Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Conflicts of Interest: The Music Industry

Emily Cunningham
A conflict of interest is where an individual or organization makes a biased opinion, inference or decision on a subject, based on the fact that they are close to another individual or organization that is heavily involved in that subject. The articles for Thursday’s readings were all interesting, but the article “Love Those Perks! / Critics Sound Off on the Ethics of Music Journalism” by Derk Richardson stood out to me the most.

Conflicts of Interest in The Music Industry

I thought Derk Richardson wrote a great article about the many conflicts of interests that are constantly seen between journalists and artists in the music industry. What I personally found to be the most interesting conflict of interest involves the issue of music journalists receiving free items and services by the artists who they are supposed to be critiquing and writing about.

Conflicts of interest like this, in the music industry, have been seen since the beginning. A prime example of this is the world of drugs, alcohol, lavish dinners and parties that music journalists were conveniently thrown into in the 60’s and 70’s by the artists themselves, so that the journalists would write good reviews on their music.

The same thing still happens today, but toned down a notch. Now it comes in the form of free event tickets, promo CD’s, cocktail parties, dinner with the artist, paid travel, exclusive backstage tours, etc. Yes, these are still clearly conflicts of interest. Giving all or some of these items and services to a journalist, who is supposed to be writing and critiquing an artist, could give the journalist a biased opinion that he or she would not have had without these gifts.

What Do the Ethics Codes Say?

The SPJ Codes of Ethics are quite minimal on their discussion of conflicts of interests, only stating to “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.” The PRSSA Codes of Ethics did not give me the substantial information I was looking for either. I thought the Radio Television Digital News Association gave the best information on their “Guidelines for Avoiding Conflict of Interest” page. Two specific questions stood out to me that the RTDNA asks journalists to think about when dealing with conflicts of interest: 1. Is it acceptable to accept gifts from a source on a story? 2. Will you accept free admission to parks and events you are covering, even when the general public must pay for the same access?

For the first question, RTDNA states that if the journalist’s answer is yes (it is acceptable to accept gifts), journalists must remember that FCC rules have a monetary limit on gifts. I did my own fact checking and the FCC states that “modest refreshments” and “items that are worth $20 or less” are permissible.

For the second question, RTDNA states that they have seen both journalists buying tickets into events and receiving free tickets to an event. The RTDNA ultimately leaves it up to a manager to decide what is best for the journalist and the situation at hand.

Do I See a Problem?

To be honest, I personally see no issue with giving free gifts and services to a journalist who is reporting on an artist. I know, I know, before anyone freaks out, let me explain. I may have a slightly different view on this than the average person, only because I am a Strategic Communications student whose focus is in public relations. Actually, my dream job is to be a publicist for an artist in the music industry, so I am looking at this from more of the PR perspective.

As a publicist for an artist, I would want to do everything I could to make sure that my client is seen in a good light. I would 100% give free tickets to shows, give free promo CD’s, give exclusive tours or buy dinners to a music journalist reporting on my client. I agreed with what journalist Neva Chonin said in the article, "Love Those Perks! / Critics Sound Off on the Ethics of Music Journalism,” when she was asked about receiving free items, “As for CD’s and concert tickets—it’s the publicist’s job to supply them; its my job to use them for my own devices…” As a publicist, I would be doing my best to make sure that I am providing the journalist with the best experience possible when they come to see my client. If that means giving free or exclusive items, so be it. Like Neva said, a publicist provides the info, it is ultimately the journalists job to decide how to react to it.

In the end, I believe it is the journalists jobs to decide what is a conflict of interest and if it will affect his or her job. If they are uncomfortable in any situation, they have the right to deny treatment that they feel is wrong and/or unnecessary.

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