Length:Approximately 300+ words per question (about one page per each set of study questions plus one page of commentary) 1200–1500 wordsFormat:Respond to questions using well-developed paragraphs.Criteria:There is no need to cite sources unless you use a direct quote or refer to a specific claim or set of ideas.Topic:Many news organizations have articulated professional ethical standards. However, economic and political interests may lead journalists and their employers to choose to override ethical considerations in order to promote personal or corporate interests. This assignment asks you to focus on specific dimensions of these pressures. For each of the units in Part 3, choose one set of study questions (i.e., one reading) to respond to. You do not need to literally answer every question, but compose a thoughtful reflection on the topic using them as guidelines. Finally, write a concluding commentary summarizing what you have learned by explaining connecting themes and arguments.
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Money and power go hand in hand. Individuals and institutions with financial
and political power gain tremendous advantages in society and, for the most
part, use their power to acquire more power. In order to do so, they focus their
financial might in creating the circumstances needed to enhance power and
wealth. This dynamic is far reaching and includes the worlds of journalism,
government, and public relations.
When information providers gather and present information, they play an
important and practical role in society. They are agents of change, which
means they can also block change when it suits their purposes. The ethical
implications are numerous when money, power, and interests determine the
information that gets reported. In terms of professional and personal integrity,
it is important to be clear about money issues and conflicts of interest.
Let’s use the following scenarios to discover our own ethical positions
regarding money and power.
Imagine that you are a newly hired staff journalist for a large metropolitan
newspaper in a Canadian city. Consider the scenarios in the following table.
Each scenario involves ethical choices. What would you do in each case?
Making Ethical Choices: Money and Power
Scenarios
What should you do?
o
Should you write more
ideological stories, so you’ll
You are not a particularly ideological writer. You
prefer to look at issues on a case-by-case basis
rather than take a liberal, conservative, or social
democratic stance. The editor-in-chief of your
newspaper suggests in private conversation that you
could get a promotion if you took an ideological stand
close to her own.
get the promotion?
o
Should you go out of your
way to write stories from a
different ideological
perspective?
o
Should you say nothing, but
make sure no ideological
content turns up in your
stories?
You hear of a job opportunity before it is posted and
call your cousin, urging him to apply as soon as
possible. You could then use your influence to get
him a job interview, lobbying on his behalf.
o
Should you use your
influence to get as many
members of your family and
community hired as possible?
Making Ethical Choices: Money and Power
Scenarios
What should you do?
o
Should you refer to the
newspaper’s code of ethics to
see whether your actions
qualify as nepotism?
o
Should you tell your cousin
about the job opening, but
leave it to him to apply?
o
Should you forget the whole
thing?
o
Should you accept the offer
and then write favourably
about the European Space
Agency?
o
The European Space Agency offers you a seven-day
trip to the Caribbean to cover a satellite launch and
scientific conference that could have been covered
by telephone. You personally agree with the space
agency’s objectives.
Should you accept the offer
and then be as neutral as
possible in your coverage?
o
Should you decline the offer?
o
Should you ask your
immediate supervisor to fund
a similar seven-day trip, so
you can cover the satellite
launch and scientific
conference?
o
Is a prominent politician
responsible for his father’s
past behaviour?
You hear that the cousin of a prominent politician
claims that, as a young girl, she was sexually abused
by the politician’s father. This could be a major story,
but it could also “blow up” in the editor-in-chief’s face.
o
Is there any way to confirm
the story?
o
Should the story be reported
as a series of allegations,
without confirmation?
o
Should you forget the whole
thing?
Required Readings
Chapter 5: The Media and Money
Russell, N. (2006). Morals and the media: Ethics in Canadian journalism. (2nd ed.). Vancouver:
UBC Press.
Chapter 6: Conflict of Interest
Russell, N. (2006). Morals and the media: Ethics in Canadian journalism. (2nd ed.). Vancouver:
UBC Press.
In Chapter 5, Russell (2006) discusses the “warping effect” that money can
have on journalism. Ethical boundaries can be crossed when advertisers seek,
and often receive, advantageous treatment or when “advertorials” are
disguised as legitimate news copy. In other instances, media might publish or
broadcast press releases and other promotional material (whether text, audio,
or video) without identifying the source of the material. Chequebook
journalism occurs when a key source is paid for telling a story, sometimes on
an exclusive basis.
