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PLUS PAPERS - Institute of Communication Ethics

ethicalspaceThe InternationalJournal of Communication EthicsVol.9 No.1 2011 ISSN 1742-0105PAPERS• Communicating mental illness and suicide: Public relationsstudents’ perceptions of ethical practice – Kate Fitch• Ofcom: An evaluation of UK broadcast journalism regulation ofnews and current affairs – Chris Frost• News as conversation, citizens as gatekeepers: Where is digitalnews taking us? – Luke Goode• The revolution must wait: Economic, business and financialjournalisms beyond the 2008 crisis – Gary James Merrill• Myth-making on the business pages: Local press and glocalcrisis – Joel Stein and David BainesPLUSNews, articles, reviews – and much more


Publishing OfficeAbramis AcademicASK HouseNorthgate AvenueBury St. EdmundsSuffolkIP32 6BBUKTel: +44 (0)1284 700321Fax: +44 (0)1284 717889Email: info@abramis.co.ukWeb: www.abramis.co.ukCopyrightAll rights reserved. No partof this publication may bereproduced in any materialform (including photocopyingor storing it inany medium by electronicmeans, and whether or nottransiently or incidentallyto some other use of thispublication) without thewritten permission of thecopyright owner, exceptin accordance with theprovisions of the Copyright,Designs and Patents Act1988, or under terms of alicence issued by the CopyrightLicensing Agency Ltd,33-34, Alfred Place, LondonWC1E 7DP, UK. Applicationsfor the copyright owner’spermission to reproducepart of this publicationshould be addressed to thePublishers.Back issuesBack issues are availablefrom the Publishers at theabove editorial address.© 2012 Institute ofCommunication Ethics &Abramis AcademicISSN 1742-0105ISBN 978-1-84549-536-7Printed in the UK.Aims and scopeCommunication ethics is a discipline that supports communicationpractitioners by offering tools and analyses for the understanding ofethical issues. Moreover, the speed of change in the dynamic informationenvironment presents new challenges, especially for communicationpractitioners.Ethics used to be a specialist subject situated within schools of philosophy.Today it is viewed as a language and systematic thought process availableto everyone. It encompasses issues of care and trust, social responsibility andenvironmental concern and identifies the values necessary to balance thedemands of performance today with responsibilities tomorrow.For busy professionals, CE is a powerful learning and teaching approach thatencourages analysis and engagement with many constituencies, enhancingrelationships through open-thinking. It can be used to improve organizationperformance as well as to protect individual well-being.SubmissionsPapers should be submitted to the Editor via email. Full details on submission –along with detailed notes for authors – are available online in PDF format:www.communication-ethics.netSubscription InformationEach volume contains 4 issues, issued quarterly. Enquiries regardingsubscriptionsand orders both in the UK and overseas should be sent to:Journals Fulfilment DepartmentAbramis Academic, ASK House, Northgate Avenue, Bury St. Edmunds,Suffolk IP32 6BB, UK.Tel: +44 (0)1284 700321, Fax: +44 (0)1284 717889Email: info@abramis.co.ukYour usual suscription agency will also be able to take a subscription toEthical Space.Annual SubscriptionMembership of the Institute of Communication Ethics includes a subscriptionto the journal. Please see the application form on the last page of thisissue.For non-members:Institutional subscription £200.00Personal subscription £55.00Delivery by surface mail. Airmail prices available on request or at the journal’sweb site.www.communication-ethics.net


