Tag Archives: Shelton Gunaratne

‘Mindful Journalism’ – the topic of our forthcoming book with Routledge


THE term ‘mindful journalism’ is a concept I introduced more than a year ago in the inaugural UNESCO World Press Freedom address at AUT University Auckland.

I fleshed it out further in a paper delivered to the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) conference in Dublin in July 2014, which was revised for publication as a forthcoming article in Ethical Space to be published in December.

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Our book preview on the Routledge website

My esteemed colleague, Emeritus Professor Shelton Gunaratne has been working for decades on the intersection between of Buddhism and journalism, and I was honoured to be invited onto a book project he was developing with Sri Lankan colleague Dr Sugath Senarath [pdf file] from the University of Colombo.

We were delighted when Routledge New York accepted our proposal for hard cover publication in March 2015 as part of its Research in Journalism series.

Our book is titled Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach and it features chapters by several scholars from Asia, North America, Australia and Europe.

As outlined in the publisher’s synopsis:

“This book aims to be the first comprehensive exposition of “mindful journalism”—drawn from core Buddhist ethical principles—as a fresh approach to journalism ethics. It suggests that Buddhist mindfulness strategies can be applied purposively in journalism to add clarity, fairness and equity to news decision-making and to offer a moral compass to journalists facing ethical dilemmas in their work. It comes at a time when ethical values in the news media are in crisis from a range of technological, commercial and social factors, and when both Buddhism and mindfulness have gained considerable acceptance in Western societies. Further, it aims to set out foundational principles to assist journalists dealing with vulnerable sources and recovering from traumatic assignments.”

My chapter on ‘The Journalist and Mental Cultivation’ addresses the application to journalism of the final three steps of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path – the mental cultivation (or concentration) dimension of the magga; namely Right Effort (samma vayama), Right Mindfulness (samma sati) and Right Concentration (samma samadhi).

The section on Right Effort calls for journalists to apply a steady, patient and purposeful path to the achievement of ethical practice. It suggests the need for an effort to find and implement sound perspectives and practices that one lacks and to shore up those that one already possesses.

The section on Right Mindfulness explains how journalists might take time out of a stressful situation to focus upon breathing; to pause to meditate upon the rationale for pursuing a story in a certain way, to weigh implications of reportage on stakeholders and to find peace for strategic planning and clarifying context for one’s role and career trajectory.

The section on Right Concentration compares the phenomenon the expression “grace under fire” that is required of consummate professionals in the midst of covering a major news event. It is at this time that top journalists actually enter “the zone” and are able to draw on core ethical values and ingrained professional skills to report within deadline.

The chapter offers several examples from journalism to illustrate the approach and suggests techniques that can be implemented in a secular way by journalists from a range of cultural and religious backgrounds to enhance their ethical practice and the public significance of their reportage.

We are excited at the potential for the project – particularly in a period when journalists and bloggers are accused of having lost their ‘moral compass’ – and we are on track to submit all chapters within the publisher’s October 1 deadline.


Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2014

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Filed under blogging, Buddhism, citizen journalism, Eightfold Path, free expression, media ethics, mental health, social media, Uncategorized

‘Right speech’, media law and mindful journalism – a work in progress


Media law is much more than a set of edicts in the form of cases and legislation as presented in many texts and as taught in many courses.

Professional communicators and students can gain insights into the law as it stands – and into how it might be reformed – by tracing it to its origins, revisiting it in its modern context, and by applying fresh perspectives to its analysis. It can also inform their newsroom decision-making on legal and ethical matters.

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Gunaratne’s seminal text – The Dao of the Press. A Humanocentric Theory

Defamation is a good example. Historically, people’s reputations were seen as part of their spiritual beings. As such, defamation proceedings were often brought in the ecclesiastical courts of the Church of England before the Reformation (Rolph, 2008, pp. 39-48.

A stab at someone’s reputation was viewed as an attack on their soul – to be judged only by God’s earthly adjudicators, the clergy. From the 16th century, defamation actions were increasingly brought in the common law courts, with the courts developing a list of allegations with which they would deal, without needing proof of actual damage being caused by the defamation (Morison & Sappideen 1989, p. 173). Yet even today the Catechism of the Catholic Church lists ‘detraction’ (essentially gossip – or disclosing ‘another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them’) as a sin – or an ‘offense against truth’.

