Print

 

Death Threats: A Bad Goal of the Tabloid Press The Swiss referee who disallowed a last-minute British goal that cost the British national team advancement to the next round of Euro 2004 found himself in danger when The Sun, England's largest-circulation tabloid, printed his address, phone number, E-mail address and private information about his family. Death threats prompted the police to advise him to leave his home for a while. The referees' union and tournament organizers strongly supported the referee and his right to make decisions on the field with impunity, but The Sun planted a British flag in the referee's yard and the House of Commons considered (but eventually tabled) a motion criticizing the quality of tournament refereeing. An impartial referee might rule that The Sun's action was offsides and should have received the red card.

It All Comes Down to Value(s) Germany's Axel Springer group requires its German journalists to sign a contract that includes a set of five principles the company uses as "guidelines for editorial work." The principles deal with upholding "liberty and law in Germany, a country belonging to the Western family of nations," and furthering "the unification of Europe;" promoting the "reconciliation of Jews and Germans," and supporting "the vital rights of the State of Israel;" supporting the "Transatlantic Alliance and solidarity with the United States of America;" rejecting "all forms of political extremism" and upholding "the principles of a free social market economy." By the way, Springer administrators said these principles only represented "a general idea about values" and are not meant to influence a paper's news coverage or opinions. However, these "values," which British journalists felt did not meet with their editorial standards, may have led to the recent dropping of the Springer bid to purchase the Telegraph newspapers in the United Kingdom. The value that Springer said was the cause of withdrawing its offer was that the Telegraph papers were overvalued.

Hospitality for a Price At last summer's G-8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia, French and German reporters (and their governments) complained to their American hosts about having to pay $350 for use of the press facilities, something that's usually offered free by the host nation. A spokesman for the organizers called the disagreement a "culture clash," and pointed out that the American media would never agree to the government paying the bill for the press to use the facilities free, "yet the French demand it." Besides, he added, the American taxpayer would be outraged "if facilities were free" to non-delegates. The charge was a "very fair price" and even at that, he said, the summit would still lose money. Although the day of lavish "freebies" may be over, one wonders whether the American spokesman's reference to a "culture clash" might have something to do with one-upmanship directed at the complainers.

What a Difference a "b" Makes The Associated Press reported in September 2004 that, when President Bush announced at a Wisconsin campaign rally that former President Clinton had undergone surgery and then wished him a speedy recovery, the audience "booed," and "Bush did nothing to stop them." Soon after news sites started reporting the story, the AP retracted the report, claiming it had difficulty as to how to "characterize the crowd's reaction." The revised story now said, "The crowd reacted with applause and with some 'ooohs,' apparently surprised by the news..." Is it possible that an AP reporter actually mistook an "oooh" for a "boo"? Seems as though this might be useful content for the next edition of the AP Stylebook, or maybe hearing tests belong in the benefits section of the next Guild contract with AP.

Let's Try to Stay with the Lowest Common Denominator, Shall We? The BBC last spring said that it dismissed a radio show host, an Oxford graduate, of a program that was aiming for Afro-Caribbean audiences because of "low ratings." The BBC itself had originally billed the show as one of "intelligent debate." But the topics debated and the guests selected apparently did not match management's expectations. The manager said the host's approach had been "too intellectual, not quite colloquial enough." Maybe Bachelorette could be adapted for the purpose?

Fair and Balanced When Ted Koppel's Nightline decided, in April 2004, to dedicate a whole show to reading the names of the American servicepeople who had been killed in Iraq, ABC affiliates owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group were instructed by their owner not to air it. SBG, whose owner has been a large contributor to President Bush's campaign, said that he objected to Koppel's "hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war...and to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq." The SBG statement went on to say "we are aware of the spouse of one soldier who died in Iraq who opposes the reading of her husband's name to oppose military action. We suspect she is not alone in this viewpoint. As a result we have decided to preempt the broadcast..." She must have been one persuasive woman!

Altered Egos Ever since the exposure of plagiarism, invention, or other transgressions by such as The New York Times' Jayson Blair, USA Today's Jack Kelly and the New Republic's Stephen Glass, we've become aware of new examples of alterations by more people who ought to know better. Here are some that may be useful when thinking about professional standards: * One of the editors of The (Lynchburg, VA) News and Advance was fired recently because he altered (improved?) stories before submitting them to journalism contests. The dismissed editor, who submitted the entries electronically, admitted that his career in journalism was over. "I have no one to blame but myself," he said. * A 37-year veteran of the Seattle Times, who was serving as a columnist and an associate editor, resigned recently after it was discovered that at least two of his columns contained material lifted from the works of others. "My only defense, and it is a lame one," he said, "is that it was unintentional." * It took several lawsuits filed by advertisers before Newsday and the Chicago Sun Times admitted last summer they had been inflating their circulation figures. Some heads rolled, investigating committees were formed and prosecutors were weighing their options. To think that the "business side" of the media might cook the books. Shocking! And then there is the most recent CBS imbroglio...

* This column is a regular feature in MEDIA ETHICS. Readers with verifiable contributions for future issues (all subject to editing), or comments on the entries chosen for this issue, should send them to Manny Paraschos, c/o MEDIA ETHICS. The above article was published in Media Ethics , Fall 2004 (16:1), pp. 2,34-35.