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School of Journalism & Mass Communication

Protecting freedom of information in B.C.

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The first BC Information Summit on September 29, 2006 will bring together academics, legal experts, journalists, elected officials and experienced Freedom of Information requesters to explore the challenges and solutions of creating an open government and a free flow of information to the public.

Carolynne Burkholder spoke to organiser Darrell Evans about the Summit and the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association’s new Campaign for Open Government.

What are the challenges to the free flow of information today?

The challenges are that governments want to control the information that the public can have–or essentially anyone who might be a critic of government policy. To control information is to control the agenda and the social discourse to a great degree. Although the government may see it in its short-term interest to block access to certain kinds of information, it’s very unhealthy in the long-term for the society.

What’s the history of the BC Freedom of Information Act?

It was passed in 1992, proclaimed in 1993, and the first four years were the glory days when the government was really on board, with the Glen Clark administration.

[During] the second four years things started to gradually fall apart, and, in effect, they started to slow down the access to information. [It] became…more expensive and less timely.

It accelerated even further under the Liberals so that it’s gotten extremely expensive, extremely slow and there are many barriers. It’s declined drastically in its usefulness as a tool, and many people are abandoning their requests because it takes so long and they give up in frustration.

Do you think this trend will continue?

The history of these things is the pattern they always follow is some government passes an FOI act or approves an FOI act in order to clear the air from a previous government.

The most recent case is Stephen Harper who came into office promising this accountability act and one of the main parts of that was to strengthen the Access to Information Act. Those are the opportunities you get to strengthen it.

Absent that, it’s a downward slide because governments gradually learn how to resist requests and they reassert their strong desire…to retake control of the information. It’s just automatic; it’s just the way things are with our competitive democratic system.

So we’re trying to do something here that hasn’t been done without a major disaster, which is to reverse the government’s thinking and stop that downward slide.

What’s the main goal of your campaign?

Reform of the Act itself because it needs to be brought into the 21st century with access to electronic information and just more routine release of information. Also we want the government to reform [the] terrible way it manages and handles requests for information.

How are you going to accomplish this?

We’re going to put pressure on [the government] through various means. We will do the usual things like letter writing and petitions, but we’re going to release focused reports on specific aspects of freedom of information and how the government’s doing all along the campaign.

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February 5th, 2020 at 12:06 am

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Ignorance Is Not Bliss: Impacts of Trauma on Journalists

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“It was a cool Tuesday in December 2005 and I almost got on board a C-130 plane, which was bound for a war-game zone on the northern coast of the Persian Gulf,” remembers 38-year-old Iranian TV journalist, Behrouz Tashakkor.

He was almost at the airport when the newsroom decided to replace him with another reporter. As Tashakkor was going to the scene of another news event, he saw the same plane crash into a residential complex near Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport, and he was the only journalist at the scene who could report live on the incident. To be more precise, he was the only journalist left alive at the airport – the 64 other journalists were on board that plane to cover the war-game.

“I had reported on plane crashes before, but this time I had to report on the deaths of my own colleagues,” says the war journalist who, more than two years after the tragedy, is still suffering from that “never-ending nightmare.”

“I think recalling those harsh moments is natural, because it was one-of-a-kind. That incident aside I feel unaffected by the other tragedies I have reported on. I think of each story as being separate,” says Tashakkor.

Putting feelings into compartments

Director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, Roger Simpson, challenges those who repress such feelings. “Journalists often talk about compartmentalizing the experience. The experience happens and then as soon as they are away from it and the story is reported, the walls of the compartments close and then they’re onto something else and try to forget it. That’s a false explanation,” he says.

“I do not call into question journalists’ reasons for adopting personal coping strategies,” he says. “If you’re going to continue in a challenging, risky job like this, you have to survive.” He emphasizes, however, that some of the strategies that journalists adopt, like compartmentalizing memories or repressing emotions, might not favour them in the long run.

Of such strategies, repressing emotions is apparently more popular among journalists. According to Charles Figley, director of the Florida State University Traumatology Institute, “Many journalists tend to repress their emotions in times of trauma and they do that by detaching themselves from the tragic event they are reporting on to the extent that they go some place psychologically in which they can be objective and focus.”

The Iranian Radio and Television’s Bureau Chief in Turkey, Hassan Mirbaha, remembers how he struggled to put a lid on his own emotions when he arrived in the northern Iranian city of Manjil on June 20, 1990, two hours after a 7.3-magnitude earthquake leveled the city and killed 40,000 people. “Everyone was either trying to rescue family members trapped under the debris or was screaming in grief. I wasn’t prepared for this. Then I told myself that I was not there to mourn. I told myself that I had come all that way to report and inform others of what had happened there, what the survivors desperately needed.”

Naeemeh Namjoo, an Iranian journalist who covered another killer quake in the central Iranian city of Zarand in February 2005, says, “In those terrible conditions you should learn how to circumvent the impacts of the tragedy by not recounting the traumatic moments you have gone through during the day.”

And still others come up with different tactics of confronting the trauma they report on. Ensiyeh Sameni, the first female TV journalist to arrive in the southeastern Iranian city of Bam after it was shaken by a 6.7-magnitude earthquake on December 26, 2003, explains how she got around the problem: “Before arriving at the scene I was only focused on how to handle the job professionally but once we landed in the area and were exposed to the tragedy, I fell apart emotionally.” With only two hours before her first live report from the destroyed city, she knew that she had to overcome the emotional part and prepare for the professional part. “I had spent almost all of the two hours crying, hugging surviving kids, and sympathizing with bereaved families, and then all of a sudden it was the airing time,” she says.

One chief editor at the Iranian television’s satellite channel for which she was reporting refers to that first report as “absolutely amazing,” saying that, “She clearly had the impression of grief on her face, and even nearly choked on the air but that made it all the more natural. She kept doing the job perfectly, for more than 10 minutes.” While this journalist had not been able to avert the immediate emotional effects of the trauma on her own spirit, she had managed to survive professionally by immersing herself in the tragedy.

But is surviving professionally equal to surviving the impacts of trauma? Simpson answers, “No. We as journalists do have the means to repress the emotions associated with awful events for a time, but if we don’t adequately deal with the problem, the likelihood is that those repressed emotions surface to trouble us sometimes. So you might experience something terrible today and the compartmentalization factor comes in. But six months from now something will trigger those memories of the experience and it’ll be a very unpleasant recollection.”

Figley also believes that trauma memories can hardly be circumvented. The trauma psychologist compares concealing those memories to trying to store food in a container “which is not airtight.” He argues, “If it’s not airtight then it’s not going to be effective in storing the food. It’s the same way with these memories.”

