The 1,600 journalists based in Brussels to cover the European Union enjoy some significant perks, the International Herald Tribune reports. During summits, for example, journalists from the 25 member states enjoy free meals, free phone calls and free television studios at the European Commission headquarters. When focus shifts to the European Parliament in Strasbourg once a month, journalists receive a free first-class train ticket (or an economy class plane ticket) and a daily stipend to cover accommodations and entertainment for the two days of the session. The parliament also provides free television studios, free sound and camera equipment and free two-person camera crews. A parliament spokesman told IHT that these facilitations aim at encouraging journalists to cover the parliament, which otherwise would have remained underreported. "If we didn't help them, they wouldn't come because they have other priorities," the spokesman said. "And if we stopped funding, the journalists would protest." It is also customary that at the start of each rotating six-month presidency, the presiding country offers a select group of journalists a free trip to its capital. At the start of the Austrian presidency last Spring, Austria invited 62 Brussels-based journalists and hosted them in luxurious accommodations. Of course, media organizations had the option of paying for this junket--but only eight did. Could it be that it occurred only to those eight that these practices might appear to be a conflict of interest? Of course, the Austrian presidency spokesman thought that "It was a worthwhile investment."
Canadian Daily Rushes to Print...Oops!
Reuters reports that Canada's National Post, a conservative daily, had to apologize last spring for a story which said that Iran planned to require that members of religious minorities wear special-colored badges in public. The story, which was accompanied by a 1944 photograph of Jews wearing Nazi-required yellow Stars-of-David, said that the Iranian parliament was considering a law that would require that Jews wear yellow badges, Christians red badges and Zoroastrians blue badges. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that although he could not vouch for the veracity of the story, "Iran is very capable of this kind of action." He also said, "It boggles the mind that any regime on the face of the Earth would want to do anything that could remind people of Nazi Germany." Those comments caused the Iranian government to summon the Canadian ambassador to the Foreign Ministry to receive a protest. Then, the Associated Press obtained a copy of the bill in question and reported that it dealt with appropriate Islamic dress and made no mention of minorities. A few days later the National Post editor wrote that "It is now clear that the story is not true" and apologized "for the mistake and for the consternation it has caused not just National Post readers, but the broader public who read the story. We should have pushed the sources we did have for more corroboration of the information they were giving us." Journalism 101-if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.
It's a Wrap
Although advertising "wrap arounds" the actual newspaper are common, and even such newspapers as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today regularly sell small pieces of their front pages to advertisers, no U. S. paper had previously sold their entire front or front-and-back pages to advertisers, as The New York Daily News and The New York Post did recently. Although it may have made a splash locally, and in trade circles, this new practice probably didn't have the national impact that has occurred elsewhere. In Sweden, Stockholm's Metro was fined the equivalent of $70,000 for a front-page ad that promoted a video game with the slogan "The World Will Never be the Same Again." Sweden's Market Court said that although the word "advertisement" appeared above the ad, it was inadequate to warn readers. The court said "The impression given on a casual glance is that a catastrophe has occurred." The court also said the content could easily "be confused with editorial material," something which violated both Sweden's Competition Act and Sweden's Marketing Act. Should it require legislation to ensure that newspapers safeguard the integrity of their most important page?
What's Wrong with This Picture?
As though it was not enough that Poland's conservative President Lech Kaczynski appointed his twin brother to the premier's post (he won parliamentary approval 240-205) , now Deutsche Welle reports the new deputy chairman on the country's public television system is a former editor of a neo-Nazi magazine. Piotr Farfal, a 28-year-old lawyer, was editor-in-chief of Front,, a skinhead magazine that openly supported anti-Semitism and right-wing extremist violence. Farfal said he should not be held responsible now for what he did when he was 16. "I was a snotty-nosed kid, who let his name be used," he said. But some Poles are reluctant to forget such articles as the 1995 "Why be a Skinhead," in which Farfal wrote that "we do not accept cowards, collaborators or Jews..We are the future!" Polish civil rights activist Marcin Kornak said that "Sixty years ago, people with these kinds of views murdered seven million people in our country...This person, therefore, has no right to hold such an important post in this society as deputy chairman of Polish television." The name of the party that selected Farfal for his post is "The Law and Justice Party." Uh huh.
