Bearing Witness, Moral Responsibility and Distant Suffering

Theory, Culture and Society 36 (1):27-45 (2019)
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Media analyses of the aesthetic presentation of news frequently and persuasively demonstrate the skewed ethics of news production, where those in need who are distant and dissimilar are often presented in ways that do not fully humanize their condition. However, it is argued here, they also locate too fully the locus of moral responsibility in the production and presentation of the media text. This article explores the moral demands inherent in two kinds of media presentation: the explicit focus on shock and awe over intimacy; and minimal presentations that substitute bare information for affective stories. It is argued that in both cases a moral encounter with the other can be motivated despite the news presentation and it is concluded that an excessive emphasis on the role of the news in generating moral responsibility justifies a spectatorish inertia that should be resisted.



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