Money also influences journalistic integrity when reporters are offered
“freebies”—from cash to gifts, passes, favours, merchandise, or junkets (allexpense-paid travel to cover an event that is paid for by the organizer of the
event). Some journalists refuse all “freebies,” while others quietly accept
whatever they can. Still others accept freebies, but then donate them to
charitable organizations. What constitutes ethical or unethical behaviour in
these situations?
The following table presents some of Russell’s examples regarding the
influence that money and power have in ethical reporting.
Money and Ethical Behaviour in Journalism
Unethical
Practice
Implications and Examples
Advertisers’
clout
Advertisers can use their financial power to obtain favourable coverage
and other advantages, thereby influencing the news.
Advertorials
These stories look like real news reporting but are actually a form of paid
advertising designed to mislead the public. In one case, Walter Cronkite, a
Money and Ethical Behaviour in Journalism
Unethical
Practice
Implications and Examples
trusted US anchorman, accepted $50,000 to promote pharmaceutical
products in pseudo-news reports, but had to cancel the contract after a
public uproar.
Chequebook
journalism
Some media pay individuals for news exclusives, even when these
sources are criminals, insiders who know embarrassing secrets, celebrities
who are marketing their stories, and so on.
Brass cheques
Media organizations offer advertisers favourable coverage in exchange for
money.
When media organizations and individual journalists accept free trips,
Accepting gifts computers, contracts, or other gifts, they are opening themselves up to
manipulation by the donor.
Society expects journalists to be guided by ethical codes. Journalists are
valuable to society because they are credible and, presumably, independent. If
they are “for sale” to the highest bidder or if their employer is willing to skew
media coverage by offering favourable coverage for a fee, credibility and
independence become commodities that can be bought and sold. This strategy
might work if no one finds out, but if the public learns that its trust is being
undermined (as in the Cronkite example described above), the journalist’s
credibility is destroyed.
In Chapter 6, Russell (2006) discusses conflict of interest. The Ethics
Guidelines of the Canadian Association of Journalists advise journalists to
avoid developing personal relationships with sources, to avoid reporting on
organizations that they belong to, and to avoid speech-writing for political
parties or officials because “in our role as fair and impartial journalists, we
must be free to comment on the activities of any publicly elected body or
special interest organization” (CAJ, Ethics Guidelines cited in Russell, 2006,
p. 71).
Interestingly, Russell argues that freelance journalists are more likely to find
themselves in conflict of interest positions than staff journalists. Freelance
journalists make a living by writing for many different media, not just for one.
But contrary to Russell’s understanding, freelancers cannot write the same
article for two competing media. They can, however, use the same material to
write up different stories for media in markets that do not overlap.
Russell’s analysis of conflicts of interest is somewhat narrow. Conflicts of
interest arise when a professional’s private interests may benefit his or her
public activity. If journalists, for example, have a formal responsibility to serve
the public, then they should not engage in activities that could jeopardize their
professional judgment or independence. There is always the possibility that a
journalist could be in conflict with his or her employer’s interests.
Study Questions
On the last page of Chapter 5 in Morals and the Media, Russell presents three
“Tough Calls.” Please answer these three questions for each “tough call”
situation.
1. According to Russell’s categories, what type of economic pressure is
being exerted?
2. What key issues are involved?
3. Is there an obvious “right choice?” Why or why not?
Corporate Media Control
Some of the most serious conflicts of interest in journalism occur at the
organizational level. An independent media organization has one set of
interests, but a media organization that is part of a larger industrial
conglomerate, or a group of converging media organizations, may have several
conflicting interests. For example, in the United States, NBC TV provides
favourable coverage of its corporate owner General Electric. And in Canada,
CanWest and Quebecor newspapers promote television programs that are
broadcast by “sister companies” belonging to the same parent company.
Required Reading
Hrynyshyn, D. (2005). Review essay: The
mainstreaming
of
media
critique. Canadian
Journal
of
Communication, 30(4), 673–679.
