Friday, November 8, 2013

Emmis Communications' "Partnership" With Freedom Indiana Violates Journalistic Ethics

If you drive around southeast Indiana, you will come across newspapers with political party names in them, newspapers such as the Versailles Republican and Salem Democrat. During the 1800s, newspapers operated as arms of political parties, promoting particular political views.  It was the job of journalists to promote the particular political view of the newspaper in their reporting.

Fortunately, journalism evolved.  During the 1900s newspapers and other media outlets took on a public trust responsibility, a responsibility that mandated that they report the information objectively, warts and all, without political slant.  As part of that new era of objective, reporters were prohibited from immersing themselves in politics so as to not have their objectivity questioned.  While media outlets retained their editorial commentary, that commentary was always clearly separated from the reporting function of the media.  Media outlets, particularly newspapers, would make political endorsements, but that was the extent of political involvement and it was clearly identified as editorial content.  Media organizations certainly refrained from throwing the weight of their organization behind political issues as it would affect people's perceptions of the objectivity of the reporting.

In this new age of objective journalism, the Society of Professional Journalists adopted ethical rules to guide journalists in the exercise of their craft:
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
— 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.
While the SPJ Code of Ethics is voluntary and just applies to journalists, media outlets have generally followed the provisions so as to no jeopardize the works of the reporters they employ.  However, with the expansion of the TV dial, media mergers, and the new media, the once lauded objectivity of the Fourth Estate has broken down.  More and more you're seeing what was once objective reporting turn into opportunities to promote particular political viewpoints through the guise of reporting.

When hired by Gannett to manage the Indianapolis Star, Publisher Karen Crotchfelt said that the newspaper's mission is to be a "partner" with local political leaders, an approach one would believe conflicts with holding those leaders accountable.  Indeed, that's exactly what happened.   The Star's never writes critical stories of local officials and any editorials with such criticism are tepid at best.  Instead the Star has focused its investigation on state officials.  Apparently the "partnership" the Star has with local government officials does not extend tot he other side of Market Street.

In February of this year, I wrote how another blogger Eugene Fisk had written that Crotchfelt's involvement with the political group, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (which promotes mass transit among other policies) violated Gannett's ethical rules, particularly:
Gannett Ethics Policy, Part II, Paragraph C: 
Influence: An impartial, arms’ length relationship will be maintained with anyone seeking to influence the news.
There have been zero critical articles of the Indy Connect mass transit plan in the Indianapolis Star, while Star columnist Erika Smith, has written some 25 columns promoting the plan and mass transit in general.  It's not a hard leap to conclude that Crotchfelt's association with CICF influences the Star's coverage of the mass transit issue.

This week comes news that the media conglomerate Emmis Communications, is "partnering" with Freedom Indiana to fight the same sex marriage ban constitutional amendment.  Although this is being celebrated by same sex marriage advocates, the larger view is missing.  When media outlets engage in political advocacy, it undermines the credibility of the work journalists do on a day-to-day basis.  For those of us who believe in the objective journalism of the 1900s, this represents a step back in time, a return to the days of the 1800s when media outlets simply became arms to promote political views.

For those of us who believe in objective, ethical journalism, Emmis Communications' endorsement of the political work of the Freedom Indiana is certainly not something to celebrate.


Gary R. Welsh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary R. Welsh said...

I'm assuming that Emmis Communications has a policy that protects its gay employees from discrimination since it employs a number of openly gay people. If it offers same-sex benefits to those employees, its policies are put in jeopardy by the enactment of the proposed constitutional amendment, which goes beyond barring recognition of same-sex marriages. It also prohibits legal recognition of any legal incidents associated with marriage. It has the obligation to speak out just like Eli Lilly, Wellpoint, Indiana University or other employer whose employment policies might be adversely affected by the proposed constitutional amendment.

What is unethical is for Emmis to employ as radio talk show hosts individuals who take money from other parties to argue certain points of view. That is no different than the payola that DJs are prohibited from engaging by accepting money in exchange for playing certain songs. There are newspapers and other publications that are guilty of the same offense. They publish viewpoints from so-called bloggers and columnists who take money to argue certain points of view.

Annette said...

The issue of HJR-6 is very much a social justice issue. As Gary said, Emmis has the obligation to speak out in support of their LGBT employees. In addition, HJR-6 is a non-partisan issue affecting ALL Hoosiers - LGBT as well as straight.

Unigov said...

The litmus test would be how Emmis news outlets report on the issue.

The problem with the Star is that they profess to be a news organization, when actually they are like Pravda for Big Government and all its schemes. NFL stadiums, TIF's, rail transport, gun control, government-run education, etc, are covered only from that point of view.

IMO our state constitution already requires gay marriage be legal because it repeatedly calls for equal treatment under the law. Iowa's constitution has very similar language to ours, and their state supreme court ruled in favor of gay marriage several years ago. It's our fascist do-nothing supreme court, which refuses to enforce equality before the law, that prevents gay marriage happening here.

Gary R. Welsh said...

The Indiana Supreme Court takes the view that if a law is passed by the General Assembly, it must be constitutional. You can count on your hand the number of times our Supreme Court has struck down a state statute as being unconstitutional The expansive language defining our rights in Article I is treated as superfluous wordage.

Pete Boggs said...

Common language is based upon common understandings & yes traditions; property of the people & not the state.

Marriage is an idea long understood & owing to religious traditions; not redefined by state intrusion under the guise of contract management.

To the extent marriage & civil unions are contracts, the state has a registration function.

Thee is a Constitutional right to associate & contract. There is no such "right" to redefine or borrow on the traditions of others.

"Gay" marriage is dry martini logic; existing in name only. Toss a dry martini in someone's face & you'll get the idea. Civil unions, however, are Constitutionally or legally compelling; if equity is truly the concern.