Saturday, February 16, 2008

To tell the truth.

In rebuttal to Paul Berton’s editorial. “This Paper is not a Promotions Vehicle.” Saturday, February 9th, 2008.

Paul Berton’s editorial in last Saturday’s Free Press was very thought-provoking, and answered a question that has been on my mind for a long time: to what degree, if any, is The London Free Press a vehicle to be used by the city and by local businesses and organizations to promote themselves?
The headline to Berton’s column suggests the answer: “This paper is not a promotions vehicle.” And yet in his opening paragraph Berton says: “Is it the job of this newspaper to be a booster for London? Many journalists would say no; I would say yes, but we can only go so far.” Although Berton does go on to qualify his statement, the very fact that he would suggest that it is the newspaper’s responsibility to, in any degree, act as an vehicle of what used to be called “boosterism” is unsettling.
To be sure, the nature of journalism has undergone some significant changes in the last couple of decades, especially since the advent of the Internet and what is being called “citizen journalism.” Print journalism – the oldest medium - like all media outlets, is finding itself having to compete for advertising dollars with not only the more traditional media such as radio and television, but with the Internet, which is increasingly replacing all these forms of media, as consumers of news turn to online sources for everything from breaking news and quick updates, to in-depth backgrounders and analysis.
But one hopes that these changes will not engender a complete departure from the role of journalists as reporters of truth, no matter how unpleasant it may occasionally be for those who buy the advertisements or who are in positions of political power and influence. The Canadian Association of Journalists’ Statement of Principles makes a point of noting, in its preamble, that, among other things, “It is our privilege and duty to seek and report the truth as we understand it… speak for the voiceless and encourage civic debate to build our communities and serve the public interest.” Under the section “The Public Interest” the Principles expand on the latter point by clearly stating that “The right to freedom of expression and of the press must be defended against encroachment from any quarter, public or private, because we serve democracy and the public interest.”
Codes of ethics and statements of principles are lofty and often seem almost impossible to adhere to, but it’s especially important for journalists to maintain their impartiality precisely because they do serve the cause of democracy and the public interest. The CAJ Principles enlarge on this important aspect in the section “Act Independently” by pointing out that a journalist’s responsibility to democracy and the reporting of the truth sometimes “conflicts with the wishes of various public and private interests, including advertisers, governments, news sources, and, on occasion, with our duty and obligation to an employer.” The Principles, however, do not excuse any favourable treatment being given to any group, no matter how influential, and states in clear and unequivocal terms that “We will not give favoured treatment to advertisers and special interests. We must resist their efforts to influence the news.”
If a newspaper does not impartially and fairly report all the news that’s fit to print, regardless of who may withdraw their political support or advertising dollars, then it becomes reduced to being little more than a publisher of advertising flyers, propaganda and deliberately inflammatory and misleading rhetoric, and surely we already have enough of that.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Who Links Here Free Website Counter
Free Web Counter