Many journalists might be carrying disorders from as early as their first traumatizing assignment without even being aware of them. Many even go into denial. A documentary about reporters titled Deadline Iraq: The Uncensored Stories of the War shows how, in their early accounts of reporting on the war, the journalists interviewed deny the impacts of trauma with one of them, a grizzled veteran, even speaking of how absolutely emotionless he was as he witnessed deaths and destruction from close range.

But as Figley puts it, “Whether or not journalists deny that such a thing as trauma [among journalists] exists does not change the fact of the matter; it’s really how they go about conceiving or processing the experience that is the most important thing.”

When trauma overrides journalists

The C-130 plane crash and how it was reported on is still talked about by many Iranian journalists who are grappling with the effects of trauma on themselves. Behzad Tahmasbi, the Iranian News Network’s trauma reporter, comments, “There is no way that I can detach myself from that incident. We were all close friends. And what worsens things is that there is no positive side to it. When reporting on an earthquake you speak of survivors or reconstruction; here you become speechless. It’s a disaster all over.”

Figley explains that the strong difference in impact is because deaths of the people we work with as journalists might change our perception of the profession. “When you are a journalist, there is a certain degree of separation from the people that have been affected,” he says. “There is this veneer, this thin layer between yourself and the people that you are reporting on.” Based on his logic, when we hear or see the death of a colleague, that thin layer disappears all of a sudden. There is more of a sense of our own mortality because “it reminds us more dramatically of how vulnerable we are to death.”

Simpson, however, believes that fear of death or self-mortality might not be the sole reason for journalists’ different view of colleagues’ death as compared to other fatalities. “Each of us has a sense of what the world is like,” he says. “So if I’m a journalist, I have an understanding of what journalists face, what I face. And those other journalists are also a part of my life. When I witness a journalist’s death my sense of my mortality has changed, not because I’ve been intact but because people I’ve counted on being in my world are no longer there.”
Some progress

Despite extensive research on trauma and its impacts on various working communities, it seems that journalism has not yet received enough attention from the trauma experts and even the news organizations. Studies by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma show that while emergency workers have recognized the need for self-care and organizational safeguards, particularly in the last decade, journalists may not yet have been recognized as potential candidates for employee safeguards and increased support.

Major news networks such as Reuters, BBC and AP have begun holding trauma training programs and counseling sessions for their journalists, but the trend is far from common at the international level. As Stephen Ward, professor of journalism at the University of British Columbia says, “The myth still exists that journalists shouldn’t need trauma programs because journalists are supposed to be ‘tough as nails.’”

Nevertheless, it seems that it is journalists themselves who can take that most important first step in reducing the adverse effects of trauma on them by increasing their level of awareness of the disorder. They will be better prepared once they know the psychological hazards of the job. And once they know them they can handle them much more easily than before, sometimes as easily as talking about the effects that covering violence and other traumatic events has had on them.

But if they do not have a knowledge of the impact trauma can have, coupled with a supportive environment to deal with its effects, it will be difficult to begin to address their emotional challenges.

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February 3rd, 2020 at 9:18 am

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Journalists who retell violence relive trauma, too

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When he was sent to cover the war ravaging Sierra Leone, reporter Ian Stewart had little knowledge or interest in the conflict – until he saw it unfold before his eyes.

On November 10, 1999 a child soldier shot Stewart in the head.

The bullet left him with paralysis and some brain damage. It was then that Stewart, former West African Bureau Chief for the Associated Press, realized that journalists are not passive observers. They are active participants who impact their surroundings and whose surroundings impact them.

In February, the University of Western Ontario hosted the Canadian Journalism Forum’s inaugural conference, Journalism in a Violent World.

The conference welcomed reporters, producers, news managers, media analysts, journalism instructors, students, and mental health professionals. They discussed the impact of violence and emotional trauma on journalists and their audience.

“It is emotionally taxing to relive violence through our notebook, our lens or our darkroom,” says Stewart.

Stewart faced violence every day he reported in Africa. He says he felt a sense of failure as he wrote stories about rebels who killed and raped innocent people daily, while his articles were never picked up by any of the 1600 North American newspapers that subscribed to the Associated Press wire service at the time.

He read from a journal entry he wrote while in Sierra Leone, “Why should God care if we don’t?” he asked. It was not until Stewart was shot that the world paid attention to the stories. This added to his sadness and distress.

Stewart was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

According to Dr. Anthony Feinstein, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, rates of PTSD among reporters are 25 to 28 percent compared to the general population who experiences PTSD at rates closer to four or five percent.

Feinstein explained that for many years there was a “culture of silence” about how covering crime, war, and accidents impacts journalists.

“Journalism is not a profession that is governed by a professional body or code like the medical profession,” says Cliff Lonsdale conference co-organizer and television journalism instructor at UWO. As a result, questions on how to deal with traumatized journalists have flown below the radar and, subsequently, journalists have often been left to fend for themselves.

“For years we didn’t pay nearly enough attention to what these violent situations were doing to our journalists short of getting them killed. Similarly, we haven’t paid much attention to how we extract these stories from victims who have survived traumatic situations,” Lonsdale says.

Documentary filmmaker, Giselle Portenier agrees. She shared her views on the ethics of interviewing the victims of social cleansing, rape and violent regimes. She emphasized the importance of sensitivity toward victims during the interview process and ensuring that they will not become more vulnerable as a result of speaking publicly about their story.

She followed death around the world, producing documentaries about violence against women in Guatemala, social cleansing in Colombia and honour killings in Pakistan but Portenier says she is most haunted by her memories of the survivors.

The conference served as an illuminating experience for journalism students who may find themselves in similar situations one day soon.

“I think that the awareness factor has been left out of the equation for many years,” says Anna Drahovzal, journalism student at Western. “We got to understand the impact of trauma first-hand. You can see it in them, on their faces, in their stories,” she says. Awareness that journalists need to look out for themselves and their colleagues is something Drahovzal believes students learned from the conference.

Unlike soldiers and first response teams, journalists are not formally schooled in dealing with the violence they may witness or endure. As such, journalists who have been traumatized often ignore or hide how much they have been impacted by what they have seen.

CBC cameraman Brian Kelly shared the story of how his co-worker Clark Todd was wounded and killed during heavy crossfire in Lebanon in 1983. Kelly and the rest of the crew had to leave Todd behind.

For a long time, Kelly thought he was fine and continued with his life and his career. One day in an edit suite, moments before he was set to shoot an interview, Kelly broke down and cried for hours. It was then that he realized the profound impacts of all that he had witnessed. For a long time he could not utter a word about Lebanon without crying.

Kelly recently went back to Lebanon to the scene of the incident for the first time since Todd’s death. The trip he said, did not offer him closure.