In his review essay, Hrynyshyn (2005) explains that corporate control of the
media has long been identified by critics such as Noam Chomsky & Edward
Herman (1988.) Later, communications scholars, in turn, argued that these
critics had perceived economic structures in a rigid way, not recognizing the
agency of the audience.
By now, corporate media power is not a secret but is already well understood
across the political spectrum. Hrynyshyn goes on to describe how the trend
toward monopoly control of the media accelerated in the 1990s, leading both
to social resistance against neo-capitalism and to the rise of ultra-conservative
politics and media, such as the Fox News Channel. Digital computer networks
further expand the range of media distribution. The public involvement in the
critique of media politics and economics suggests that the ideas of
communication scholars have impact outside the university.
Study Questions
1. Sum up Bagdikian’s approach to analysis of media monopoly? What
are some of the reviewer’s objections?
2. McChesney provides a conservative critique of “the liberal media.”
It is hard to deny that this critique serves the interest of an
increasingly conservative mainstream media trying to retain an air
of balance and objectivity. Why is the Internet not an alternative?
Why does the reviewer not buy McChesney’s analysis of the
Internet?
3. What are the three common problems shared by the books under
review?
4. The critical assumption that neo-liberal or right wing forces have
conquered the media overlooks much successful criticism of the
conservative establishment. Can you give an example of movements
or incidents of audience resistance to corporate media pressures on
public opinion?
Corporate Media Control
Some of the most serious conflicts of interest in journalism occur at the
organizational level. An independent media organization has one set of
interests, but a media organization that is part of a larger industrial
conglomerate, or a group of converging media organizations, may have several
conflicting interests. For example, in the United States, NBC TV provides
favourable coverage of its corporate owner General Electric. And in Canada,
CanWest and Quebecor newspapers promote television programs that are
broadcast by “sister companies” belonging to the same parent company.
Required Reading
Hrynyshyn, D. (2005). Review essay: The mainstreaming of media critique. Canadian Journal of
Communication, 30(4), 673–679.
In his review essay, Hrynyshyn (2005) explains that corporate control of the
media has long been identified by critics such as Noam Chomsky & Edward
Herman (1988.) Later, communications scholars, in turn, argued that these
critics had perceived economic structures in a rigid way, not recognizing the
agency of the audience.
By now, corporate media power is not a secret but is already well understood
across the political spectrum. Hrynyshyn goes on to describe how the trend
toward monopoly control of the media accelerated in the 1990s, leading both
to social resistance against neo-capitalism and to the rise of ultra-conservative
politics and media, such as the Fox News Channel. Digital computer networks
further expand the range of media distribution. The public involvement in the
critique of media politics and economics suggests that the ideas of
communication scholars have impact outside the university.
Study Questions
1. Sum up Bagdikian’s approach to analysis of media monopoly? What
are some of the reviewer’s objections?
2. McChesney provides a conservative critique of “the liberal media.”
It is hard to deny that this critique serves the interest of an
increasingly conservative mainstream media trying to retain an air
of balance and objectivity. Why is the Internet not an alternative?
Why does the reviewer not buy McChesney’s analysis of the
Internet?
3. What are the three common problems shared by the books under
review?
4. The critical assumption that neo-liberal or right wing forces have
conquered the media overlooks much successful criticism of the
conservative establishment. Can you give an example of movements
or incidents of audience resistance to corporate media pressures on
public opinion?
Media as Profit-Driven Industry
Media organizations are profit driven. In order to survive, revenues need to
exceed expenses. The concentration of media ownership among a dozen or so
groups, such as News Corporation, Time Warner, Thomson Reuters, and
Bloomberg, is driven by economies of scale, as well as by the concerted drive
to develop new information products, dominate markets, and seek profit. Even
public broadcasters, like the CBC or PBS, have to ensure a constant flow of
revenue, whether through parliamentary appropriations and advertising (in
the case of CBC) or grants and donations (in the case of PBS). These public
broadcasters could not survive if their expenses far exceeded their revenues or
if they racked up huge financial losses year after year.
The cost of running a successful media enterprise is significant. Media
organizations need to hire competent professionals; they have to offer
appropriate salaries, cover travel expenses, and provide other compensation.
