Ethics in journalism? Nice idea

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I wrote the following email post for the Baron website in response to an article about the Hacked Off co-founder and ex-Reuters reporter Brian Cathcart.

It speaks for itself:

Brian’s doing a great job at Hacked Off [■ The Reuter Society – Brian Cathcart: My debt to Reuters]. I went to one of its events before Lord Leveson issued his report on the UK media, when I talked to Brian afterwards.

Where I think Hacked Off, and Leveson, and Reuters all miss the biggest trick is when they ignore the realities of power and how it works. That critical omission makes me nervous when I read unequivocal praise for the ethics supposedly in place at Reuters.

Ethics is a hefty concept. I don’t think Reuters scores that highly on ethics as it pertains to codes of behaviour. Granted, it’s much better than many news organisations but as Leveson made only too clear, that’s hardly difficult.

The principles of journalism drawn up in 1997 by the Committee of Concerned Journalists are far more comprehensive and ethically demanding than any at Reuters.

The second one of nine leaps out with regard to Reuters, given its cheek-by-jowl relationship with clients in global banking, markets and finance. The principle says journalism’s first loyalty is to citizens.

“While news organizations answer to many constituencies, including advertisers and shareholders, the journalists in those organizations must maintain allegiance to citizens and the larger public interest above any other if they are to provide the news without fear or favor. This commitment to citizens first is the basis of a news organization’s credibility, the implied covenant that tells the audience the coverage is not slanted for friends or advertisers. Commitment to citizens also means journalism should present a representative picture of all constituent groups in society…”

For the worldwide constituency of Thomson Reuters, the citizens to whom its journalists owe that allegiance are all of global humanity. In my experience as a Reuters reporter, this allegiance was a rarity when it came to daily editorial priorities.

So, yes, Reuters attempts to infuse speed and accuracy into its reports, correcting those it finds to be in error. It serially fails when it comes to claims of freedom from bias as seen from the perspective of a global citizenry. This is a critical flaw its defenders are generally unwilling even to acknowledge, still less correct.

1 Comment

Filed under democracy, journalism

One response to “Ethics in journalism? Nice idea

  1. The job of the alternative journalist beholden to none but his or her own conscience has a lot of work ahead. We need to be led into a brighter future with non-biased reporting rather than the opinionated bowing to corporate interest news people are used to getting. It’s a tough path for that growing genre of journalists, but well worth it for those of us hungry for some gutsy grassroots reporting that will ultimatley help change our world for the better. Keep up the good work exposing the shorfalls and inner workings of the mainstream media! Thanks, Joe.

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