“Closure implies that it ends,” says Kelly. “But you never leave it behind.”

Now, Kelly participates in various simulation exercises with other journalists to prepare them for the field and the possibility of a traumatic or dangerous situation.

Since he was shot in 1999, Stewart left his job as a reporter for the Associated Press. He is now a PhD student at the University of Michigan where he studies the impacts of trauma on journalists.

“It’s time we do something to make people realize how our jobs impact us,” says Stewart.

As a result of the conference, the Canadian Journalism Forum plans to expand its reach, making it capable of gathering resources for news managers, journalism instructors and journalists. Conference co-organizer, Lonsdale plans to establish a board of trustees to ensure that the forum remains sustainable.

“I think there is a responsibility for the leaders in the profession to take an interest in what we do and encourage more responsible practices surrounding the impact of violence and trauma on journalists,” says Lonsdale.

“We especially have a responsibility to the younger generation to make things better in our profession.”

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February 1st, 2020 at 9:07 am

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Digging Deeper: A Canadian Reporter’s Research Guide

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Digging Deeper: A Canadian Reporter’s Research Guide was co-written by four award-winning journalists who also teach journalism. Between reporting and teaching, clearly they grasped how insufficient American investigative reporting guides are for students north of the 49th Parallel. Digging Deeper is the first and only investigative reporting guide written with Canadian systems, policies and infrastructure in mind. That alone should guarantee its success across the country, but it’s not just the only Canadian investigative guide — it’s also a very good one.

Authors Cribb, Jobb, McKie and Vallance-Jones touch on all the bases for good reporting in the first half of the text, then they shift their focus in the second half to the very specific tools and techniques that will help journalists break through bureaucratic barriers and organizational holdups.

The general information — including a review of different primary and secondary sources and a summary of “twelve keys,” like tenacity, skepticism, and curiosity, to give a journalist the mentality for success — resembled many how-to journalism texts that preceded Digging Deeper. While law, interviewing techniques and information gathering are necessary elements to any report (and hence any reporting text), the information is sometimes too general to be valuable and too cursory to be informative. ‘Public records,’ for example, occupies almost 30 pages, but it needs triple that space to actually address the dozens of types of records mentioned and URLs listed. Young B.C. journalists scrolling through web address lists might be disappointed to learn that BC Online, listed as a great resource for land titles, is a pricey, subscription-only tool. And reporters looking for in-depth information about labour disputes will find that Ontario’s Ministry of Labour offers frequent online updates, whereas B.C.’s Labour Ministry only posts about one report a year. Digging Deeper’s authors all live and work east of the Canadian Rockies, and their oversight of B.C.-oriented issues is notable.

The media law section also suffers from a wealth of information condensed into a recap. The reader is introduced to the justice system, not shown how to approach it. The chapter’s concluding anecdote is a microcosm of the chapter itself, rehashing a 1992 Montreal Gazette story on judicial scandal without mentioning how the investigation was accomplished.

A research guide can only be so long, though, and elaborating on courts and records could easily have spun the compact 260-page book into a 1000-page tome.

Digging Deeper really shines when it moves away from the basics of good reporting and hones in on specific techniques. The text’s coverage of Freedom of Information, Computer-Assisted Reporting, and financial reporting make it truly invaluable.

Aptly, the authors note that journalists shy away from numbers. Then, they take the reader step by step through sample finance reports, excel spreadsheets and database managers, highlighting the most vital tools and info that each provides. The text offers tips, including what numbers should catch a journalist’s eye on a 10-K and what steps are necessary to sort spreadsheet data into chronological order.

The FOI section provides clear and encompassing guidance for facing reticent Information Officers who use fees and delays to waylay an information request. Digging Deeper’s links to sites like CAIRS — for past Access to Information requests — and provincial and federal ATI sites also make the FOI process more accessible to starting journalists.

Probably the most useful section of the book begins after the text ends. Appendices A, B, and C are guides to spreadsheets, databases and financial information, respectively. With bullet points, diagrams, and web links, book lays plain all the basics of three extremely valuable, rarely used tools that new journalists should embrace. The explanations are so methodical that following them is astoundingly easy.

A guide to Canadian investigative reporting and researching has been much-needed for years now, and Digging Deeper fills the void extremely well.

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February 1st, 2020 at 12:08 am

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Gender, Conflict & Journalism: A handbook for South Asia

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The idea of a handbook that combines the challenges of reporting on gender and conflict and how the two intersect was conceived during the planning for the UNESCO-Nepal Press Institute’s first Roundtable on The Gender Perspective in Conflict Reporting in 2004.

Although neither of the authors is from South Asia – the main focus of the handbook – both have extensive backgrounds in conflict journalism. Fiona Lloyd is a South African journalist who is the co-founder of Reporting for Peace, an organization that teaches journalists how to report effectively on conflicts. Ross Howard is a Vancouver-based journalist and consultant specializing in media development in conflict-stressed states and emerging democracies. He also teaches journalism at Langara College in Vancouver and is the president of Media & Democracy Group, a journalist development consortium.

The handbook, a short, yet comprehensive and practical guide connecting gender, conflict, and journalism, is divided into three sections. The first part of the handbook focuses on the current media environment and challenges facing journalists when reporting on gender and conflict. The second section provides practical strategies and skills for working journalists. The last part of the handbook recommends resources on gender and conflict reporting for further learning.

In discussing gender and conflict, Lloyd and Howard shun the “add women and stir formula” described as merely adding women to a story, getting women’s perspectives, and assigning female journalists to write “gender” stories. Instead they advocate redefining conflict from a gendered perspective – emphasizing balance, sensitivity to gender issues, and the inclusion of marginalized groups in reporting.

The authors believe the media has a role to play as mediators in conflicts and journalists should work to diffuse tension by promoting communication and understanding. A major question raised in the handbook is: “If we consciously try to write about conflict from a gender perspective, and consciously try to be conflict-sensitive, are we in danger of losing our neutrality as journalists?” Lloyd and Howard argue that thoroughly analyzing gender and conflict allows journalists to exercise more fairness and balance. Despite the discussion of fairness, balance, and objectivity, the view of the media as a mediator is prevalent throughout the text.

The first section also includes an interesting discussion of challenges facing journalists in their roles as reporter and activists, a look at the problems in media culture – including commercialization, commodification, and concentration – as well as a discussion of the challenges inherent in newsroom culture, including affirmative action and issues faced by female journalists.

The second section, skills and strategies for working journalists, provides practical strategies for journalists reporting on gender and conflict in South Asia. The section begins with a discussion of how journalists choose to frame conflict. Lloyd and Howard argue that journalists choose what they report on and what they leave out, which can lead to gender stereotyping and escalation in tensions.

