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Quote of the Week: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." - Will Durant, American historian (1885-1981)

Regulating journalistic ethics

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bobalot
PostPosted: 2011-07-22 07:28pm 

Jedi Council Member


Joined: 2008-05-21 06:42am
Posts: 1529
Location: Sydney, Australia
In light of the recent Murdoch phone hacking scandal, the topic of media ethics has been brought up in Australia. Not surprisingly, much of the media were quick to claim it was an isolated incident in another country* and waxed on about "ethics can't be regulated".

To me, this reeks of self-serving bullshit. Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, etc have enforceable ethical codes. Breaking these codes has serious consequences. As an engineer myself, I have the Engineering Code of Ethics. I have to report something that is unsafe to the appropriate authorities, even if it costs me my job.

I cannot understand why journalists and the media are exempt from this expectation or regulation.

Your thoughts?

* Curiously, that was the almost same excuse ("It was an "isolated incident") that the News of the World / News Limited used for years, until the shit really hit the fan this year.
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Purple
PostPosted: 2011-07-22 08:25pm 

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Joined: 2010-04-20 08:31am
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Location: In a purple cube orbiting this planet. Hijacking satellites for an internet connection.
The only reason they are exempt is becouse if you tried to do anything against journalists they immediately cry "OMG the state is trying to curb free speech".
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Eleas
PostPosted: 2011-07-22 09:03pm 

Jaina Dax


Joined: 2002-07-08 05:08am
Posts: 4769
Location: Malmö, Sweden
Purple wrote:
The only reason they are exempt is becouse if you tried to do anything against journalists they immediately cry "OMG the state is trying to curb free speech".


No. They also have a history of revealing secrets and prying into sensitive information, which may not invariably be appreciated by those in power.
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bobalot
PostPosted: 2011-07-22 09:21pm 

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Joined: 2008-05-21 06:42am
Posts: 1529
Location: Sydney, Australia
Eleas wrote:
Purple wrote:
The only reason they are exempt is becouse if you tried to do anything against journalists they immediately cry "OMG the state is trying to curb free speech".


No. They also have a history of revealing secrets and prying into sensitive information, which may not invariably be appreciated by those in power.

True. However, that's not my point. Forcing journalists behave in an ethical manner will not suddenly destroy the ability to whistle blow against corrupt authorities.

Journalists (here in Australia at least) routinely lie or take things monstrously out of context. When they are caught, there is little in the way of consequences, particularly if the victim is unable to afford civil action.
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Eleas
PostPosted: 2011-07-22 09:31pm 

Jaina Dax


Joined: 2002-07-08 05:08am
Posts: 4769
Location: Malmö, Sweden
bobalot wrote:
Eleas wrote:
No. They also have a history of revealing secrets and prying into sensitive information, which may not invariably be appreciated by those in power.

True. However, that's not my point. Forcing journalists behave in an ethical manner will not suddenly destroy the ability to whistle blow against corrupt authorities.
Journalists (here in Australia at least) routinely lie or take things monstrously out of context. When they are caught, there is little in the way of consequences, particularly if the victim is unable to afford civil action.


I agree. What I wished to dispute wasn't that, but Purple's caricature of the issue. Historically, from seeing what's happened when the vague concept of "trying to do anything against [those pesky] journalists" is aired, I'd argue they have a right to be pretty damn nervous. OTOH several countries today do have both ethical guidelines and slander laws that actually work. So it's definitely doable.
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Xeriar
PostPosted: 2011-07-25 10:41am 

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Joined: 2005-10-21 02:48am
Posts: 1739
Location: Twin Cities, MN, USA
I think the best solution would be to place a cost on broadcasters and publishers who present and promote false information, especially libel and slander, and to extend the definition of those to include public figures (outside of clear parody or satire) and to 'evocative questions'. For each such error, the broadcaster or publisher must spend ten times the space/time in the same block (time block or part of a print page) correcting their error with a message approved by the aggrieved party over the next few weeks.

