Print

Another Dutch Treat

The Dutch national news agency reported last summer that national broadcaster BNN had deceived its audience in a film about public attitudes toward Muslims. A journalist "accidentally" dropped a bag of oranges she was carrying and was helped immediately by passersby. The same woman, however, dressed in a burqa was offered no help from passersby, the film showed. But the cameras of Amsterdam station AT5, which was also filming the "test," captured the BNN film makers encouraging passersby to keep on walking. One would think the world has enough racism problems without needing the creation of artificial situations to "make a point."

The Costs of "Military Expertise"

Bloomberg reported recently that the FCC is investigating the network practice of employing "military analysts" without properly informing viewers that they had connections with the Department of Defense. Apparently DoD had been educating (through access to classified information, trips to war zones, etc.) retired officers, lobbyists and contractors to present certain viewpoints in interviews. U. S. law requires that viewers be told when broadcasters use analysts or interviewees who receive compensation for expressing their views on the air. But that's probably not as big as the $300,000,000 that the The Washington Post said DoD has decided to spend on private U. S. contractors in the next three years to produce news, entertainment and public service announcements for the Iraqi media in order "to engage and inspire" Iraqis to support U. S. policies. Four companies have been awarded the contracts, which come under the title of "Information/psy-chological operations." No recession there.

Creative Product Placement

The German Press Agency recently reported that one of Hessischer Rundfunk public television's sports program producers managed to find a way to get around the network's ban on product placement. In a bicycle race, Juergen Emig would position his cameras in a way that would capture images of signs depicting products and names of cities that had paid him fees for the promotion. A Frankfurt court discovered that Emig had made approximately U. S. $400,000 between 2001 and 2004. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison for corruption. Is a picture worth 1000 days in prison?

Taste Matters

The Korea Times reported that during last summer's Beijing Olympics Korea's major national television networks added former medalists and coaches to their announcer teams in order to boost ratings. Things didn't go as planned, however, as some of these commentators became so involved in the action that they started offering on-air instructions to the competitors. One was quoted screaming at a wrestler, "You, silly fool. I told you not to do that." To make matters worse, during the opening ceremonies national teams entering the stadium were identified in negative terms. Sudan, for example, was described as "unstable due to prolonged civil war," Chad as "the dead heart of Africa" and Cayman Islands as a country "infamous for tax evasion." Since broadcasting regulations do not allow any "vulgar," "slang" or "impolite language," Korea's Communications Standards Commission was not amused and is still debating what sort of punishment the violations merit. But possibly, this year's award for tastelessness should go to the Polish tabloid Super Express, which just before last summer's Germany-Poland match for Euro 2008 ran a doctored photo of Poland's coach carrying the decapitated heads of two German strikers under the headline "Bring us their heads." Polish authorities and the team's coach apologized. Germany won 2-0. It's a good thing that Germany and Poland are members in good standing of the European Union..

BBC Woes Continue

BBC News reported last summer that five of BBC's television and radio shows were fined a total of more than $500,000 by British regulatory authorities for deceiving their audiences "by faking winners of competitions and deliberately conducting competitions unfairly." The authorities charged that producers knew audience members had no chance of winning and still ran the shows, made up names of winners and failed "to ensure that the audience was not misled." It was the third time in three years the BBC was involved in such a scandal. BBC officials admitted the errors were "serious, deliberate and, in some cases, repeated." It started a training program for its more than 19,000 employees, and passed a stricter code of conduct. Did we not hear this a couple of times before?

From Mohammed to Jesus and Back

As though the Mohammed cartoons did not cause enough trouble in Scandinavia and the world, The Local, Sweden's News in English, recently reported that the Swedish newspaper ルstgヤta Correspondenten caused a public outcry by running a picture of a poster depicting the devil defecating on Jesus Christ. The poster was promoting a punk festival in Linkヤping, the city council of which had censured the poster. The paper's editor, who received death threats, said she was "mostly confounded" by the public's reaction. She said she expected the picture would be controversial but still she thought it was newsworthy because of the council's decision. She said that, on the other hand, she did not publish the Mohammed cartoons because Muslims are under societal suspicion but "there is not a social interest to protect Christians in the same manner." Hallelujah.

CBS' "Best Person" for the Job

The New York Times reported that last fall, when CBS' Sunday Morning program did a story on Lynne Cheney's book Blue Skies, No Fences, the reporter was Rita Braver, who disclosed during the segment that her lawyer husband had represented Cheney in reaching a book publishing deal. CBS' senior vice president for standards, Linda Mason, defended the story by saying that Braver was "the best person to do this interview." Had a disclosure not been made, the assignment would have been unacceptable, Mason said. The story included a profile of Cheney and a tour of the vice president's home. Braver said in the piece "We were the first television crew ever invited into their personal living quarters." Could it truly be that CBS had no other correspondent to do the story or did Braver, because of her connection, represent a safer bet as a news reporter?

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.