Modern defences to defamation – like truth and qualified privilege – have been shaped by changing cultural, philosophical and political values, with truth as a defence heavily influenced by libertarians like Locke, Mill and Jefferson.

My recent work has involved the investigation of the ways Buddhist ethics might offer a useful framework for both journalism and media law. You can find an excerpt on my paper on ‘mindful journalism’ I presented to last year’s IAMCR convention in Dublin here.

I am not a Buddhist but I have seen the value of its application to modern phenomena and clinical situations like ‘Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy’ where meditation techniques have assisted with the treatment of anxiety and depression (Segal et. al, 2013).

Back in 2005 I attempted to use the Tibetan Buddhist mandala as a device to explain the complex competing interests involved when weighing up an issue involving privacy in the newsroom. (Pearson, 2005, see here.)

I have recently attempted to apply a Buddhist framework to the contexts of political blogging and election reportage. Colleague Tom Morton from UTS and I are using mindful journalism as a framework for examining a case study of an individual who wants a ban on his identity overturned by the Mental Health Review Tribunal in NSW.

My interest has come to the attention of a pioneer in the application of Buddhist systems theories to journalism – Professor Shelton Gunaratne – who wrote the seminal work in the field – The Dao of the Press – A Humanocentric Theory – in 2005.

He has compared his designated goals of Buddhist journalism with many of the traits of modern Western journalism in his insightful article in Javnost – The Public in 2009: ‘Buddhist goals of journalism and the news paradigm’.

Prof. Gunaratne has generously asked me to collaborate in a new project on mindful journalism also involving Dr Sugath Senarath from the University of Colombo.

Meanwhile, I will be attempting to articulate some of these principles – particularly the relationship between Buddhist notions of ‘right speech’ to defamation and celebrity journalism – in a paper I’ll be delivering to the Media Talk Symposium to be hosted by Associate Professor Jacqui Ewart in Brisbane on April 23-24 (schedule TBA).

That paper will be titled “Mindful media talk: exploring a Buddhist ‘right speech’ ethic in journalism and social media”. Its abstract reads:

Defamation and privacy laws – and journalism ethics codes – are problematic as guidance tools for news communication in the globalised, multi-cultural and multi-jurisdictional Web 2.0 era. This paper draws upon systems methodology (Gunaratne, 2005) to foreshadow an application of the Buddhist ethic of ‘right speech’ to journalistic and social media communication. The path of ‘right speech’ (samma vaca) was one step in Buddha’s Eightfold Path to enlightenment. However, taken at a secular level, it offers a useful theoretical framework by which to analyse media talk and guidance for those engaging in reportage and citizen journalism. Right speech invokes the avoidance of falsehood, divisive and abusive speech and gossip mongering. This paper explains its elements, distinguishes them from media laws and professional ethical codes, and uses examples to examine the extent to which it might accommodate ‘public interest’ / Fourth Estate journalism and celebrity news.

Watch this space for more posts on ‘mindful journalism’ as we explore its value as an analytical device and – perhaps more importantly – as a newsroom tool for ethical decision-making.


Key references

Gunaratne, S. A. (2005). The Dao of the Press: A humanocentric theory. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Gunaratne, S. A. (2007). A Buddhist view of Journalism: Emphasis on mutual causality. Communication for Development and Social Change 1 (3): 17-38. (Paper originally presented at the University of Queensland on March 8, 2006.)

Gunaratne, S. A. (Feb. 15, 2009). Buddhist principles can revolutionize news and journalism. The Buddhist Channel.  Available at <http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=70,7781,0,0,1,0#.UuMttWTnb-k&gt;

Morison, W.L. & Sappideen, C. (1989) Torts: Commentary and Materials, 7th edn.

Sydney: Law Book Company.

Pearson, M. (2005) The privacy mandala: Towards a newsroom checklist for ethical decisions. Refereed paper presented to the Journalism Education Conference, Griffith University, Tuesday 29th November – Friday 2nd December, 2005, Gold Coast International Hotel, Surfers Paradise, QLD Australia. Available: http://epublications.bond.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1263&context=hss_pubs

Rolph, D. (2008). Reputation, Celebrity and Defamation Law. Ashgate: Aldershot. Available: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=d7YO44MvD8QC&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Segal, Z., Williams, M., Teasdale, J. and Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, Second Edition. Guilford Publications: NY.


Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2014


Filed under blogging, Buddhism, citizen journalism, Eightfold Path, free expression, media ethics, mental health, social media, Uncategorized