Rush Limbaugh spends fifteen minutes lying about someone, it's not enough for him to apologize once, for a minute. He'll have to do it ten times, for fifteen minutes each, during the same segment. I imagine that, after the law is enacted, we'll see a much more muted discourse as journalistic investigators are hired en masse to actually do fact-checking for once.

There would need to be a way to fasttrack these cases, but given that the number of people involved in 'media incidents' can only be so large, this probably wouldn't prove to be a significant burden.
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TheFeniX
PostPosted: 2011-07-25 04:57pm 

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Joined: 2003-06-26 04:24pm
Posts: 2123
Location: Texas
Xeriar wrote:
I think the best solution would be to place a cost on broadcasters and publishers who present and promote false information, especially libel and slander, and to extend the definition of those to include public figures (outside of clear parody or satire) and to 'evocative questions'.
How do we clearly define parody and satire? Not counting what I've read online, I knew of at least three people personally who thought Stephen Colbert was hardline conservative when his show first started airing and for a year or so afterward. He was championed as the foil to Stewart (and Comedy Central has continued to play this angle for laughs). Hell, sometimes even I could forget who he was in the beginning (he's a lot more tame now that the cat is out of the bag).

It wouldn't be hard to find a group of people who would force CC to payout time and/or money due to his over-the-top reporting.

Quote:
For each such error, the broadcaster or publisher must spend ten times the space/time in the same block (time block or part of a print page) correcting their error with a message approved by the aggrieved party over the next few weeks.
So, what happens when Stewart calls X a lying fuck for being a lying fuck, then they force CC to prove he's lying or face the same consequences? What happens if I call Obama weak on civil rights and point to his extension of the Patriot Act as an example and his legal team points to his championing of gay rights (or whatever else) as a counter-point? Who is lying? Who determines this?

Quote:
Rush Limbaugh spends fifteen minutes lying about someone, it's not enough for him to apologize once, for a minute. He'll have to do it ten times, for fifteen minutes each, during the same segment. I imagine that, after the law is enacted, we'll see a much more muted discourse as journalistic investigators are hired en masse to actually do fact-checking for once.
Limbaugh spends more time (at least from what little I've listened) taking factual information and using that to just insult liberals. His audience agrees with his stances on unemployment, taxes, etc to such an extent, he doesn't really have to lie, just say "Obama gives more benefits to the unemployed: COMMUNISM!"

One of his big points (that I had to listen to personally) was when he was being a racist fuck (or more so than usual) in pointing out how much looting their was in New Orleans after the hurricane than there was in.... Ohio(?) after their disaster. He made the assumption that the good small-townsey folk (read: white) were just less violent. But he also left out that the national guard was on the ground before the disaster even hit whereas everyone in power basically said "Fuck New Orleans" before and after the hurricane hit.

Is lying by omission lying in this case? How do we prove it?

Quote:
There would need to be a way to fasttrack these cases, but given that the number of people involved in 'media incidents' can only be so large, this probably wouldn't prove to be a significant burden.
Or larger news organizations would flood the courts with such cases, purposely slowing them down (legally), wasting millions of taxpayer dollars. Whereas smaller news organizations with less money would get fucked either way. I could see this being used to primarily target blogs and other little guys.
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Xeriar
PostPosted: 2011-07-25 11:31pm 

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Joined: 2005-10-21 02:48am
Posts: 1739
Location: Twin Cities, MN, USA
TheFeniX wrote:
How do we clearly define parody and satire? Not counting what I've read online, I knew of at least three people personally who thought Stephen Colbert was hardline conservative when his show first started airing and for a year or so afterward. He was championed as the foil to Stewart (and Comedy Central has continued to play this angle for laughs). Hell, sometimes even I could forget who he was in the beginning (he's a lot more tame now that the cat is out of the bag).

It wouldn't be hard to find a group of people who would force CC to payout time and/or money due to his over-the-top reporting.