The authors define “conflict sensitive” reporting, the approach they advocate, as having three main aspects: accuracy, balance, and responsibility. Accuracy is defined as more than just precision and fact-checking; it also includes context and differentiating propaganda from the truth. Balance also is more than merely giving equal coverage to each side. To Lloyd and Howard it includes fairness and impartiality. Responsibility is defined simply as “tell the truth and do no harm.”

The second section includes practical tips, such as how to determine the source of the conflict – lack of food and resources or xenophobia for example – how to mediate conflict through reporting, how to choose what to cover, and how to get away from the use of inappropriate language and labels in reporting.

Just one of the interesting examples the authors use to illustrate the necessity of conflict sensitive reporting is the analysis of the language used by journalists reporting on the first Gulf War who compare “us” westerners and “them,” the Iraqis. We have an army, while they have a war machine, we suppress, they destroy, we are brave, they are fanatical. This case study is one of the few examples of conflicts outside of South Asia in the handbook.

Lloyd and Howard give advice on how to gain access to women’s voices, official comments, and opinions of non-governmental organizations. The end of the section focuses on minimizing harm both for victims of trauma, and for journalists themselves, complete with case studies from Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

The third section is dedicated to resources for journalists. Each website, book, and other resource is described in detail by the authors.

The Gender, Conflict & Journalism handbook is a good resource for journalists reporting on conflict in South Asia. Section two with practical advice for working journalists and section three with descriptions of other resources are particularly useful.

The main weakness of the handbook is its narrow focus – its primary relevance is in South Asia, although some of the practical tips could be used elsewhere –and its neglect to adequately answer questions of neutrality and objectivity, though this is briefly discussed in both the first and second sections.

Overall, Lloyd and Howard’s handbook is a well-written, easily digested and yet thorough look at gender and conflict and how journalists should report on these issues. In the future, journalists in regions such as the Middle East and Africa could benefit by the development of similar handbooks.

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January 25th, 2020 at 12:08 am

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The Media’s Failure in Rwanda

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Interview with Allan Thompson, professor of journalism at Carleton University and editor of the book The Media and the Rwanda Genocide.

The 1994 Rwanda genocide is undeniably one of the most atrocious events in recent history. But during the most tragic, deadly days in the small African nation in 1994, most media organizations failed to report on the events. Even worse, Rwanda’s own RTLM radio station actually incited people to commit mass killings.

In The Media and the Rwanda Genocide, scholars, journalists, and lawyers – including retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire who led the UNAMIR mission – present their own perspectives on the media and the events. Allan Thompson is the editor of The Media and the Rwanda Genocide.

Francis Plourde met with him during his stay in Vancouver, where he spoke about the media’s responsibility in the genocide. Thompson worked for 17 years for the Toronto Star and now teaches journalism at Carleton University. He is also the founder of the Rwanda Initiative, a partnership with the National University of Rwanda.

You had a long career as a journalist at the Toronto Star before taking an academic turn and focusing on Rwanda. How did you become interested in Rwanda in the first place?

I was not in Rwanda in 1994. At the time, I was at the foreign affairs bureau in Ottawa for the Toronto Star. It should have been my job to go there, but I didn’t. I was not engaged, the story didn’t capture my attention. Since then, I think I have been trying to make amends for not having been there in 1994. I went for the first time in 1996, to report on the repatriation of Hutu refugees. Back in Canada in 1996, I made it my mission to know more about Roméo Dallaire and to write about him.

You’re here to promote your book The Media and the Rwanda Genocide. What are the main lessons readers should take from this book?

People were made familiar with the [Rwandan] media’s responsibility in the genocide through the “media trial” [against RTLM], but not enough attention was drawn to the role of the western media in 1994. They are part of the equation. The international community missed the most important story that year, even though there was compelling evidence of what was going on. In the US, we were covering the OJ Simpson trial and Tonia Harding’s story. In South Africa, it was the end of the Apartheid. There was still a war in the Balkans. When the media left [Rwanda] in April 1994, the killings intensified immediately. In physics, there’s the Heisenberg effect – a theory according to which the observer influences the behavior of his subject. I believe the media can have the same impact. In 1994, by not reporting the story, the international media contributed to the inverse. The perpetrators could act with impunity.

The media seem to share a great deal of the criticism…

Some journalists could do a good job, but the media at large failed to make it the big story of the day. In April and early May, there was no coverage. But in April 1994, 8,000 to 10,000 people were killed every day! Later, in July, hundreds of news organizations covered what was going on in Rwanda to some degree – the elections in South Africa were over then — but they were covering the story of the refugees. The problem is that people think it was the story of the genocide. It wasn’t. We have to go back and look more closely at the process of selecting what is news and what is not, because it was not always logical.

You also say that the media misunderstood the nature of the killings in Rwanda. They portrayed it an instance of tribal warfare rather than a genocide. What’s the difference?

In the news coverage, there was a sense of two ethnic groups killing each other indiscriminately. But it was a fairly organized massacre of one group by another one. It’s still a massacre, but it’s different. Mark Doyle [the east Africa correspondent in 1993-1994 for the BBC, who wrote a chapter in Thompson’s book] states that there were clear references to government-backed massacres in the first couple of days of the killings. [Doyle] was one of the first to use the word genocide, at the end of April, but he started reporting it initially as chaos and indiscriminate killings. The recognition of the genocide gave it a sense of morality.

You also refer to RTLM – its leaders were convicted in 2003 – to explain how media failed. How can we set rules to avoid another RTLM?

RTLM is probably the most extreme case of media failure. It was a radio station that was specifically created to spark the genocide. They had good music, they were different from Radio Rwanda, and they incited the population to hate the Tutsis and commit murders. Roméo Dallaire was aware of the impact of RTLM, but for some reason his mission had no media capacity. Now, most of the UN missions have their own radio stations to counter the effects of these messages. I’m reluctant to suggest that we regulate the media, but we have to try to build a professional media, so the extreme media are marginalized. I’d rather add something than take something away; it’s easier and it’s less problematic.

Carleton University created the Rwanda Initiative in 2004. Can you describe its main objectives?

In 2003, I went to Rwanda as a freelancer, and I organized a conference at Carleton University. I invited someone from Rwanda [to talk about the state of journalism in Rwanda]. We agreed that we should continue to work on something after the conference. He said there weren’t enough teachers to teach journalism in Rwanda. It’s how the Rwanda Initiative started. We sent 12 journalists and 12 journalism students last year. And we intend to do the same this year.

You went to Rwanda to help train media in 2006. How was the experience?

