In the course of conversation with several acquaintances recently, the topic of media bias – or lack of it, shall I say – popped up. Of course, I thought it pertinent to ask whether anyone was aware that the company that owns both our big local papers , and other media conglomerates, have made donations to political parties.
To say that everyone’s faces were shocked, is to understate the reaction.
” No! The media isn’t allowed to do that! Isn’t there a law against it? How is that fair?”
Shrugging my shoulders, I told them there is no law against it. Sometimes the donations are quite large, as well. One example is Canwest’s $50,000 donation to the BC Liberal party in 2005. Rogers Communications Inc. , owners of various media outlets, donated $20,o00 to the Liberals in 2007.
While newsroom editors might make the claim that no organization or political party can or will influence how the news is reported,how can the public be sure this is true? Neither company donated to any other political party, only the BC Liberals were on the receiving end of such good will.
The Vancouver Province and The Vancouver Sun have also long-held lucrative government advertising contracts that generate significant revenue, and if there was ever a video that demonstrated more clearly how the BC Liberal government manipulates the media in BC, this is it. Watch Charlie Smith from the Georgia Straight host a very telling interview with Gordon Campbell.
This week, Sean Holman of Public Eye Online and The Tyee, has revealed yet another instance in which the integrity of unbiased news reporting by The Sun and The Province newspapers is again under fire… here is an excerpt:
Sun, Province to Promote Governments’ Homeless Message
CanWest newspapers co-sponsor government-run public relations centre in Downtown Eastside during Olympics
Vancouver’s two major newspapers are sponsoring a government-run centre that will tell international media covering the 2010 Winter Olympics about how the province is dealing with homelessness issues in the city’s troubled Downtown Eastside.
Media observers say The Vancouver Sun and The Province should investigate the veracity of the information that will be presented by the centre, not sponsor it. But The Province’s editor-in-chief has said that sponsorship deal would only create a conflict of interest if it had been arranged by the paper’s newsroom — which it wasn’t.
“It’s a conflict of interest. Newspapers shouldn’t be in the business of promoting anything like that. They should be reporting it. And, if they do report on it (now), it becomes suspect because they’re involved in it,” he said.
“If this centre turns out to be a bust or whatever, they’re not going to report on it honestly because they’re part and parcel of it. There can’t be arms-length reporting of something in which you’re involved.”
Four firms connected to the real estate development industry have also signed-on to sponsor the centre.
READ the entire article by Sean Holman, HERE, or HERE, and as usual I recommend that you also check out the comments section that follow. Sean has also posted an update to this story HERE, listing some of the other( real estate) companies involved in sponsoring the booth.
Retired reporter turned blogger, Harvey Oberfeld, has covered another aspect of such interference in unbiased and unadulterated news reporting, and that is the medias involvement in the news during the 2010 Olympic Torch run. In this blog post, Harvey makes a good point about why broadcasters should not have accepted positions as torch bearers during the run across Canada:
Talk about conflict of interest! Surely the public could be forgiven if they fail to believe that, after accepting this ”honour” at the Olympics, these on-camera “talent” will also give us an honest or critical assessment of what’s really going on during the Games … and not just hype designed to support and project a positive image of happenings at the Olympics.
I have no problem with individuals, companies, community organizations, public organizations supporting the Games. I personally hope they work out terrifically for Vancouver, B.C., Canada and all the athletes and participants.
But the media who cover the games and activities should NOT also take part in them. Period!
Harvey has continued to follow this issue in his most recent post, ” 2010 Freebies: Media MUST Come Clean “, where he calls on the local media to divulge any and all freebies they have received from VANOC, the Olympic sponsors( Coca- Cola, RBC, etc),and government agencies/crown corporations, prior to games reporting. This, so we know from what angle that reporting comes from. Here’s an excerpt:
To ensure a “clean” Games from a journalistic point of view, I believe the media MUST come clean beforehand.
Has VANOC or Games sponsors provided any free passes to simply VIEW (not professionally cover) events for any media staff: whether executives, managers, staff or their family members and friends?
Has VANOC or Games sponsors assisted (even if they paid for them) any media executives, managers, staff or family members and friends to obtain TICKETS to any sporting events or social gatherings?
Have VANOC or Games sponsors provided ANY KIND OF FREEBIES to media members??? ANY KIND OF FREEBIES!
Have any government bodies, Crown agencies, companies or individuals provided any FREEBIES related to the Games to media members or assisted in obtaining TICKETS to any events?
The media must come clean!
In the most gracious manner, Harv has even offered the use of his blog as a confessional of sorts, for the local media to set the record straight.
So far, the silence has been deafening.
It is important to note that the Society of Professional Journalists have posted on their site, a code of ethics. Among these voluntary guidelines, are sections devoted to acting independently, and being accountable :
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.
—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
— Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
— Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.
Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.
— Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
— Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
— Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
— Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
— Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.
Clearly, one has to wonder what new journalism graduates must feel like when they enter todays newsrooms. After all, you spend 4 years being taught ethics, morality, and the importance of unbiased reporting, find yourself full of youthful righteousness ready to show the truth…. and then step on the newsroom floor only to find the news you are assigned to report is very different from the news you should be reporting. That you can’t piss off the advertisers. That there isn’t enough of a budget to do a diner review, let along an in-depth investigative piece on the real story of non-profit billing practices. That bad government news stories are run on Fridays and good news ones they want to pump are run on Mondays, and that all those other clever young journalism graduates of past are now nothing more than flunkies paid to shill for the “bad guys”.
How disappointing the reality of some modern news organizations values can be, how tragic the consequences are. Citizens are now often faced with having to decide for themselves what is truth or spin, what is real or altered, what is contrived or motivated by hidden factors they have made public.
Sadly, it would appear the famous words of George Orwell are still as relevent as they were when first spoken:
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.