Line between journalists' opinions and reporting increasingly blurred
Although he admitted that the tweet was “childish”, he did not delete the tweet until contacted by a newspaper, and his major, if belated, worry seemed to be that it would reflect badly on RTÉ.
John McGuirk, PR consultant and former Libertas communications director (and prolific tweeter himself), recently compiled a list of journalists and producers who tweeted that they were taking part in a pro-choice march, or calling for support for it. He gave up at 37. There were some names associated with RTÉ, and nine from this newspaper (although The Irish Times is not a public service organisation).
Of course journalists and producers are entitled to their personal opinions, but if you work for a public service broadcaster, how does calling for support for a pro-choice march “ensure that in their use of social media they avoid damaging perceptions of their own or RTÉ’s impartiality”?
Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate in economics, wrote a fascinating book called Thinking, Fast and Slow.
Basically, he believes that we have a dual-process brain, which he dubs System 1 and System 2.
System 1 is lightning fast, intuitive, and non-linear. Without it, we could not survive, because System 2 is slow, linear and energy-intensive.
We believe that we operate from System 2, in other words, that we are rational and objective, but we are operating most of the time from System 1.
Kahneman speaks of “self-sustaining chains of events”, that activate System 1 and virtually neutralise System 2. They often start from media reports, but lead to public panic and government action.
“The emotional reaction becomes a story in itself, prompting additional coverage in the media.” Anyone urging caution is accused of a “heinous cover-up”.
It is simply a fact that the majority of people working in the media share a particular worldview on social issues. For example, think about how often panels in RTÉ consist of people who share pro-choice views, with perhaps a token pro-life voice.
Now think of any time you heard a panel consisting of a majority of anti-abortion advocates.
Does the latter seem preposterous, and the first normal? Kahneman would smile. System 1 to the fore, once again. But the role of reporters, presenters and producers is not to start “self-sustaining chains of events”.
Or at least so their codes of ethics would seem to suggest.