Line between journalists' opinions and reporting increasingly blurred
The media has been under scrutiny recently both in Britain and in Ireland.
Excellent though the Leveson inquiry report is in many ways, it is quite tame in its recommendations, and even those are unlikely to be implemented in full.
There were some flaws in the Leveson report. The impact of social media was virtually ignored. Also, given his remit, and the egregious nature of the offences, it is perhaps unsurprising that he pays little or no attention to issues such as groupthink and systemic bias.
Coincidentally, the Frontline working document on that infamous presidential debate was also published recently. While critical of many aspects of the programme, it exonerates the Frontline team from any allegations of bias.
Fascinating, is it not, that the candidate preferred by the media got the least challenging line of questions, but there was no bias?
I wonder how easy it is for any organisation to be aware of its biases. Total objectivity is impossible for any human being. Some people are even paid to express their biases, God help us. That’s fine, so long as it is clearly labelled as opinion.
Increasingly, the line between opinion and reporting is being blurred.
Every form of media regulation from voluntary codes to legislation assumes that a reasonable level of objectivity and balance is both possible and desirable. For example, the NUJ code of conduct states: “A journalist differentiates between fact and opinion.”
RTÉ Journalism Guidelines (interim edition) states: “Trust is the cornerstone of RTÉ: we seek to be honest, reliable, authoritative, impartial and independent of vested interests.”
The guidelines stress the importance of what used to be a journalistic creed, that of having two independent sources.
It also states: “Programme makers must ensure that in their use of social media they avoid damaging perceptions of their own or RTÉ’s impartiality.”
Given that the Frontline review was prompted by “Tweetgate”, one would think that RTÉ personnel, whether freelance or staff, would be wary of Twitter and other social media.
There used to be considerable restraint among reporters and producers regarding the revelation of their own political affiliations, and stances on controversial issues. The advent of social media has put paid to that, it seems, particularly among younger journalists.
A freelance producer who works for RTÉ recently apologised for describing David Quinn, founder and director of the Iona Institute (of which I am a patron), as a “poisonous c**t”. I found it fascinating that this individual, who presumably would call himself a feminist, chose that term to describe someone whose opinions he disliked. A Freudian would have a field day.