the human species’ intrinsic capacity to reconstruct the world—typically called “culture.” In the cultural approach to communication, humanity has “only history” embedded in some context. “History does not belong to us; we belong to it” (Gadamer, 1975, p. 276). Instead of separating human agents from the representational domain, mediations derive their meaning from the historical context humans themselves symbolize. Restricting our creative capacity as symbol makers violates our species distinctiveness.
While the legal-political understanding of free expression is parochial to the West, the philosophy-of-language as symbolic refers to a natural ability across the human race. As Gadamer (1989) summarizes: “That language is originally human, means at the same time that homo sapiens’ being in the world is primordially linguistic” (p. 443). Our human linguisticality applies to all people on earth. Therefore, when this understanding of language undergirds freedom of expression, it enters the international arena free of the Western Enlightenment’s political and legal bias.
In the philosophy-of-language perspective on freedom of expression, its basis is moral and, therefore, expression is conditioned by a norm. When human existence is understood as fundamentally intersubjective, our relation to other selves carries moral obligations. Freedom of expression, in terms of the philosophy-of-language paradigm, is grounded in the norm of inherent dignity that is basic to humans as the symbol-making species. On account of possessing certain properties, all humans have worth. And that worthiness is sufficient for the rights we are owed. There does not have to be something else that confers these rights. Receiving one’s due arises from one’s intrinsic worth. It is not a privilege for which one has gratitude (Wolterstorff, 2008). Fundamental concepts such as intrinsic worthiness carry enough commonness across cultures that journalists and policy makers and citizens understand the basic idea, though they explain and apply it in different ways. One can plausibly argue that human dignity as the norm for freedom of expression can be both one-and-many, understood at the deep level of worldview, but constructed variously in different cultural contexts. As Ricoeur (2007) puts it, the unity that binds humans together is the common quest for esteem and recognition.
Freedom of expression in the legal-political tradition is a right-order model. In the right-order account, rights will be conferred on members of the social order by legislation and administrative practices. In the right-order definition of free expression, rights are empty apart from specific constitutional venues. In its modern form, freedom of expression of the right-order kind has generally centered on advanced democracies. Developing freedom of expression in terms of intrinsic worthiness includes young and developing democracies, and authoritarian systems also, in its implementation and critique.
While continuing to work legally and politically, the philosophy of language opens a new pathway for the international news media. The subject of this research report is Al Jazeera and freedom of expression , not just the political-legal concept of freedom, but the lingual concept of expression. Obviously these two ideas—freedom and expression—are an integrated unit. While recognizing that the two presuppose and are interconnected with one another, research indicates that the center of gravity should be shifted from the first to the second. Responsibility is primus inter pares , first among equals. Hopefully, with the philosophy-of-language as the leading idea, Al Jazeera can overcome or avoid the cul-de-sacs it faces in a complicated world of ethnic conflict, religious extremism, bigotry, and censorship.
The Two Concepts in Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera in its mission and professional practice has generally followed the political-legal model. Mark Lynch (2011) reviews Al Jazeera’s impact in these terms, noting that from its beginning Al Jazeera “has posed challenges to government censors,” with “governments respond(ing) to and counter(ing) the media pressure.” He concludes that the “stability of Arab authoritarianism” has not been fundamentally threatened (p. 302; quoted in Figenschou, 2014, p. 8; cf. Lynch, 2013). In covering the Arab Spring movement, Al Jazeera English “used live streaming, live blogs, and live tweets” to enhance their regular reporting. “According to Alan Fisher (2011), the social media tools were key in circumventing censorship and restrictions on the ground, getting the channel’s coverage out to audiences worldwide” (Figenschou, 2014, p. 21). Jennifer Lambert (2011) analyzes Al Jazeera in the context of “Qatari government-initiated political reforms,” with the country adopting “international norms on democracy” and maintaining “some form of a democratization process such as elections, a conditional press freedom,” and a “semi-independent judiciary” (p. 34; quoted in Figenschou, 2014, p. 34). The Doha Centre for Media Freedom was founded in 2008 on the political-legal tradition, recognizing that “protecting freedom of expression and press freedom is a process without end; violation of those rights should never be accepted” (Director’s Message). The Doha Centre insists that “governments should provide, and reinforce where they exist, legal guarantees of freedom of expression” (Director’s Message, http://www.dc4mf.org/en/about/director). In 2013, it reported on the “Media Laws and Regulations of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) Countries,” noting how their “penal codes affect journalists and to what extent their legal frameworks guarantee or inhibit press freedom” (http://www.dc4mf.org/en/content/media-laws-and-regulations-gcc-cou)
These are only illustrative of appeals to the freedom of expression in the right-order tradition. That Al Jazeera defines its organizational structure and news production in political-legal terms is understandable, since Mill’s freedom of expression model is the typical framework for news media systems worldwide. Even official international formulations express the freedom-of-expression idea in terms of Mill’s concepts and individualistic philosophy. The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. UNESCO’s “Sana’a Declaration of 1996” pleads for free, pluralistic and independent media in the Arab world (Director's Message). Although the Universal Declaration gives to every person the right to hold and speak opinions through any medium without interference, the political and administrative tactics to oppose freedom of expression continue to multiply. Journalists around the globe face mounting legal restrictions on their ability to cover the crucial issues that the public has a need to know. The World Press Freedom Index of 180 countries reports that press freedom deteriorated in two-thirds of these countries in 2017, with the Middle East and North Africa remaining the most dangerous regions for journalists (http://www.dw.com/en/world-press-freedom-index-2017-finds-democracies-are-clamping-down/a-38590489). The Doha Centre for Media Freedom is correct that “press freedom and civil liberties have declined globally over the last five years” (Director’s Message, http://www.dc4mf.org/en/about/director). The Centre’s cooperation with Reporters Without Borders in providing direct assistance to journalists “who are subject to harassment, detention, or ill-treatment” is trying to meet an urgent need (https://gijn.org/tag/reporters-without-borders-2/).
