News Orgs Need to Get Back to Ethical Journalism Before the U.S. Campaign Is Over

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For the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee:

Of Donald Trump’s statements evaluated by Politifact.com, nearly one-third are “false” or “pants on fire.” Yet, many of Trump’s statements go unchallenged during television interviews.

“Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough,” according to the Society of Professional Journalists. Accurate, fair and thorough information leads to public enlightenment, which SPJ considers the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.

In addition to journalists rarely questioning or challenging Trump on his stances or ideas, BuzzFeed News is reporting that sources, “confirmed the unprecedented control the television networks have surrendered to Trump in a series of private negotiations, allowing him to dictate specific details about placement of cameras at his event, to ensure coverage consists primarily of a single shot of his face.”

If these reports are true, the coverage of Trump on major television networks represents a major journalistic failure.

Regardless of Trump’s ideas or policies, there is no rationale for journalists or news organizations to cede control to a person asking to lead one branch of the U.S. government. Collusion with any person seeking office is inexcusable.

If such agreements exist, networks should rip them up and go back to practicing ethical journalism.

Getting back to ethical journalism means forgoing meaningless stories and avoiding he-said-she-said arguments between presidential campaigns. Instead, news organizations should bring on impartial policy experts to evaluate each candidate’s plans. They should also forgo meaningless and untrustworthy polling data and give people information they can actually use in the voting booths.

The business side of news organizations may balk at the idea of throwing away agreements that ultimately help the bottom line, but there is power in numbers.

If no networks or major news organizations agree to accept a campaign’s unfair terms, the campaign will be forced to relax their authoritarian ways. After all, the campaign needs news organizations to broadcasts speeches, debates and other information to the public.

Unlike collusion with presidential campaigns, collusion among journalists and news organizations in the pursuit of accurate and fair information can ultimately benefit society.

For example, dozens of news and professional news organizations collectively lobby for shield laws and improved transparency throughout government. News organizations also often join together when journalists are unfairly imprisoned.

Likewise, I hope news organizations join together to condemn campaigns and their supporters when journalists are not allowed to freely report on events. There is no place for violence — especially violence targeted toward journalists.

Hopefully, news organizations will realize that the need to improve their profits doesn’t trump the needs of a healthy Democracy, which requires the free exchange of accurate and fair information.

Photo via Matthew Trudeau on Flickr.


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