Should journalists declare themselves?

Comment by Barry Tucker                    15 July, 2013

In a recent article in the UK Guardian, repeated in the Australian edition, journalist Antony Loewenstein asked if journalists should reveal their political leaning.

“We, as journalists, should disclose for whom we vote and any other political affiliations that may affect our reporting. It’s the least we can do to restore trust in an industry that regularly receives low marks by its readers. A 2011 study by Edelman Public Relations found only 33% of the Australian public trusted the press, compared to an average of 49% globally. A 2013 study by Transparency International finds Australians rank political parties and the media as the most corrupt institutions in the state.”

Loewenstein declares his political interests:

“For the record, I’m likely to vote for the Greens this year but am flirting with the Wikileaks party, both organisations largely dedicated to increasing transparency in the ways we are governed.”

In the About page of this blog, I declare mine: A Labor supporter, but not a party member.

Loewenstein deals briefly with subjectivity, by referring to others. It seems to be generally regarded that journalists cannot be objective because people by nature are subjective. You might as well argue that your surgeon cannot give you objective advice because he or she is ruled by subjective self-interest: the profit motive.

Of course, the surgeon’s advice may have consequences, which can be serious enough to have him or her de-registered. Professional journalists also have a Code of Ethics, conduct or practice (the contents vary around the globe), but journalists are only rarely brought to account for providing lousy, biased or inaccurate advice or commentary. Redress is most likely to occur in the field of finance reporting, where declarations of self-interest must be made and where penalties for using insider information, or misleading information, can be severe.

It’s too facile to claim journalists are subjective because everyone is subjective. The truth is journalists are subjective because being objective is just too difficult. There was a time, when I was a young journo, when objectivity and fairness was a goal, not an aspiration but an approach to each and every story. What changed was not something within our psychological make-up but something that went wrong with the newspaper industry’s business model — the advertising money migrated to the web.

Opinion, bias and simply making things up to strengthen the story has replaced research, effort, objectivity and fairness. Having given up too easily on the question of objectivity and impartiality, the desirable alternative is an appeal for fairness and balance — at least.

Loewenstein writes:

“The responsibility should be on journalists to explain why they aren’t telling us for whom they vote, rather than claiming it’s a private matter that would only open them up to dismissal by partisan players or exclusion by politicians who don’t believe they’ll receive a fair hearing.”

Relevant to that are two Tweets I sent this morning. In the first, I ask ABC News24’s Political Correspondent in Canberra, Latika Bourke, why she was repeating a story as genuine when some of her colleagues say it was a media stunt set up by opponents of the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to undermine her.

Latika

Three hours later, I had not received a response.

A week ago, former Canberra Press Gallery reporter Kerry-Anne Walsh published The Stalking of Julia Gillard (see Canberra Press Gallery named, probably not shamed). Walsh named a number of political journalists who she says conspired with deposed and now current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. I Tweeted one of them, Chris Kenny, and received a response that I regard as frivolous.

ChrisKenny

Political journalists may think they are being clever by dishing up garbage disguised as entertainment for a dumbed down public. One thing is certain: the audience is stampeding from the theatre.

Read all about it.

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