It's true that you can only do so much for idiots. Is it that immersion breaking to have to declare parody? Besides, even what Stephen Colbert says about people tends to actually be true. I don't think he'd have a problem sticking to it.

Quote:
So, what happens when Stewart calls X a lying fuck for being a lying fuck, then they force CC to prove he's lying or face the same consequences? What happens if I call Obama weak on civil rights and point to his extension of the Patriot Act as an example and his legal team points to his championing of gay rights (or whatever else) as a counter-point? Who is lying? Who determines this?


They prove to a tribunal that they were not in fact lying. John Stewart's statements and those of his target would be a matter of record, there shouldn't be a need to have an e.g. discovery process.

And nor is it intended to be a vehicle to shut down legitimate discourse. If Obama brings those charges against you and fails, he deserves to face a penalty of some sort. It's meant to stop e.g. Glenn Beck comparing the children slaughtered in Norway with the Hitler Youth.

Quote:
Limbaugh spends more time (at least from what little I've listened) taking factual information and using that to just insult liberals. His audience agrees with his stances on unemployment, taxes, etc to such an extent, he doesn't really have to lie, just say "Obama gives more benefits to the unemployed: COMMUNISM!"


I was specifically referring to Michael J Fox, there. Which he did apologize for, for what little credit I will give him. I don't think it would be particularly onerous on him.

Quote:
One of his big points (that I had to listen to personally) was when he was being a racist fuck (or more so than usual) in pointing out how much looting their was in New Orleans after the hurricane than there was in.... Ohio(?) after their disaster. He made the assumption that the good small-townsey folk (read: white) were just less violent. But he also left out that the national guard was on the ground before the disaster even hit whereas everyone in power basically said "Fuck New Orleans" before and after the hurricane hit.


It would probably have to be worded more carefully then I've written above, but I would count lying by omission as lying, too.


Quote:
Or larger news organizations would flood the courts with such cases, purposely slowing them down (legally), wasting millions of taxpayer dollars. Whereas smaller news organizations with less money would get fucked either way. I could see this being used to primarily target blogs and other little guys.


Err, you have to specifically be a slandered or libeled individual or group to bring these charges. You would face a penalty if, in fact, you are the lying douchebag you've been made out to be. As the statements by the defense are already public knowledge, phases can be skipped. It would only turn into a large trial if the defense was privy to some otherwise unknown bit of evidence, in which case it is obviously sensitive and the would-be prosecution might not want to seek the libel/slander route as a means of drawing attention to it.

I'll freely admit that it probably requires more thinking through. In general, we could do with stronger libel and slander protections, and has kept Fox et. al. rather effectively out of Canada.
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Keevan_Colton
PostPosted: 2011-07-26 09:30am 

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Joined: 2002-12-30 09:57pm
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Location: In the Land of Logic and Reason, two doors down from Lilliput and across the road from Atlantis...
Part of the problem there is that in the case of Rush for example, the US defamation laws are ass backwards. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution, in that you must PROVE that not only was what was said false, but also that the person in question knew that it was false.

So, you've got to prove a negative (which as we all know, is only really possible by exclusion, which isn't always an option) you've also got to prove what the person was thinking at the time too.

Contrast this with the British courts. Over here, the burden of proof lies with the defense. Before you publish something that could be controversial you had best have evidence you can present to show that it is true. You need to show that with the evidence available to you at the time (and which could have been available if you'd bothered your arse to get it so there's no cop out there) that the statement was true.

It's a fundamental difference in the logic of the whole affair and part of why people from the US try very hard to find a way to get defamation suits heard somewhere else.

As for the issue of regulation, there are some problems that come up with it. While an established ethical code would be a very good thing to have the arena of journalism is far more political than that of engineering and medicine to give two examples. Who would set out membership requirements and codes of conduct for a professional body? Who would be in charge of dealing with breaches of that code? What would be the penalties for an "unlicensed" journalist? What would prevent political pressure being used to hold back certification from those that irk people in power or authority?
What would be the stance on the issue of protecting confidential sources? Who would have authority and power over the organization as a whole?

