Friday, September 20, 2013

Constant Battle with Conflict of Interest in the Media

Kathryn Cook

Conflicts of interest occur everywhere and anywhere in life. Some professions deal with conflicts of interest more than others. Reading the articles “Maybe it’s Not so Obvious” by Deborah Potter and “Checkbook Journalism’s Slippery Slope” by Ryan Chittum, as a future journalist I am concerned about the conflicts of interest I will face throughout my career.

The article “Maybe it’s Not so Obvious” by Deborah Potter points out multiple occasions where journalists are involved in conflicts of interest. As a viewer I want the truth in a story, which will allow me to form my own opinion. Conflicts of interest can change the whole layout of a story -- for example Barbra Walters interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The article claims Walters had began an ill-advised friendship with Assad media adviser Sheherazed Jaafari, who arranged Bashar al-Assad’s interview with Walters in December. Having this conflict of interest with a future interview candidate’s media adviser can change the truth to the story. Walters may have received information on topics the Syrian President and his media adviser did and didn’t want public. Therefore Walters chose to ask certain questions and avoid other questions at the expense of a friendship.

Deorah Potter’s article “Maybe it’s Not so Obvious” says, “Independence is one of those bedrock journalism principles, right up there with telling the truth. When journalists compromise their independence, everything they report becomes suspect.” I strongly agree with this quote, and in Debroah Potter’s article she gives multiple examples of proof. An example in the article is reporter Jeff Derderian's choice to shoot a feature for nightclub safety at a nightclub in Rhode Island. Reporter Jeff Derderian is the co-owner of the club, so shooting the feature at his nightclub gave his club more publicity. As a viewer I would have a hard time finding him creditable in the future if it is just to enhance him personally. If you can’t trust the reporter for the stories they are delivering, where else do their personal conflicts of interest lie?

Advertising, for example. Allowing or encouraging the station you’re employed with to advertise the product you promote during your newscast is a conflict of interest. This shows you are worried about publicity for your product more than your creditability. Erin Andrews, for example, is the new face for TruBiotics. Although Andrew’s is reporting on sports, which doesn’t seek as much credibility, Andrews is still promoting her product on the station that she airs on, giving viewers a different outlook on her.

Conflict of interest exists in the public relations field as well. The only difference between public relations-related conflicts of interest and a journalist's conflict of interest is that the field of public relations has better overall control on conflict of interest.

The article “Public Relations Issues,” published by the University of Oregon, focuses on conflicts of interest that occur within the public relations field. For example, consider working on a public relations account where a client’s company is known to be a notorious polluter, while the public relations specialist is environmentally aware. A journalist can face difficulties in reporting a positive view on this company if the reporter is environmentally aware as well. As I stated previously, public relations has more of a handle on conflicts of interest. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) states in their code of ethics ways to take on conflicts of interest and prevent it. All public relations firms have the particular section of conflicts of interest in their employment contract, as specified to their particular firm.

Conflicts of interests will occur no matter what career path you chose; it is how you handle it within that career that is important. I believe the best way to tackle conflicts of interest is by ethically thinking of what is or isn’t right and who it can affect in the future. 

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