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Here's a simple criterion: use of the "F" word. Sixty years ago and more, this word would never have been used in popular films. Today it is hard to go to a film for adults in which the word is not used at least once, and sometimes far more frequently than that. Its use has become so predictable that the word has actually lost much of its shock value and instead often seems a hackneyed cliche.
I think the decline of morality in the media is somewhat subjective. The media represents society, not the other way around. What is acceptable on the media has changed, but so has what is acceptable in society. If it wasn't entertaining, it wouldn't be in the media. Give the people what they want! That's the motto of the media.
Many news broadcasts do not seem to show the same objectivity as in the past. The Fox News Channel, for example, has been constantly accused of favoring a right-wing slant in their broadcasts, far different from the more objective views seen by the old NBC, CBS and ABC network news prior to the 1980s. Newspapers, once restricted to voicing their opinions on the editorial pages, also allow their corporate views to seep onto news pages today.
Yellow journalism is a term used to describe a subjective, sensationalist type of news journalism from the past.
Because we encounter this term in our history books, it's hard to say that the "decline" in morality in the media is an actual phenomemon.
Sexual content and violence are what sell nowadays, and Hollywood is not concerned with morality, only with what will gross dollars. Larry Flynt's landmark case of Freedom of Speech in the Supreme Court has alleviated some of the worry of film producers regarding censorship.
In response to post #4, while Fox News does slant to the conservative side, CNN, most of the major newspapers and news magazines such as Time [that admitted to its campaign for Candidate Obama in 2008 in which he appeared on the cover 30+ times] and Newsweek, ABC, CBS, NBC are anything but objective, either. The difference is that they are on the liberal side. Probably, there are no completely objective news programs.
It's really hard to criticize the media for a decline in morals. After all, what the media shows us is what we want to see. If we feel that the media's morals are declining, it must be because our own morals are declining. So I don't see where it is useful to criticize the media when it is just a reflection of society as a whole.
Ihave to agree with #7: the media is a mirror for society. Bias has always been evident in the media, as has reflecting the mood, interests and morality of the age. Media is a product of society, not the other way around.
I think the media is more sensationalist now, more than ever, and this is causing somewhat of a moral decline. Before, the media was unbiased and only reported the facts, and at that only reported them when they were verified by reliable sources. Now, the media will report what it believes people want to hear, and will therefore stoop to low levels in order to please the masses. They do not wait to gather facts before reporting on something. With that said, however, I do think it is our responsibility as a public to take whatever information we get from the media and analyze it responsibly. The media will continue to do whatever sells, therefore we have to understand and interpret correctly.
I am not sure that the media needs to be moral (though I wish it was). It is easy for us to forget that "the media" is not a single entity, it is a collection of loosely related businesses - newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations. The sole purpose of any non-charitable business enterprise is to make money. The different businesses that make up "the media" all have this in common - they exist to make a profit, and they compete with each other to do that. Consequently, they have to either give the paying public what it wants, or risk going out of business. This is why, as pohnpei points out, the media gives us what we want to see. The media businesses that don't deliver what the customers want lose money and disappear.
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