It’s still fragile. The media will report about the ministers and the policies, but they won’t criticize the president [Paul Kagamé – who was the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1994] directly. Despite the self-censorship and lack of professors, though, I have hope that things can get better. There are good students, and I hope they do good journalism.

With movies being filmed and books getting published, the Rwanda genocide is getting a momentum, but the media seem less likely to point out the events in Darfur. Are we repeating the same mistakes?

We have not fully absorbed the lessons from the genocide yet. At the technological level, we are in a much better position for Darfur than for Rwanda. In 1994, we didn’t have a phone network, and we didn’t have the Internet. But there are still the same problems. There are no journalists there, it’s far away, the resources for international reporting in the newsroom have decreased. There are only four or five Canadian journalists covering Africa: the Globe and Mail, CBC, CTV, Radio-Canada, and that’s about it. There is no other full-time journalism devoted to Africa.

How can we, as journalists, prevent another event like the Rwanda genocide?

With the 24-hour news trend, it’s becoming harder and harder to bring an issue onto the news agenda, but I think that individual journalists have to be more influential. They have to try to make a difference themselves. They have to fight for their stories rather than being passive players.

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January 12th, 2020 at 11:56 pm

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Jobb’s Law Book is Indispensable for Journalists

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Here’s a news flash: the wheels of justice turn slowly. If you’ve spent any time covering the courts, you’ve seen ample evidence of this fact. The result? Trials are drawn out, alleged criminals are tapped out (lawyers don’t come cheap, after all), and victims are out-and-out amazed that they’ve been drawn into a system that can intrude on their lives for years on end as a case makes its way from initial investigation to last avenue of appeal. This slow march to completion of a criminal case or civil dispute is one of the most criticized aspects of the legal system.

That’s not to say that a slow, methodical process is by definition a bad one–work refined over the course of years can benefit greatly as a result. Professor Dean Jobb’s text Media Law for Canadian Journalists is an example of instructive and engaging writing, borne and developed over time. The ideas and methodology that inform the book are drawn from Dean’s 15 years of teaching media law and justice system fundamentals to students in the journalism program at the University of King’s College in Halifax, and more than 20 years as an award-winning newspaper reporter.

Before the accolades, let me provide a necessary bit of disclosure: This text is required reading in the course I currently teach at King’s College – I picked up where Dean left off, teaching “The News Media & the Courts.” I’ve known Dean Jobb for more than a decade, back when we both covered the criminal courts.

I only wish I had this text back then–it’s only now, with the benefit of hindsight (and a law degree) that I realize how little I knew when I was first sent to court. I had no training, and had never even seen the inside of a courtroom prior to covering my first high-profile trial. My experience is not unique. Despite the complexity of legal proceedings and the potential for costly and damaging errors due to inaccurate reportage, the court beat is often thrust upon neophyte reporters. Media Law for Canadian Journalists is an invaluable reference for journalists who cover the courts and journalists who want to stay OUT of court – that is, not getting sued or cited for contempt.

Dean is particularly adept at figuring out how much detail his audience needs to understand a significant bit of case law or legal principle. But he resists the temptation to get bogged down in the abysmally arcane aspects of legal reasoning. After all, this is a text for journalists, not lawyers.

The text covers the basics of how the courts function, including the distinction between criminal and civil law, and the nature, scope and function of different types of publication bans; how to avoid getting sued for defamation or cited for contempt of court, as well how to gain access to hearings, documents and records.

When it comes to reporting on court proceedings, there’s little that’s intuitive, so Dean educates his readers through real-life examples, showing where reporters’ assumptions of what was happening and why caused them to miss the point entirely. Among the many common misapprehensions and mistakes laid bare by the text are the following:

  • Reporting on the maximum sentence that may be imposed for a crime without ensuring that readers understand that the maximum is rarely imposed, since it is reserved for the most serious situations and worst offenders;

  • In a criminal trial, there’s nothing shocking, surprising, or even unusual about the fact that an accused person may not take the stand in their own defense. After all, it’s up to the Crown to prove the case against the accused. The accused does not have the responsibility of disproving the Crown’s case; and

  • When criminal charges against an accused person do not proceed because a court determines that evidence was obtained in a way that violated the accused’s Charter rights, reporters should not frame this as “a mere technicality.” Holding police to the standards set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is of benefit to us all.

If, at a minimum, all new crime and justice reporters were required to read the chapters that explain how the courts work, and how to cover the criminal courts, the most common blunders would be avoided.

One critical lesson the text brings home to my students is that they may well face legal challenges or problems from Day One on the job. These issues aren’t solely the concern of investigative journalists or highly-placed newsroom decision-makers. The most routine of assignments may give rise to an opportunity to challenge an existing law or policy or, conversely, to find oneself in contempt or facing a defamation action. One striking example Dean uses to make this point is that of a local newspaper reporter assigned to cover a police sergeant’s remarks at a conference, where the sergeant spoke of possible connections between Hells’ Angels and two small-town Nova Scotia motorcycle groups. The reporter diligently reported the officer’s comments–undoubtedly operating under the misapprehension that all was safe. I mean, the officer said it himself, didn’t he? And then, to make the story even sexier, the editor who reviewed the story (who was also apparently oblivious to the defamatory nature of the sergeant’s comments) set up the story with the following headline: “Watch Out For Big-Time Crime: Criminal Gangs Affect Us All, Police Warn.”

Dean effectively employs this example as a jumping-off point for an explanation of the murky area of defamation law that is as lucid and accessible as any I’ve ever read. This career journalist doesn’t let his years in the reporting trenches colour his assessment of defamation law. Many members of the media (as well as the lawyers who represent them) often fret about “libel chill,” a concept Jobb defines as one in which “important stories are toned down or ignored for fear of attracting an expensive defamation suit.” Let me be clear: Prof. Jobb has little time for these whiners; instead, he tells journalists to suck it up (OK, those are my words, not his) and to practice their craft more effectively. They should do so not by living in fear of lawsuits, but by using the integral intellectual tools of skepticism, restraint, and precision.

Maybe it’s because Dean is exercising the very restraint he preaches, or perhaps it’s that I’m more cynical than he, but I do believe the text is lacking a frank description of how some of the major players in the system tend to view the media. I know judges, lawyers, and court support staff who understand the role of media in a free and democratic society. I have observed and, in some cases, met and interviewed victims, plaintiffs and defendants in high-profile civil cases and even criminal accused who likewise understand their role in the public sphere.

