Journalists Should Speak Out Against Discrimination

The Academic Village at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Academic Village at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. (via Phil Roeder on Flickr Creative Commons)

Objectivity is correctly cited as an elemental trait of good journalists, which is exhibited in their ability to separate fact from fiction regardless of their personal biases. Some people unfortunately confuse that trait with the concept of equivalence that suggests all points of view are inherently equal. Objectivity and equivalence are not the same.

People and journalists in the United States are asking a lot of questions in the wake of the deadly protests, riots and attacks that occurred over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Those questions grow more complex as the White House continues to issue conflicting statements.

For journalists covering Charlottesville, its effect on their communities or similar events, the question may be: How can I objectively cover people who spew racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and other outdated and repugnant beliefs?

The answer is that we objectively know that discrimination based on sex, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and other inherited traits is wrong. Journalists should feel free to say so and forcefully challenge people who believe otherwise.

The Society of Professional JournalistsCode of Ethics takes a hard line against discrimination in several ways. The Code says ethical journalism boldly tells the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience and doesn’t stereotype. The document also says ethical journalism “treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”

The profession would also be hypocritical to promote diversity in newsrooms in one moment and then suggest discriminatory views inherently deserve an equal airing in another.

Journalists and news organizations can’t ignore people with those hateful views, however. The events and horrors that occurred in Charlottesville can’t go unnoticed. In those cases, journalists must remain professional and civil. They and their news organization must be especially cautious not to inflate situations or make matters worse.

Additionally, journalists and news organizations need to be on the scene to record the events and send them to people in their homes. Those who disagree should read Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff’s The Race Beat.

“If it hadn’t been for the media – the print and television media – the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings, a choir without a song,” civil rights icon and U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA5) is quoted as saying at the end of the book.

Conversations about racism and discrimination are uncomfortable, but unavoidable in a country that has slavery and oppression in its genetic code.

Journalists and news organizations can’t make this problem go away by ignoring it. Fortunately it’s a problem with a well-known and proven answer. Journalists should tell and lead by example by promoting that answer: discrimination is wrong.


Andrew M. Seaman is the chair of the Society of Professional Journalists‘ ethics committee.

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  • Dennis Winton

    Since 9/11/2001, the US Government in its’ campaign to “protect us from something” continues to violate the very principals of freedom and the publics right to know what their government is up to. Now, even those who provide information to the press are called “leakers” and call for their arrest. Oh yes, the government calls everything “classified information” now as a means to discourage, harass, intimidate, and threaten those do not agree with those in power. This is what I see, everyday. The only fake news I see is what the government spews in its’ propaganda.

  • Dave

    I believe your focus should be on fair and balanced reporting and improving the trust with americans instead of a few extreme examples which equate to less than 1% of all reporting.

  • Rhonda Stone

    Nearly 40 years ago, I was a member of SPJ-SDX. Fair and balanced reporting was, at that time, a core purpose of the organization. I agree 100% that abuse of journalists in the U.S. is occurring and is WRONG. However, I must also say recent news media misrepresentation of events on the college I attend (The Evergreen State College) is causing direct harm to our nation. Our campus community is now targeted by white supremacists for a “no whites” day on campus that NEVER occurred. Every white staff member was invited to attend an off-campus event to learn about racism. There were only 200 seats available for a campus of 4,000, which speaks to organizers’ understanding that a relative small percentage would choose to attend. In conclusion, the effort to trim budgets appears to have caused the elimination of fact-checking on the part of national news organizations. A mess has been created by sloppy reporting.

  • Domhnall

    “Journalists should…forcefully challenge people who believe otherwise.”
    Or maybe journalists should just report facts as is, not purposefully insert their own biases no matter how morally righteous, and trust their readers (who, contrary to popular belief, do not actually tend to be degenerate reprobates) to know what’s right?
    Yeah, I think I prefer that.

  • Richard Bruce

    How does a reporter discriminate against sex, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and other inherited traits when writing the truth?

  • Meittimies

    “treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”

    Does that include the many US mainstream media pieces trying to justify how its ok to punch people you don’t like or suspect might be evil?

  • Truthteller

    As a journalist of three decades with national awards, I stand strongly for US and world press freedom. However, the list of incidents above has no context as to why they occurred and all are against the GOP. The current administration in DC has been far better for press freedom than the last (which tried to lock up reporters for publishing leaks, among numerous other offenses). The antifa is probably the biggest threat to press freedom in my lifetime, prohibiting free speech and even classroom debate on campus and violently trying to shut down the First Amendment elsewhere. The Aryan types are awful and should be opposed to the fullest extent, but they are very small in number compared with extreme leftist elements.

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