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Imagine a journalist writing about the crimes of a mafia boss or corruption in a dictatorial government, and other people pounce on history and share it on social media. Is what the Jornalist and/or those who spread his articles do divisive speech? Keep in mind that this type of news is mainly read for entertainment and will cause ill will against the perpetrators in most readers. On the other hand, this type of journalism is an important mechanism that ensures that corruption does not spiral out of control.

Bonus question: Is journalism right livelihood?

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I'd answer by referencing the Vinaya.

Not because journalists are bound by the Vinaya; nor because the Vinaya is intended to regulate the behaviour of lay society; but because I find it instructive ("if the rule is good enough for monks, or necessary for monks, then..."); and because if the question is asking for an answer based on a reference, perhaps there is no specific doctrine in the suttas, so the vinaya maybe the nearest thing you'll find.

If you read a copy of the Vinaya e.g. here you'll see it's not necessarily "wrong speech" to bring an accusation.

There are rules about it -- doing it at the proper time, for example, and with permission to speak (and I suppose that anyone who reads an article is thereby implicitly giving the author permission to "speak").

Making unfounded accusations is wrong, but,

As under Sg 8, there is no offense if one makes the accusation—or gets someone else to make it—when one thinks it to be true, even if the other bhikkhu is actually not guilty of the offense.

Summary: Making an unfounded charge to another bhikkhu—or getting someone else to make the charge to him—that he is guilty of a saṅghādisesa offense is a pācittiya offense.

I'm not sure what "divisive" means, I suppose the canonical example would be Devadatta's splitting the sangha by arguing against the Buddha's vinaya.

Perhaps this sort of thing is what politicians (rather than journalists) do, if ever they try to create factions in the population.

I suspect that the intention in reporting wrong-doing isn't necessarily divisive -- in a community that's united by an ethical code of conduct, perhaps it's any misconduct (i.e. not the accusation) that's divisive. The accusation and so on may be part of the corrective or unifying mechanism.

I suppose it depends. Just as there's both Right and Wrong speech, Right and Wrong livelihood, there are probably right and wrong ways to report on the conduct of public affairs, and criminal activity, and other matters of "public interest".

I don't think you can say, "Oh it's wrong to ever accuse anyone of anything, that's divisive!"

Of course a monk maybe shouldn't be embroiled in political topics: but the question is about journalists.

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I generally avoid questions that are meant to be provocative. Better to leave muddy waters to settle themselves than to go wading into them, if you follow me. But in this case I'm appreciating the irony, so...

The essence of divisive speech is that it is meant to provoke a group: to suggest that one group of humans (variously defined) is somehow physically, intellectually, or morally inferior, and that another group should revel in their own superiority and push the first group aside. It is meant to divide a population into 'prestige' groups, and to draw all prestige away from one group so the other can control it. It's the gateway to the hungry ghost realm, where one so craves social standing that one is ready to practically anything to acquire it.

Someone reporting on crimes or corruption is not intending to pit one group against another; such a person is trying to invoke moral standards that every person in the community should hold, so that they can collectively condemn individuals who are violating the social contract of the community. Such reporting is a unifying factor unrelated to group prestige, except in the trivial sense that a community naturally thinks of itself as morally sound and rejects those who subvert it.

Obviously there are periods of history where large segments of the population fall into the 'group prestige' trap, such that no member of their group can be accused of anything without the entire group reacting as though the accusation is 'divisive' or 'provocative.' It's a kind of group narcissism in which nothing any member of the group does is ever wrong, and the only 'wrongness' is that some evil, nasty monstrosity would dare to cast aspersions. These are eras in which any perversion, prevarication, or depravity can be committed with a clean conscience, because one's moral standing comes from one's group membership, not from one's given acts.

I can't speak to social media itself, because social media is (in some senses) a modern sewage system for the human psyche. In its degraded form it is entirely about prestige-hunting, from the coarsest trolls trying to one-up everyone to the rawest egos who use media solely for self-glorification. But the act of journalism itself — the act of exposing abuses in the social, political, and economic worlds — is not meant to be divisive.

Like anything else, right livelihood is a matter of internal posture or attitude, not external behaviors. Journalism can be dharmic, or it can be karmic; it depends on how one approaches it. No sense defaming journalists as a group...

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  • Thank you for your detailed reply. The question was not intended as a provocation. I believe that reading a lot of news is detrimental to your mental health and spiritual development. This raises the question of whether creating and distributing messages is problematic. I think this is a very relevant practical topic for the practitioner of the present. Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 11:01
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The concept of "divisive speech" refers to language that is intended to create conflict or divisions among people.

Exposing immoral behavior could be seen as a form of divisive speech if it is done in a way that is intended to cause harm or create conflict.

