Posts Tagged ‘journalistic professionalism’

Burned by the media

I see the media has claimed another victim. This time it’s one of the former wives of a polygamist in Bountiful, B.C. The woman – I’ll give her the dignity of withholding her name, although it’s been blared across the continent and the world by the media – asked the judge at her former husband’s polygamy trial to withhold her video evidence from reporters to prevent them from embarrassing her with it.

Maybe she was naïve

She spoke from experience, having regretted talking to the media in the past. We can certainly question her judgment because, among others, she appeared on the Dr. Phil talk show and shared details of her life as one of ten wives. Maybe she was naïve, maybe she liked the attention and glamour of being on TV. Maybe she just wanted to have her story told.

Her story didn’t matter

But she learned in very short order that her story really didn’t matter much. What mattered was the media’s edition of her story. And that word edition is a big one because that’s what gets published. That’s what holds readers/viewers and sells ads. As the woman told the Toronto Star, “. . . the media can make it sound the way they want it to sound”. She’s right. And that’s where I have big issues.

They had no idea

I’ve heard people complain that a reporter did a 45-minute interview and only 10 seconds made it to air, often out of context. And I’ve seen people babble away to a reporter as if he or she were a friend, not realizing that anything they said could fling them into the spotlight and potentially embarrass them to their community, including their bosses. They simply had no idea of the power of the media.

No obligation

If a cop arrests you for a criminal offence, he or she is obligated to read your rights, to tell you that anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. But a journalist has no obligation to tell you that anything you say can be edited in any manner and published to the world, perhaps in a context that’s opposite to the one you spoke in. A journalist’s only obligation is to identify him- or herself as a journalist. Once they’ve done that, everything you say is on the record and you can read it in the papers or see it on TV news.

The rules are simple

I understand journalists have a tough job. I know they work hard and the good ones follow a strict moral and professional code. They – the good ones – act in the public interest. But I’ve always had an issue with the fact that they are not required – and therefore don’t – explain the rules of engagement to ordinary people who’ve had no exposure to media. The rules are simple: if you’re talking to a journalist, everything you say can be published. The journalist knows that – but the interviewee often doesn’t. And the journalist is able to use that lack of awareness to his or her advantage, often to the detriment of the interviewee.

Respect for privacy

I think it’s time we introduced a new standard of journalistic professionalism. I think it’s time for journalists to start doing what police officers are required to do during criminal arrests. The public needs to know, when it’s their turn to have their 15 minutes of fame, that they have the right to remain silent and that everything they say can be published and perhaps used against them by family, friends and their community. I think that’s just basic respect for privacy.

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Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. Service is also available outside of the GTA.