The New York Times reported last week that this happened to the employees at Russia’s largest independent radio network. Listeners are asking, “How independent is it, any longer?” If you were that employee, you may start to realize that something is very, very wrong, and that you are being puppeteered.
The public radio program Fair Game wanted to know what positive psychology thought of this story. Having found Positive Psychology News Daily, they wanted an opinion on whether mandating positive news is good. They interviewed me, and the program appeared in 25 markets in the U.S. (you can listen to the 6-minute interview here or read more detail here).
Is It Appropriate to Mandate Positive News?
You might think that as Editor of Positive Psychology News Daily, I would wholeheartedly support more positive news in the world (“What is Positive Psychology?“). The interviewer for the radio program thought so too. But it really doesn’t matter what a Positive Psychology-trained coach would think about the benefits of “positive” news – some Positive Psychologists may be for more positive news and some may be against. What matters is what it is moral to do. The news is the news is the news. If you are the government and you censor the news, then you are taking away the people’s right to hear.
The specific mandate, as reported by the New York Times, was that news about Russia must be “at least 50 percent positive,” and that “opposition leaders could not be mentioned on the air and the United States was to be portrayed as an enemy.” Not only is this not positive news, but this is clear censorship.
On the other hand, if you are the owner of a radio station, and you decide to run a “positive news only” radio station, then you are on solid moral ground. It’s when the government steps in to voice its position and forcibly requires new rules that change the content that it’s a violation of principle – the news staff was forced into this new arrangement. On this site, we cover positive stories (such as great schools, praise and performance, and savoring) as well as non-positive stories (such as the Virginia shooting, cancer, and the Holocaust) I happen to be a big fan of the Good News Network and of HappyNews – those sites are positive by editorial choice, which is entirely different from this news story about the new Russian mandate.
And it doesn’t even matter what the Russian government’s motivations may be. Suppose that all psychologists everywhere found out decisively that we need more positive news. It would be wrong to base news policy on a finding like this. Let’s take the more extreme example I described on air – suppose that all psychologists found out that getting rid of all journalists makes the world a happier society – even if that were the case, it would not be moral to do. Nobody can treat people as slaves and decide for them what is best for them – what they can and cannot hear, who can and cannot live.
Why Do We as Americans React So Strongly?
There was a bittersweet tone to our joking during the interview. The host and I both reacted strongly to this news as a frightening direction for Russia. But why psychologically-speaking did we react so strongly? Maybe because we see the same direction of censorship gathering momentum in the U.S. as well.
As an example, the Fairness Doctrine that is being brought into the Senate by Bernie Sanders would limit the media’s editorial choice of what to include and what not to include in a news story. As another example, the Patriot Act has allowed the government to impinge civil liberties and search library records through “sneak and peek” searches. While we’re laughing at the crazy Russian mandate, in a sense we may be laughing at some of what we see around us.