However, it is also important to consider the intentions behind the speech and the potential consequences of remaining silent about immoral behavior.

In some cases, speaking out about immoral behavior may be necessary to bring attention to and address harmful actions, even if it may initially cause conflict.

In the context of journalism, and following your example, journalists have a responsibility to report the truth and inform the public about important issues and events.

This includes reporting on the crimes of a dictatorial government, even if the news may be disturbing or distasteful to some readers.

While it is important to consider the potential impact of the news on readers, it is also important to recognize that the primary role of journalism is to provide accurate and unbiased information to the public.

In the case of reporting on the crimes of a dictatorial government, it may be tempting to present the information in a way that is sensational or emotional in order to grab the attention of readers.

However, it is important for journalists to strive for objectivity and fairness in their reporting, even if this means presenting information that may be difficult or unpleasant to read.

By providing accurate and unbiased information about the crimes of a dictatorial government, journalists can help to expose wrongdoing and hold those in power accountable for their actions.

Ultimately, the decision to speak out about immoral behavior should be guided by a sense of compassion and the desire to create a more positive and harmonious society.

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Divisive speech is one of the four types of wrong speech. By knowing what wrong speech is, a being on the path is better equipped to understand what right speech is (and is not). Right speech is not intended to be used to judge those not on the path, it is intended to be used to judge the quality of one's own intentions, and to reflect on the results of one's own actions.

Learn more about Right Speech here, Robert.

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Is journalism exposing immoral behavior considered divisive speech?

Firstly, was it a false accusation? If yes, that's not right speech.

Secondly, did it have the intention of ill will? Was it intentionally made to cause division? If yes, then that's not right intention.

However, if it was truthful, it had the good intention of pointing out and leading to the correction of misbehavior, if it was not spoken harshly and if it was spoken at the right time, then it's right speech.

“And what, bhikkhus, is right intention? Intention of renunciation, intention of non-ill will, intention of harmlessness: this is called right intention.

“And what, bhikkhus, is right speech? Abstinence from false speech, abstinence from divisive speech, abstinence from harsh speech, abstinence from idle chatter: this is called right speech.
SN 45.8

“Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?

“It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.

“A statement endowed with these five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people.”
AN 5.198

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Journalisms original purpose isn't pulling nor judging, but to best provide with reports in very ethical way. Something that is no more present in western media at all. If one looks with an open eye to the media industry, it has long left moral and ethis and respect, but looks after gain by serving the common food with opinions feeding their defilements.

So 90% of journalism, maybe more, as well as reading it with appreciation, even give money for it, is huge unskillfull, seeks for gain by deviding people, split good relations, traditiinal relations, apart, full of bias, arrogance and not dear to profit on the corps and cemeteries.

There are less medias still under supervision beyond of market and daily short thought politic.

Where does one find anything proper to rejoice with in a Dhammic sense, any praise of good, real moral, or restrain? Impossible once caught in Maras huge internet realm.

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Journalism is a type of glorified gossip. It is also used in the weaponization of civilians. It delivers information that is largely toxic, inaccurate and and dominating. Just like gossip, it segregates groups of people from one another and is the cause of untold fear. It is therefore an extension of the largely misunderstood shadow mind projected out into the world, all the internal fears and emotional hang ups. The psychological immaturity of the global cultural is expressed more prominently through journalism, and later mirrored in the larger population. As it happens, they both work in unison as journalism activates our own dark fears.

Looking at journalism from this wider perspective, it is simply a slow and methodical way for the samsaric mind to reference itself, such that the displacement it causes becomes so stark, so unremittingly poisonous, that one has no other option but to scrutinise the very motivation from which the outcries of journalism are supposed to be addressing. It is simply a way to find ease to the discomfort stored as pressure in our body and minds, and as such, a particular kind of dance will ensue. Sometimes that dance looks rather well choreographed, other times it is quite obvious the loud bellows of journalism are the depths of the mind crying out for the peace of the heart.

Having said that, there are types of journalism and journalists that only have the express intention to deliver plain factual information without an agenda - nothing more, nothing less. But for most, journalism is about filtering information to reach the minds of particular people for a particular purpose. While that purpose is usually nefarious, its deeper meaning can be seen to serve the inner core of restlessness found in each and every human being, and the attempts to reconcile with that inner battle to eventually find peace. Unfortunately, most people aren't able to understand the mind in this way, so the route to peace looks rather convoluted. Never mind!

This might then change your question: amongst this mass of turmoil called journalism, how do we discern what is true? Well, I wouldn't even try. These days my body is like a cloud, it moves through the world without intention, and rains down the dhamma, yet nothing is achieved. This was understood by not trying to figure out the world's neurotic tendencies, but focusing expressly on my own peace, which later finds a way through to others.

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