Journalistic ethics

The SMH which published an op ed of mine has just sent me their editorial ethics policy. I have no trouble agreeing to it. But I have some concerns about their journalists. This isn’t a criticism of them. And it’s not a criticism of the policy – but there is a bit of a disconnect.

The policy is high minded. Alas journalism is less so. A lot of journalism, political journalism in particular, involves all sorts of fancy footwork. You report things that you find out and often you find those things out by accepting implicitly or explicitly undertakings not to disclose other things that you know or find out. But the ethics policy calls for this. “Herald staff will report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. They will not suppress or distort relevant facts.”

It goes on to say that “They will do their utmost to offer the right of reply, and they will separate comment from news.” The SMH may be the leading media outlet in the country by this criterion for all I know, but I’ll be watching out for those adjectives. Is “the embattled Opposition Leader” news or comment? I guess it’s prejudicial, adjectival news. I expect this policy is broken routinely but don’t have time to go looking. Feel free to do some looking yourself and let us have the results.

Good on them for these elements of the policy – which I have no reason to believe they’re not abiding by.

RESPECT
Staff will respect private grief. They have the right to resist pressure to intrude.

CHEQUE-BOOK JOURNALISM
No payment shall be proffered to sources for interviews or access.

And there’s this one.

HONEST PRESENTATION
Staff will present pictures and sound that are true and accurate. They will disclose manipulation that could mislead.

Hmm, I wonder if they do that in political reporting? Always?

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The Worst of Perth
13 years ago

This is a joke surely? The fact that they sent it to you rather than deliver it face to face is because one or both of you would have burst out laughing? C’mon, where’s the real one?
The Worst of Perth

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Embattled just means “Beset with attackers, criticism”. That’s a pretty objective statement. If anything it tends to arouse sympathy. Based on the use of the word, do you consider the writer prejudiced towards Nelson?

Ken Parish
Admin
13 years ago

Which is exactly why this stuff will never be eliminated. There will always be someone happy to argue however implausibly that blatant political spin is “objective”; indeed the core biased readership (the marshmallow left for Fiarfax and the complacent right for Murdoch) mostly really believe that pejorative adjectival labelling is just stating self-evident truth and therefore no cause for concern.

Ken Parish
Admin
13 years ago

Another point on this is that, on a literal interpetation, the SMH Code would appear to prohibit fairly basic journalistic practices like running stories on “background” from an “informed source” or totally “off the record”. I suspect that few stories would ever be broken if these sorts of protections weren’t offered to leakers, and I’d be astounded if SMH journos don’t still offer them if asked as a matter of course. I guess there’s nothing wrong per se with an aspirational ethical code, but it might be more effective if it was less mealy-mouthed and more closely anchored in the real world.

SJ
SJ
13 years ago

HONEST PRESENTATION
Staff will present pictures and sound that are true and accurate. They will disclose manipulation that could mislead.

This one is reasonably clear to me, and it doesn’t involve quibbling over whether particular adjectives accurately describe the opposition leader.

It means that when a politician says something like this:

The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.

Then there’s an obligation on the journalist to report that the politician’s statement is objectively false.

Ken Parish
Admin
13 years ago

“No wonder Fairfax – like the ABC – has become irrelevant in national debates, leaving the field solely to The Australian.”

That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen this week.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Just from the Australian’s online headline articles today:

“Vaile’s moonlighting”. Moonlighting is surely spin, and strongly suggests disapproval.

“…the Government has forced the industry to accept slightly lower rises than sought”

…they held guns to their heads? The actual article then states “the Government had negotiated the hikes down to an average of 4.99 per cent”. But ‘forced’ is obviously far more dramatic than ‘negotiated’.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

And Nick, the reason you don’t want to be called embattled is presumably because you don’t want to be “beset with criticism”. Surely it would be worse to be called “the widely-criticised Opposition leader”? ‘Embattled’ at least conveys some sort of sense that he is being criticised for everything he does, regardless of whether it’s justified or not. At least that’s my take – for whatever reason most of the time I’ve read or heard of Nelson in the news recently I’ve tended to feel a little sorry for him! (not something I could ever say about his predecessor).

Nabakov
Nabakov
13 years ago

In the interests of full media disclosure…in all mediums, I should point that Jage is also John Greenfield, Harried Hermonie and Leftist Queers. Basically you have to wonder why anyone of good faith would need to fly so many false flags.

Andrew Leigh
13 years ago

I’ve only once attempted to have an error corrected in the SMH. It wasn’t a major issue (they’d omitted to mention a coauthor’s name), but their response was that they didn’t think it was worth printing a correction, and would fix up the online version (they didn’t).