But, during my time covering the courts, I have also had many negative interactions. I have been confronted gatekeepers who act capriciously, who are motivated by self-interest, who ignore the role of media as public surrogate, or who are simply irked that the media are intruding on THEIR turf. I’ve heard learned judges suggest that my work is solely about my self-interest in garnering more viewers, or crafting more inflammatory headlines–not about informing people and shining a bright light on a system that is of concern to us all. I have had to bite my tongue as I listen to yet another lawyer make yet another sweeping statement about the nature of media–observations based on a single experience with “some reporter” (there’s never a name–reporters are all alike to them) many years ago. I’ve been spit on (and yes, I mean that literally) by criminal defendants, and jostled and threatened by their supporters in court house foyers.

Covering the court beat is fascinating. The issues are challenging, and the stories are rife with human drama. For journalists who understand their role as educators, it can be a satisfying environment in which to learn, and to share. But it’s often not a pleasant environment. I’m not sure that Media Law for Canadian Journalists paints an appropriately accurate/bleak a picture of the environment many new legal affairs reporters will face. But, hey, they’ll sort that out on their own soon enough, won’t they?

When my students eventually face that reality, they will have the tools, and the understanding of how the system works, thanks to Dean’s efforts. I anticipate this text will sit on their desks, closely-guarded and well-thumbed, as they make their own way through the system.

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January 10th, 2020 at 12:09 am

Posted in Opinion

The reporter’s battle: Objectivity and independence on the frontlines in Afghanistan

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On his most recent visit to Afghanistan in June, Jas Johal met a 27-year-old soldier from Kingston, Ont.

Left to right: Evan Jonigkeit plays Specialist Coughlin and Tina Fey plays Kim Baker in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot from Paramount Pictures and Broadway Video/Little Stranger Productions in theatres March 4, 2016.

The soldier was married with a two-year-old son and expressed dedication to his mission.

The two clicked right away and struck up a friendship, said Johal, a television reporter for Global BC. At the end of his six-week stay with the troops in the Kandahar airfield, Johal packed up his belongings, said his goodbyes and left to return to Canada.

On July 4, six Canadian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were killed when their armoured vehicle hit a roadside bomb. After a detour on his return journey that cut him off from the news, Johal arrived home in Vancouver to find out one of the dead soldiers was his friend, Capt. Matthew Dawe.

“There was only a month left before [Dawe] was going to go home,” Johal said. “For the first time, it really hit me.”

Johal realized he had significant footage of Dawe out on patrol and decided to put together a segment about the soldier. It aired on Global National and implied a close relationship between the two men.

“You do your best to provide an accurate, objective view of what’s happening there,” he said. “But it affects you.”

Johal’s experience getting to know Dawe and sharing his story with the world isn’t necessarily characteristic of journalists reporting from Afghanistan, who do their best to maintain some distance from their subjects. But reporters sent to the conflict live directly with the troops, who in turn feed them and give them a place to sleep, write and edit. Journalism ethics are a constant issue because journalists must report critically and objectively on the soldiers who work to keep them alive and have to navigate the wishes of military public officials who make it tricky to tell the whole story.

“In a perfect world, you’d want to live separately,” Johal said. “That’s the toughest part. We go on patrol with these troops. You’re there to ask critical questions, but at the same time, they are responsible for your safety and security.”

Reporters who take a hard line with their interview subjects or pursue controversial stories can’t help but wonder if their tactics will result in decreased access to patrols and meetings.

Johal said it’s only natural to expect journalists embedded with troops to produce stories about soldiers, but these journalists also have a responsibility to expand their coverage.

This sometimes means hiring a fixer – a local guide and translator – in Kandahar and taking to the streets without protection.

“When we’re gone, we’re on our own,” Johal said. “We’re in the city doing interviews as much as possible. We do make a conscious effort to go out. You need to be on the front lines.”

Reporters might make the extra effort to find the untold story, but it’s the responsibility of their newspapers and networks at home to release the content, said Chris Waddell, an associate professor of journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“The ironic situation is that reporters might actually end up giving a sanitized version of war because legs that are blown off or incinerated, those images are deemed too disturbing to put on TV,” Waddell said.

Still, the concept of embedded journalists has been around since World War II, he said, and reporters today enjoy significantly more freedom in what they can print or show on TV.

“In embedded situations, you can’t report on issues of military significance and you can’t report on things that might benefit whoever the enemy might be,” Waddell said. “You can’t report on casualties before the family has been notified.”

Jonathan Fowlie, a Vancouver Sun reporter who spent six weeks in Afghanistan in the spring reporting for CanWest News Service, said it isn’t uncommon for military public affairs officers to recommend stories or ride along with journalists on patrol.

“There were a few times where I wrote things I was told not to write,” Fowlie said of the military’s close watch on the stories he pursued. “There was a bit of a distressing trend I wasn’t all that happy with.”

When one public affairs officer was unable to accompany Fowlie on a patrol, he asked Fowlie to email him his story before it was published so he might check for factual inaccuracies.

After a talk with his editor, Fowlie agreed to send his story to the officer and the CanWest News Service desk in Ottawa at the same time. When that officer came back with requests that he take out a quote and change the wording in a couple of paragraphs, Fowlie said no. Without any factual errors or details that might put the troops in danger, he wasn’t about to change the story.

“I told him, ‘I don’t feel anything you’ve asked for is valid,’” Fowlie said. “I printed it and it was fine. And the issue was, if you want to go out with the troops you have to go through [that officer]. I just didn’t like it.”

Fowlie knew his desk in Ottawa was ready to back him up, in case his decision to publish the story got him kicked out of his post.

“What if I had a desk that wasn’t willing to back me?” he said. “If you stand on principle and get kicked out, it means your papers don’t have coverage. And you have to live with that. My desk was behind me 100 per cent. I think most desks are like that.”

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January 3rd, 2020 at 10:12 am

Posted in News

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Film “Capote” Raises Disturbing Ethical Questions

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If there is a scandal in the making of the best-selling non-fiction book of 1966, it’s not about the facts contained in the 368 pages of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Virtually every detail about the brutal murder of the Clutter family has stood up to forty years of scrutiny. When it comes to Capote, the devil is not in the details; it’s in how he got to those details in the first place.

Capote lied to his interview subjects, defiled the corpses of the murder victims, arranged for legal representation for two cold-blooded killers, and may have even fallen in love with one of them. For Capote, the end justified his unscrupulous means, and he surely sent a message to some aspiring journalists over the years.

The film “Capote” hit theaters this winter just as The New York Times was parting with its reporter Judith Miller, largely over her inaccurate stories about Iraq’s weapons capabilities. Discredited journalists such as Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass have become household names, epitomizing the very worst of journalistic ambition. To some, the events portrayed in “Capote” represent the beginning of the end, the top of that slippery slope down which the profession of journalism has slid.