It's a notion that's been floated a few times, and while I'd like for journalism to be a profession in the true sense of the word, there are some very major stumbling blocks to it working. Currently the standard of ethical conduct among journalists is sorely lacking. I say that as someone with a degree in the field and who has had to make some serious decision with regards to breaking laws in order to bring to light an important story.

I think the trouble at the heart lies with separating the public interest from what the public is interested in. Corruption in an official capacity - public interest. The last words of a dead girl - something the public is interested in. I'll probably post something a little more coherent later, but I wanted to bring up the defamation and professional body issues right now.
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Ægen
PostPosted: 2011-07-26 11:07am 

Redshirt


Joined: 2011-06-05 07:47am
Posts: 4
From what I can remember, which is admittedly little, from my journalism class in high school was that a journalist reports the facts, not the truth, not their interpretation of the facts. Just the facts.

The problem, as can be clearly seen in some news organizations is that they will knowingly lie about even the basic facts to get their own political agenda spouted about.
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Covenant
PostPosted: 2011-07-26 03:36pm 

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Joined: 2006-04-11 07:43am
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And like with Fox News and other kinds of broadcasters, there's no strong dividing line between the Opinion and Editorial pieces and the supposedly factual news pieces. When they're called out for someone saying something absurd, they can just say that it was an opinioned editorial, like all the rest of their commentary, and you need to watch the news for factual news.

This is most problematic when you look at how shallow, or indeed how nonexistant, straight-faced news is anymore. While a journalist may report the facts, editorial talking heads can read into those facts and present them as opinions just 15 minutes later. Legally, it's not fact, it's just opinion. Being ignorant is not only the cause of this but the defense, since you can't be making prosecutable statements unless you actually knew better, which the crazy op-ed folks clearly don't.

I think it would be a double standard to say that you can write editorially with no repercussions but speaking that way requires special allowances, but it's a double standard that may actually be worth examining. Mass consumption media like television and radio may eventually be replaced by fast-release bite sized news blurbs over Twitter and Facebook style outlets of the future, but for the moment they're still dominant in the "educating the stupid people" role. Nobody wants to curb free speech, but we have always recognized that someone talking at a bar and someone going on television with a news agency behind him have a vastly different set of expectations.

I don't know the law, and I do shudder to try and box up what you can or cannot say, but nobody is served by misrepresenting lies as facts. If journalists aren't supposed to try and decide the matters of false versus true, they should be less often making just those kinds of statements. Right now all we have are editorials and no real journalists.

For the sake of facts and reality we may need to take our mass media to task and rework not just slander and libel, but some kind of misinformation penalty. That would be hard to do, because when are the facts really decided upon? But there has to be some kind of reasonable something to help reinforce the now shriveled barrier between pure emotion-driven speculation and hard researched factual journalism. I'm not going to tell these so called news agencies they'd have to shift over to actually giving you fact-based news, but I'd like some kind of "Factually Certified" gold label on it or something, ala the old Nintendo Seal of Approval.
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Simon_Jester
PostPosted: 2011-07-26 03:38pm 

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Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm
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Ægen wrote:
From what I can remember, which is admittedly little, from my journalism class in high school was that a journalist reports the facts, not the truth, not their interpretation of the facts. Just the facts.

The problem, as can be clearly seen in some news organizations is that they will knowingly lie about even the basic facts to get their own political agenda spouted about.
It's not even that, though. "Just the facts" is the theory. In practice, for the average person, reporting only facts with no interpretation will make for some of the dullest writing on the planet. Any media source that actually gets enough interest to stay in business is going to have to include 'juicy' bits of information, organize the material it puts out in ways that grab the audience's attention, and concentrate a fair amount of its resources on "human interest" stories that the average person may care about even if they're totally apolitical or whatnot.

You don't have to be a political propagandist for this to affect the quality of the news coverage you produce.
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