Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Can Conflict of Interest Really be Avoided in Journalism?

Christian Phillips

Many people often say, and often overuse, the phrase; it's not about what you know, it's about who you know. Now, of course in journalism, what you know is at the heart of what being a journalist is all about. After all, one of the core principles of journalism is finding out the truth so they can report it to the public. But who's to say who you know doesn't account for something, too? Another principle that guides journalists today is the idea of independence, avoiding or disclosing partnerships and relationships (who you know) that can potentially influence their writing.

There was a conversation being had about media downplaying their conflicts of interest with the Obama administration a couple of years ago. There is an article on the Accuracy of Media website that spells out some of the relationships between the public media and people who held government official positions. The information in this article held up to other standards of ethical procedures journalists are expected to take. These relationships, though they could potentially provide a source of influence for journalist's stories, it didn't seem as though these people were trying to hide their ties to the Obama administration. The article gave examples of White House Correspondents being married to lawyers who also accepted positions with the Obama administration. And, though there are obvious reasons why one could potentially see an issue with this, what one person is supposed to resign from their position or refuse a role in what is the highest office in the land, simply because of who they chose to marry?

The codes of ethics that journalists follow are more or less suggestions the people who pursue this line of work agree to follow. The ideas outlined in these codes are not always appropriate for every situation. Telling someone they can't report on a story simply because of they have familial ties with someone remotely connected to the story seem bizarre, to say the least. A good journalist will continue to seek the truth, regardless of if they have a source at home or if the story they're reporting could potentially harm the person they're close to, that just might be one of the difficulties of the job. Ultimately, if the journalist has disclosed the potential conflicts of interests, they should be able to decide when to report on things that involve the people they know and when not to without receiving criticism for it. So long as they're being transparent about it, who one knows shouldn't matter.

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