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Truthfulness and use of reliable & accurate facts is a foundation of ethical communication

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Access to reliable and accurate facts is critical for making decisions about how to communicate and act ethically. Without facts being as reliable and accurate as circumstances allow, communicators are more likely to do harm or create injustice than do good and act fairly. Good intentions are insufficient for counteracting inaccurate, distorted, or misleading facts and information. Because of the critical role that reliable and accurate facts and information play in human decision making, truthful and honest communication is a foundation for competent and ethical communication.

Disagreements over what is true or factual are commonplace today and throughout history. While debates persist about what truth is and standards for its evaluation, these debates generally recognize the importance of truth-telling. Truthful and honest communication plays a critical role in what is best in human endeavors, especially in creating and sustaining healthy relationships and communities where children and adults grow and thrive. Trust in the integrity of messages and processes—their reliability, accuracy, and honesty—provides a critical basis for trust between human beings. Trust is critical for human relationships and communities. Without a commitment to communicate what we understand to be true, why should others trust us?

Today, voices have questioned the relevance and importance of honesty, truthfulness, and truth in communication.  Some argue that standards for evaluating what is a “fact” or what is “true,” even the idea of “truth” itself, are changing.  Events of 2016 have revealed political and social trends that undermine the integrity and even the relevance of accurate and honest communication. Public communication by an increasing number of communicators exhibits an increasingly cavalier treatment of reliability and accuracy of facts and information. Some question the relevance of facts in public communication and decision making, focusing instead on confirmation bias and motivated reasoning, even regarding facts simply as “white noise” to be disregarded to meet a goal. Intentionally deceptive and dishonest news (“fake news”), and its unsuspecting dissemination as reliable and accurate, has become so commonplace that some have difficulty distinguishing what is “fake” from what is “real.”  An understandable response of doubting everything, unfortunately, makes it difficult to recognize truthful and honest communication when it occurs. A suggested substitute for assessing accuracy or honesty of messages is evaluation of a communicator's feelings, replacing critical thinking with assessments of authenticity. Focus on authenticity diminishes the importance of listening to understand ideas, making critical listening unnecessary.

The integrity of communication depends upon a dynamic interplay among communicators who think critically about their views as they consider views of others. This dynamic interplay depends upon a personal commitment to and accountability for honest, truthful, and accurate communication. Without this dynamic interplay, ethical, free, and responsible communication falters, leaving space and opportunity for dominating, coercive, and even violent communication.

 

We, the undersigned members of the National Communication Association, recognizing the importance of truth and honesty to the integrity of communication messages and processes, ask our Executive Officers, Legislative Assembly, and staff to commit the Association’s energy and resources to cultivating appreciation and practices that promote honesty, truthfulness, and use of reliable and accurate information and ideas in the communication of individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions.

We ask the following:

Within the National Communication Association:

·       Develop and promote pedagogical materials that highlight the role of factual accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in communication processes (dialogue, discussion, debate, conflict management, advocacy, reporting, etc.) and in the creation of messages.

·       Develop and promote use of pedagogical materials that highlight the role and importance of listening to different viewpoints in the discovery, understanding, and evaluation of facts and ideas.

·       Develop and promote pedagogical materials that encourage critical thinking about factual accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness.

·       Promote pedagogical use of the NCA Credo for Ethical Communication and the NCA Credo for Free and Responsible Communication in a Democratic Society.

·       Promote research that highlights the role of factual accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in communication processes and the creation of messages.

Outside the National Communication Association

·       Disseminate outside of NCA research and pedagogical materials that highlight the role of factual accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in communication processes and the creation of messages.

·       Promote outside the discipline and academy NCA’s Credo for Ethical Communication and the Credo for Free and Responsible Communication in a Democratic Society.

·       Encourage teaching and research that critically evaluates groups and organizations for their contribution to the accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in communication.

·       Develop relationships and offer support to groups and organizations that promote accurate, honest, and truthful in public discussion of issues. Examples of such organizations would include the American Library Association, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

·       Support groups and organizations that monitor and advocate collection of accurate data by governments at local, state, and national levels, such as the American Library Association, the American Academic of Arts and Sciences, and the SPLC’s efforts to collect documentation of hate crime activity.

·       Promote groups and organizations that fact-check public communication, such as factcheck.org of the Annenberg School of Communication and the private, independent fact-checker snopes.com

 

Selected readings on truth, truthfulness and trust in communication:

Bok, Sissela. Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. NY: Vintage Books, 1989.

Gehrke, Pat J. The Ethics and Politics of Speech: Communication and Rhetoric in the Twentieth Century. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.

Hannan, Jason, ed. Truth in the Public Sphere. Lanham, NY: Lexington Books, 2016.

Jaska, James A. and Michael S. Pritchard. Communication Ethics: Methods of Analysis, 2nd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1994. pp. 65-68.

Knapp, Mark L Lying and Deception in Human Interaction. NY: Penguin Academics, 2008.

Tompkins, Paula S. Practicing Communication Ethics: Development, Discernment and Decision Making. NY: Routledge, 2010. pp. 69-73.

Wallace, Karl. R. “An Ethical Basis of Communication.” Speech Teacher. Vol. 4, No. 1 (1955), pp. 1-9.



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