Activities such as maintaining infrastructure, upgrading technology, accessing
documents and databases, surveying audience attitudes, and funding staff
members’ professional skills development all cost money. Investigative
reporting is expensive, often requiring a reporter to research a story for
months. Government communications and public relations are also costly
exercises. In short—gathering and reporting information is an expensive
process.
Clearly, when editorial decisions are made, profitability has to be considered.
A story’s profitability can be determined by asking a few questions:
o
How does the story affect the media organization’s economic and
political interests?
o
Will it increase financial profitability (i.e., will the revenues it
generates outweigh the costs of research, writing, etc.)?
o
If the story is expensive to research and write, would it be
acceptable to take shortcuts in order to cut costs?
o
Would those shortcuts affect the overall integrity of the story?
o
How many people in the target audience will be interested or even
captivated?
o
Will the story enhance or diminish market share?
o
Will the news item help maintain competitiveness (originality of
news coverage, advertising revenue, etc.)?
o
Will the item complement or offend public taste?
Censorship
While most people understand the link between money and power, it is a bit
more difficult to understand how serving personal or organizational interests
can warp the intent of ethical journalism. Some interests are so powerful and
threatening that they can stifle debate, block unfavourable reporting, hinder
individual freedom of expression, and intimidate reporters and other
providers of information. Censorship, for example, is the systematic use of
group power to control freedom of expression. The following table summarizes
several kinds of censorship.
Censorship
Type
of
Meaning
Censorship
Formalized
censorship
Over-control of media content,
often imposed through state
censor boards
Mob
censorship
Gangs or throngs vandalize
newspaper buildings or threaten
journalists
Censorship
Type
of
Meaning
Censorship
Voluntary
censorship
Media
choose
to
censor
themselves because they fear
repercussions of their employers
or because of periods of conflict,
economic distress, social strife,
or another reason
Selfcensorship
Removing
questionable,
provocative, sensitive, offensive
or unpopular material from one’s
work—before someone else
does
Assassination
George Bernard Shaw called
assassination “the extreme form
of censorship”
Historically, mob censorship has occurred when unruly crowds intimidate the
press by threatening newspaper offices, jostling journalists, or destroying
property. In the Internet age, cyber stalkers and bloggers intimidate
journalists online with shrill, highly argumentative, grossly exaggerated,
biased criticism that thrives on misrepresentation—a type of virtual mob
censorship.
Required Reading
Wilkinson, P. (1997). The media and terrorism: A
reassessment. Terrorism and Political Violence, 9(2),
51–64.
In his article, Paul Wilkinson argues that the claim of a symbiotic relationship
between terrorists and the media is a valid one. The terrorists’ propaganda war
crucially involves manipulation of the media. Are voluntary self-restraint and
regulation by the media the best policy for democratic society? This depends
on how appropriate and effective such measures would be and how strong the
will is to develop them.
Study Questions
1. What are the benefits to mass media organizations of the coverage
of terrorism? Why do media and terrorism have a symbiotic
relationship?
2. What is the most frequent terrorist technique for influencing the
mass media? What are the four main objectives?
3. How do terrorist techniques correspond to the “pseudo-event”
strategy described by Boorstin?
4. Give an example of media irresponsibility that has directly
threatened the efforts of the police in terrorism cases. What can the
media do to frustrate the aims of terrorists, and what policy options
do we have with regard to media response to terrorism?
Thus far, we have focused on media ethics as it relates to journalism.
Occasional references have been made to other information professionals,
from government and NGO communications officers to public relations
professionals. We’ve acknowledged the different objectives and interests
of other information professionals, who often play several different roles
in the process of communication. In Unit 9, we explore the consequences
of the manipulation of journalists by people and institutions outside of
their own media organizations. In addition, we learn about the
relationship between journalists and public relations professionals and
the ethical dimension inherent in that relationship.
Manipulating the Media
According to the Collins English Dictionary, the verb “to manipulate” means
“to control something or someone cleverly or deviously.” “To control” is to
have power over, to limit, or to restrain others. “Controlling” means forcing
others to submit to one’s will. When control is exercised on the media “cleverly
or deviously,” it lacks transparency—in other words, the public is unlikely to
know about it. Powerful individuals and organizations exert power and limit
the ability of journalists to report freely by gaining leverage over them. This is
not the same thing …
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