Capote, portrayed brilliantly by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, travels to a world both familiar and foreign to the Southern-born writer who had grown accustomed to the high life in New York. Hoffman does a dead-on Capote, with his high-pitched voice and a flamboyance that might even shock today’s more gay-friendly culture. It must have been downright unbelievable in the Eisenhower era. He and childhood friend Nell Harper Lee roll into Holcomb, a small Kansas prairie town, to report on the murder of a well-regarded farmer, Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie, and two of their children, Nancy and Kenyon. The murder has clearly shaken up the community, and soon Capote will shake things up further.

PETER W. KLEIN is the CanWest Global Visiting Professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Journalism. For the past seven years, he was a producer at CBS News 60 Minutes, where he won several awards including an Emmy. He previously worked as a producer at ABC News, and as a print and radio reporter throughout Europe.

He has a Masters Degree from Columbia University and Bachelors degrees in philosophy, science and economics from Pennsylvania State University. He lives in Vancouver with his wife and three children.
In the police station, Capote has a confrontation with a local cop, not over police procedure or access to information, but over fashion. Noting that the detective was staring at his clearly-out-of-town scarf, Capote boasts: “Bergdorf’s.” A few beats later, the officer tips his hat to the writer and says: “Sears Roebuck.”

But Capote really gets the police stirred when he confesses that he is there to portray how this murder has affected the community, not the search for the killers. “Oh, I don’t really care if you catch them or not,” Capote says to Alvin Dewey, the lead detective and a close friend of Mr. Clutter’s. “I do,” shoots back Dewey, portrayed matter-of-factly by Chris Cooper.

What attracted Capote to the small Kansas town in the first place was the affliction that affects all good writers, the pervasive hunt for the next great story. The movie, directed by Bennett Miller and written by Dan Futterman, begins with Capote in New York scanning the paper and settling on the headline-grabbing tale of the Clutter murders. He phones his editor at the New Yorker and says he’s found his next assignment.

After having written Other Voices, Other Rooms, The Grass Harp, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and several successful films to his credit, Capote was looking for more. Making up characters and stories seemed, perhaps, too easy, but finding real characters with real stories brought an immediacy and truthfulness that the public was ready to devour. Shortly after the book came out, Capote told the famous editor George Plimpton that a “journalistic novel” was brewing inside him, “something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose.” He discovered what the rest of us real journalists figured out a long time ago – that fact can be far more interesting than fiction.

The film conveys Capote’s journalistic adventure. When Capote’s articles about the Clutters first appeared in print, as a multi-part series for the New Yorker, it was a sensation; readers were glued to the pages, and kept coming back week after week. Despite the success, the magazine’s legendary editor, William Shawn, reportedly hated Capote’s portrayal of the Clutter murders, and many prominent writers at the time agreed. Lewis Lapham, writing about this post-Cold Blood era of so-called “New Journalism,” called Capote and the writers who followed in his footsteps “a crowd of self-important Pharisees; the books (including In Cold Blood). . . I would name as the first spawn of the synthetic melodrama that leads, more or less directly, to Oprah and Geraldo.”

It is an appropriate comparison, given that, by 1959, Capote was a regular on the talk show circuit. What really distinguished the successful novelist and screenwriter as an up-and-coming journalist wasn’t so much his tenacity or his reporting skills, but rather his fame. Capote flashed his name like a press pass, gaining access to the two killers in prison that no other reporter could get.

With fame, though, came fault. At the party celebrating his friend Harper Lee’s successful movie portrayal of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Capote could think only of himself, and reveals one of the many cracks in his ethical code of conduct, lamenting that the two killers’ death-row appeals are delaying the ending of his book. Lee smiles, disappointedly, then turns away.

Lee is the moral centre of this film and, one can imagine, for the real Capote’s life. In Holcomb, she smoothes over Capote’s social faux pas. But while we see her doing much of the initial legwork in Kansas, it’s Capote who walks into the funeral home and opens the caskets of the dead family members, examining their severed faces which were blown off by the killer’s rifle. Lee keeps her hands clean; Capote gets them dirty.

A defining clue of Capote’s ethical barometer comes when he spies one of the two killers, Perry Smith, in a small cell in the sheriff’s quarters. Smith, played by Clifton Collins Jr., asks Capote for an aspirin. The writer struggles with the request, but eventually brings him the pill. “I could kill you if you got too close,” Smith jokes, but Capote doesn’t blink. Soon, we see the writer feeding the young inmate baby food after Smith goes on a hunger strike in jail.

At what point Capote crosses that fuzzy line is unclear, but, by the end of the film, one has the distinct sense he has left it far behind. Does bringing porno to Smith’s more violent partner, Dick Hickock, constitute an ethical breach? What about encouraging Smith to keep a journal, knowing full well Capote planned to read it? How about hiding the transparent title from the two killers,leading them to believe he is writing about their unjust trial?

Despite Capote’s access to the murderers, neither man has told the writer any details about the murder. The author realizes he needs time to draw it out of Smith, the gentler of the two, so he tells stories of his own childhood, which is strangely similar to Smith’s. He even marvels at one point, “It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. One day, I went out the front door and he went out the back.” At times, the film suggests Capote has a crush on the macho killer, and it seems oddly reciprocal. While he drops off smut magazines in front of Hickock’s cell, he brings novels to Smith, who looks forward to discussing literature with the illustrious author.

However, by the time Smith and Hickock are convicted of the murders and sentenced to death, Capote still doesn’t have a firsthand account of the night of the killings. So he arranges for some prominent lawyers to represent the two convicted killers’ appeal in a bald-faced attempt to delay their inevitable hanging, so Capote can get the “money quote”.

It’s hard to imagine that the New Yorker sanctioned this obvious breach of journalistic conduct, but Capote was no ordinary journalist. Just as Judy Miller got away with her front-page reports about Iraq’s supposed weapons, and Bob Woodward successfully hid his involvement in the Valerie Plame inquiry, so Truman Capote was apparently able to throw the weight of his name around and get just what he wanted.

People like Woodward once represented all that’s good in journalism, and Hollywood loved it. “All The President’s Men” was a big hit, and painted a picture of reporters as heroes. So did “The Killing Fields,” about a crusading foreign correspondent in Cambodia, and “Deadline U.S.A.,” in which Humphrey Bogart plays a heroic newspaper publisher (written and directed, oddly enough, by Richard Brooks, who made the film version of “In Cold Blood”).
Someone in Hollywood must have seen a recent Gallup Poll in which barely half of respondents said they trusted the media. “Capote” capitalizes on that distrust. Indeed, it seems to be the right time for this film.