In Qatar, the web is less controlled and more open than other media, but Internet technology has not resolved the censorship question. Qatar’s 2014 Cyber Crimes Law, for example, permits authorities to ban websites that they consider a threat to the country’s safety ( https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/12/qatar-blocking-of-doha-news-website-is-an-outright-attack-on-media-freedom/). Al Jazeera in its policies and practices is an important collaborator in the battle against government retaliation and censorship that ought to go on unabated worldwide.
However, the limitations of the political-legal tradition have become obvious. For example, when facing criticism and controversies, the press’ appeal to its right to publish has not been convincing to its detractors. Al Jazeera’s journalists and the organization have been involved in disputes over anti-Semitism; they have faced allegations of Qatari bias and accusations of serious inaccuracies; governments in the Gulf region have complained of their interference in confidential security matters. Invoking press freedom is typically seen as an illegitimate refusal to be accountable. On another level, as typical with the right-order tradition over its history, the appeal to governments for legal protection—that is, for shield laws to protect journalists’ independence—have been counterproductive. Wisdom from the Hutchins Commission in 1947 has proved to be correct: “Any power capable of protecting freedom is also capable of endangering it” (Commission, 1947, p. 7).
Asking for legal protection for reporters or news organizations may win court cases, but negotiating press freedom within the limits of the law typically fosters self-censorship. Researcher Matt Duffy in his report on Media Laws and Regulations of the GCC Countries concludes that “self-censorship [is] a recurrent practice in all GCC countries” whether regulations and licensing procedures are actually being weakened or only clarified (http://www.dc4mf.org/sites/default/files/gcc_media_law_0.pdf). No matter how refined shield laws may be, their application and enforcement belong to the legal apparatus and the safest journalism route is a non-controversial agenda that avoids issues that matter.
The harm principle in Mill’s On Liberty has proved to be too static and tidy to serve as an adequate guideline for complex socio-political issues. The harm principle is based on the false proposition that the innermost self alone is sacred and unassailable. Mill’s harm principle does not provide an appropriate framework for serious reputational offense (as opposed to criminal injury) to persons other than the actor. Mill does not support legal penalties unless they are justified by physical harm, but the harm principle is based on a dichotomy of individual and society that pits the two domains in opposition to each other.
While continuing to work legally and politically, the intellectual strength of the philosophy-of-language approach challenges Al Jazeera to broaden its agenda. Should Al Jazeera include and reposition these two traditions, with the legal paradigm secondary and the ethical perspective primary, it would be working from an international perspective instead of one with its conceptual roots and procedures fundamentally Western. This means giving “expression” first priority. The responsibility-freedom terms conjoined, and in that order, are a summary of the new direction; thus, “the free-and-responsible press”(Commission, 1947) instead of “the free press”, or “press freedom and responsibility” instead of simply “press freedom.”
The “Mission Statement” of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom is preoccupied with the legal-political model, but it does point toward the philosophy-of-language paradigm: “Press freedom without qualitative journalism does not seem to make much sense. It is imperative to find a balance between free media and ethical media” (http://www.dc4mf.org/en/about/mission). The Mission Statement is suggesting that the “press and social responsibility” model be considered. In Mellor’s (2016) summary: “Arab journalists have managed to negotiate their autonomy, albeit partially, from the political regimes by redefining the boundaries of their profession and role in society such as asserting their role as ‘eyewitness’ and ‘historian’” (p. 363).
Freedom and responsibility are difficult concepts with ancient lineages. Their belonging together is not the issue; both freedom-of-expression perspectives include the idea of moral agency. That is, in both the juridical and lingual traditions, people choose from a range of options and are responsible for the choices made. In both cases, humans are potentially blameworthy and can be called to account legitimately. In the legal-political paradigm, journalists personally and collectively resist accountability to governments and insist on regulating themselves. In the language-as-symbolic paradigm, journalists are accountable to universal ethical principles such as human dignity.
This research into the history of ideas needs to continue, particularly outside the Western canon. However, the intellectual centrality of the dignity concept has been validated, and its relevance for freedom of expression in Al Jazeera is now credible. This scholarship on one aspect of the Al Jazeera-and-ethics equation can be summarized and interpreted in hortatory terms.
For the Doha Centre for Media Freedom to promote and defend freedom of expression against censorship productively in the global era, freedom of expression must be given a new foundation. A fundamentally different orientation is needed to replace the law-and-order system that has dominated the concept. In the right-order model, the press’ freedom and responsibility are addressed in terms of government policy and jurisprudence. When freedom of expressions is understood as a symbolic construct, it has a moral basis rather than a legal one, and that moral ground is human dignity. In the philosophy-of-language paradigm, human existence is a linguistic entity, and by reason of this fact, societies are moral in character.
Human dignity in the linguistic-symbolic tradition is universal in scope. The legal-political paradigm with its Western origins is nation-state focused, since the legal apparatus is conceived by and administered within a nation and out of it through international law, custom, and cooperation. But human dignity is global and the symbolic character of language is international since all persons are lingual beings. When Al Jazeera’s news operations, news agenda, and organizational policies are defined by the language-as-symbolic tradition, it will be distinctive in international news on the matters of censorship and freedom of expression.
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