In South Africa, One Doesn't Criticize Government
South Africa's public broadcasting company (SABC) recently eliminated a number of commentators who used to be critical of President Mbeki and his government, The Guardian reports. Even an independently-produced documentary on Mbeki was pulled the last minute on advice of counsel, SABC said. These actions brought back painful memories of when the SABC--whose directors are appointed by parliament, now controlled by the African National Congress (ANC) party--served as the mouthpiece of the various apartheid governments of South Africa. The analysts were dismissed because they were "misinformed," SABC said. But the editor of Business Day, the country's largest business publication, found a silver lining. He thought the removal of his newspaper's columnists from SABC might be "a good thing" considering that the "editorial credibility of SABC is in such a free fall." Critics blamed the commentator blacklisting to government pressures resulting from infighting among factions within the ruling ANC, led during and after the apartheid years by Nelson Mandela. Of course, this particular action at SABC makes it somewhat more difficult for this democratic nation to allow its citizenry to engage in or even observe the infighting that seems to be a hidden part of the political process.
Patriot Act Pedigree
The London Sunday Telegraph reported that in the '70s and '80s the BBC had allowed the British secret service (MI5) to investigate the personal lives and political leanings of more than 6,000 of its employees, a third of its work force. There was also evidence that the BBC had a list of "subversive organizations" and political activities that would preclude someone from being hired or promoted. The screening included reporters, announcers, producers, directors, sound engineers, secretaries, researchers and, in some instances, their spouses. The BBC leadership at the time refused to answer questions about the screening process, following the practice an internal memo described as "Keep head down and stonewall all questions," the Telegraph said. In a related story of government interference, Germany's Deutsche Welle reported that the German parliament recently confirmed that the nation's Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND) had illegally investigated journalists in an effort to uncover their news sources. BND personnel had gone even through reporters' trash bins, the report said. The BND head recently apologized to the media and promised to investigate the investigators. When did the press become the enemy rather than the natural adversary of government?
Ghana's Trash Talk
Ghana's Accra Daily Mail reports that the country's Center for Media Analysis recently published the results of a study of the use of insulting words by newspaper columnists. The study analyzed 47 columns in 18 privately-owned newspapers for the first three months of 2006. The study recorded 363 insults-most of which (212) were found in The Ghanaian Lens and the Ghana Palaver (48-but only four newspapers out of the 18 yielded no insults. Although some insults were intense and dealt with sexual acts, human organs and orifices, the good news was that most common negative editorial adjectives were "stupid" (52 instances), "foolish" (50) and "insane" (24)-words commonly used by columnists the world over. The study's authors wondered if Ghana's media freedom had deteriorated to "Freedom of Exchange of Insults."
Royal Advice to the Saudi Press
The Associated Press reports that 83-year old Saudi King Abdullah, who is viewed as a relative progressive, told his country's newspaper editors to stop publishing pictures of women because they could corrupt young men. "The youth are driven by emotion. and sometimes they can be led astray," the newspaper Okaz (an Arabic daily) quoted the king as saying. Newspapers had recently used photographs of women in traditional Muslim clothing, to illustrate stories on women's rights, including the right to vote and drive. Who would "want their daughter, their sister or their wife to appear in this way?" the king asked rhetorically, and answered himself with "Of course, no one would accept this." The king also told the editors to stop printing negative stories about Saudi Arabia. "Don't write anything that can be harmful to the country," the king said. Some reporters want to "stand out and they end up going too far," he said, according to Okaz/via AP. The Saudi media, which are either state-owned or state-run, naturally are free to do as they see fit.
It's All in the Viewpoint
A group of veteran Taiwanese journalists recently formed the Bugle Society, an organization dedicated to correcting "mistakes" reporters make, the South China Morning Post reports. One of the group's leaders said, "I have been a reporter for 15 years and I totally understand that reporters have to satisfy their supervisors, who may ask them to do certain stories out of bias, but these stories do not reflect the truth." Another Bugle Society leader said that "many media owners do a lot of pro-China stories because they want to expand their business in China." The group said its point of view will be Taiwanese and it will reward positive news coverage by giving awards to deserving journalists and publicly criticizing "absurd" stories. Any viewpoint is a positive viewpoint, isn't it? Or is it a "mistake"?
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 2006 (18:1), pp.1,44.