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December 26th, 2019 at 12:10 am

Posted in Movies

Morals and the Media Black, White and Grey: Ethics in South African Journalism Review

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Perhaps the greatest hindrance to the development of a global journalism ethic is the inherent complexity of the concept. Two recently published texts in journalism ethics, one written by Canadian Nick Russell and the other by South African journalist Franz Kruger, underline this problem. The goals of the authors are similar, but their approaches diverge tremendously.

Russell, writing primarily for journalism students in this second edition of his well-used textbook, uses an interrogative style to focus his readers’ attention on the practical issues of the day. Ethical philosophy is generally absent, ousted by more practical musings on untrusting (and hard-to-please) publics, demanding advertisers, and the looming “bottom line.”

Kruger’s text is written for the practicing journalists of a newly liberated South African press. Free expression is so novel that the central theme in Black, White and Grey is outlining the (possibly idealistic) truth-spreading, myth-busting responsibilities of free-press journalists. The commodification of news that dominates Russell’s text is minimized. Instead, Kruger addresses journalistic ethics in terms of the duties inherent in the profession, rather than the decisions journalists are forced to make by the practicalities of the industry. As a South African, he writes from a background of longstanding civil unrest and decade of racial hatred. His book “attempts to measure the traditional standards of journalism against the demands of a changing society.” It was born of a debate over national transformation, and he sees journalism’s role as vital in that social and national task.

Despite the great differences in style and tone, Russell and Kruger adhere to the same basic principles and standards of media ethics, but they disagree on how and to what degree these standards can be attained. Both Kruger, a university professor, and Russell, a former professor, have distinguished histories as journalists, and they have spent a great deal of time immersed in discussions over journalistic integrity. Kruger certainly believes in a global journalistic ethic that would link South African journalism to Europe and North America, and Russell embraces the idea that as more voices participate in news more news will be successfully transmitted. Fundamentally, both authors aspire to a journalism unbiased by monetary enticements, racial, social, or religious prejudices, or government interest.

But beyond this basic understanding, the ethics of the two authors – and perhaps the two nations – part ways. The economic interests that sometimes seem to blind Russell’s ethics are conversely a blind spot for Kruger. In this divergence, the authors lay bare the shortfalls of each other’s conception of the ethical ideal. Russell’s audience is a public sphere that encompasses diverse interests, all of which must be considered in order to maintain circulation levels. Kruger’s audience is charged with regrouping and rejecting biases, regardless of public resistance or financial hardship.

“Money dominates journalism,” Morals and the Media proclaims. This fairly narrow view dominates Russell’s assessment of media ethics. News organizations compete for audiences, are owned by large corporations, and subsist on funds from advertisers. Russell notes that this may be problematic, but it remains questionable as to how journalists can maintain the ethical high ground if, as Russell notes, newsrooms must divide their loyalty between the public and the paycheck writers.

Given its economic pessimism, Russell’s Morals is extremely useful as a depiction of the issues that face Canadian journalists. It addresses – at least cursorily – almost every ethical obstacle from sexual bias to public distrust to financial woes. Russell emphasizes the public’s response more than the journalist’s duties. Morals is less about the ethical decisions involved in news-making than it is about news-making decisions in light of public ethics. He is pessimistic about the financial pressures on journalists and news organizations, and he believes that public money decides the news agenda more authoritatively than reporters and editors do. He councils his readers to be sensitive to what the public is ready to see, in terms of gender issues, race issues, and violence. Economics, emotion, and media-public relations are at the heart of his text.

In light of that economic pressure, Russell’s ethics reflect a public sense of propriety, because papers that displease the community won’t sell. His chapter title sums up his position concisely: “Bitch, bitch, bitch: news consumer’s prime complaints.” The complaints primarily address accuracy, fairness, sensationalism, and sensitivity. Russell, perhaps wishing to stay detached from his subject, does not let on that he finds these complaints reasonable. Instead, he notes that journalists can never “get it right” for everyone, and someone will always be disappointed with coverage of an event.

Russell promotes the idea of community involvement to fill the gap between the public and the news media. Civic journalism, empowering the public to make news, is among the options (and the option he favoured in the book’s 1994 first edition). Also recommended are peer condemnation, codes, and journalism reviews. Traditional journalism cannot stand alone; there must be a multimedia response. This, Russell claims, will help mitigate the public’s distrust for news media. It was surprising that Russell does not address the other possible effect of civic journalism: elevating the level of debate on important social issues.

Kruger’s approach to journalism stems from the opposite standpoint. The purpose of journalism ethics in Black, White and Grey is to edify a socially and financially stratified nation that has only a burgeoning understanding of democratic principles. He addresses journalism ethics in terms of public needs rather than public desires. Kruger stresses the journalist’s ethical duty to help remedy race issues, combat misogyny, and disperse dangerous rumors. When the press plays such a proactive role in society, it changes the basis for ethical decisions. He exemplifies this in his explanation of film footage aired as apartheid was breathing its last. The footage showed “rebels” shooting two AWB (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, South Africa’s white supremacist right-wing political group) members at point-blank-range when their car, affixed with the Nazi-like flag, was stopped by the Defense Force. Despite the harm to the men’s families, “the significance of the incident was such as to make it unthinkable to withhold the footage. The hapless AWB men were caught up in a historic moment, and their tragedy was no longer private.” This type of coverage seems to run counter to Russell’s ‘saying’: “If in doubt, leave it out.” The ethical issue is not a matter distasteful imagery but of a hateful regime overthrown.

Death is a reality to any South African old enough to remember apartheid, so squeamishness is ethically important for Kruger. When he addresses AIDS, he addresses the responsibility of a journalist with a sniffle to cancel an interview with an HIV positive patient. This is not the sensitivity of semantics, but the sensitivity of humanity. When Russell addresses AIDS, he breezes over the semantics of copy (the section starts with the journalistic history of the word “condom” and goes little further). In Russell’s chapter on dishonesty, he includes April Fools pranks. Kruger’s discussion of lying includes toddlers being raped after rumors spread that sex with a virgin could cure AIDS. Russell’s gender issues tends to center around bikini clad bunnies and lexicons of misogyny. Kruger’s confronts sexist laws, chauvinistic judicial rulings, and the marginalizing of black female reporters.

This is not to trivialize the ethical dilemmas that Russell presents, but to note that the ethical dilemmas facing journalists might be deeper than he implies and that his public might need more reality than they are presently “prepared” for. Canadian children are raped and murdered; Canadian citizen groups are marginalized; AIDS – while obviously less rampant than in South Africa – is a problem in Canada. Russell vividly depicts the media landscape from Canada where economics play a key role in any function of a capitalistic, democratic society. But that should not relegate the ethics of reporting to second place, behind business.

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December 20th, 2019 at 12:11 am

Posted in Feature