Sunday, September 20, 2015

Conflicts of Interest Will Always Exist

Alex Warner

We make decisions every day, but when we are forced to choose between personal and professional is when an even bigger issue arises.

Conflicts of interest can emerge in any professional job, but they are especially common in the journalism industry. As journalists we strive to be truthful while remaining objective, but as humans we develop personal opinions that can inhibit our ability report objectively.

The article, Maybe It's Not So Obvious, by Deborah Potter explains that independence is one of the most important journalism principles and when journalists compromise that independence, it can taint their credibility.

The article uses an example of a conflict of interest at KTVU in San Francisco. The morning show host Ross McGowan was business partners with city supervisor Gavin Newsom, who appeared frequently on the show. When Newsom became a candidate for mayor is when the conflict of interest arose. The station's News Director, Ed Chapuis was concerned that McGowan had been "taking it easy" on Newsom during interviews since they were in business together.

Chapuis later on explained that KTVU's conflict of interest policy was unclear and that is would need to be more clearly defined. Conflicts of interest in journalism seem to appear all the time. The real question is: why do they keep occurring?

Courtesy of
Organizations such at the Radio Television Digital News Association, also known as RTDNA, have a code of ethics that give journalists guiding principles to follow. Under the principle independence and transparency is a statement that explains journalists can have their own opinions, but they may not show them to the public because their audience could see them as impartial.

RTDNA breaks their code of ethics down even farther by providing an extensive set of questions for journalists to ask themselves before pursuing a story that could cause potential conflicts of interest.

A more recent example of conflict of interest began in October 2013 when Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos acquired The Washington Post. Not long after he signed a $600 million dollar contract with the CIA to allow them to use his cloud-computing infrastructure. By doing so, he put Washington Post reporters in a tough position when reporting on CIA business.

Former Washington Post reporter, John Hanrahan said, "One thing is certain: Post reporters and editors are aware that Bezos, as majority owner of Amazon, has a financial stake in maintaining good relations with the CIA - and this sends a clear message to even the hardest-nosed journalist that making the CIA look bad might not be a good career move."

Courtesy of RT Media

If every reporter feels this way, how can his or her audience trust that The Washington Post will report accurate information about the CIA? This is a huge conflict of interest because a Washington Post reporter's fear could taint their responsibility as a journalist to give their audience truthful information about the CIA. 

In response, a petition was started that said The Washington Post must give full disclosure that they are tied to the CIA through Bezos when covering the CIA. 

By adding in this disclosure, their readers will not feel secluded from information they may not have known. Whether or not they trust The Washington Post to report accurate information will determine if they continue to read. 

So as journalists we should be cautious of our personal opinions and take the time to make sure we have absolutely no personal conflicts of interest before we cover a story. Conflicts of interest will never disappear. The only way to avoid losing our credibility as a journalist is to be sure we are truthful in what we can and cannot report about due to our personal interests. 

No comments:

Post a Comment