ContentsEditorialNewsHackgate and its implications: Tim Crook reports on the annual conference of the Institute ofCommunication Ethics. Dusan Babic reports on a major conference tackling hate-speech in SouthEastern EuropeArticlesJohn Steel examines the relationship between free speech and freedom of the press in his latestpublicationReeta Toivanen summarises the contents of her BA dissertation looking at media watchdogs, theirinfluence on the media – and press’s representation of themPapersCommunicating mental illness and suicide: Public relations students’ perceptions of ethical practice– Kate FitchOfcom: An evaluation of UK broadcast journalism regulation of news and current affairs– Chris FrostNews as conversation, citizens as gatekeepers: Where is digital news taking us? – Luke GoodeThe revolution must wait: Economic, business and financial journalisms beyond the 2008 crisis– Gary James MerrillMyth-making on the business pages: local press and glocal crisis – Joel Stein and David BainesReviewsZahera Harb on Mirage in the desert? Reporting the ‘Arab Spring’ (edited by John Mair and RichardLance Keeble); Jane Crofts on PR today: The authoritative guide to public relations (edited byTrevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy), Steven Knowlton on Ethics and the media: An introduction(by Stephen J. A. Ward)Page 2Page 4Page 8Page 10Page 14Page 22Page 32Page 41Page 52Page 60Editorial BoardJoint EditorsRichard Lance KeebleUniversity of LincolnDonald Matheson University of Canterbury, New ZealandShannon BowenSyracuse UniversityReviews EditorsMary GriffithsJohn TullochUniversity of AdelaideUniversity of LincolnEditorial board membersKlaus-Dieter AltmeppenCatholic UniversityEichstaett-IngolstadtRaphael AlviraUniversity of NavarraDusan BabicMedia plan, SarajevoPorfiro Barroso Computense University of Madrid &Pontifical University of Salamanca, MadridJay BlackEditor, Journal of Mass Media EthicsAntonio CastilloUniversity of Western SydneyRuth ChadwickLancaster UniversitySaviour ChircopUniversity of MaltaClifford Christians University of Illinois-Urbana, USARaphael Cohen–AlmagorUniversity of HullTom CooperEmerson College, Boston, MADeni ElliottUniversity of MontanaChris FrostLiverpool John Moores UniversityTed GlasserStanford UniversityAnne GregoryLeeds Metropolitan UniversityCees HamelinkUniversity of AmsterdamPaul JacksonManchester Business SchoolMike JempsonDirector, MediaWise TrustCheris KramaraeUniversity of Oregon; Centre forthe Study of Women in SocietyTakeshi MaezawaFormer Yomiuri ombudsman,scholar/writerJohn MairCoventry UniversityIan MayesFormer Guardian Readers’ EditorTessa MayesInvestigative JournalistJolyon MitchellUniversity of EdinburghFuad Nahdi Publisher Q-news; Producer Channel 4Sarah NiblockBrunel UniversityKaarle NordenstrengTampere UniversityManuel Parez i MaicasUniversitat Autonomade BarcelonaIan Richards University of South Australia, AdelaideSimon RogersonDe Montfort UniversityLorna RothConcordia University, MontrealKaren SandersSan Pablo University, MadridJohn StrainUnversity of SurreyMiklos Sukosd Central European University, BudapestBarbara ThomassRuhruniversität BochumTerry ThreadgoldCentre for Journalism Studies,Cardiff UniversityStephen J. WardUniversity of British ColumbiaBrian WinstonUniversity of LincolnJames WinterUniversity of Windsor, CanadaContact: Institute ofCommunication Ethics,C/O Dr Fiona Thompson,69 Glenview Road,Shipley, West Yorkshire,BD18 4AR, UKPublished by: The Instituteof Communication Ethics(www.communication-ethics.net)and Abramis Academic(www.abramis.co.uk)EDITORIAL BOARD & CONTENTS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 1


EDITORIALA new model for ‘hackademic’ publishing?Journalism examines the here-and-now, the major issues and personalities of the day. And yet theproduction of academic books can often take up to two years (or even longer) between conceptionand actual publication. The peer review process can last months as can also the editing and publicationprocess. As a result, academic texts tend to focus on the broader, theoretical and conceptual issues andlack the urgency and vitality of more ‘journalistic’ texts. To put it simply, when they appear they areirrelevant. Clearly a new model of academic publishing is needed if the requirements of journalismacademics, students and those members of the public interested in deepening their knowledge ofjournalism matters are to be met.Seven books edited by Professor Richard Lance Keeble, of the University of Lincoln, and John Mair,Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Coventry University, over the last three years are proof enough thatacademic texts on major contemporary media issues can be produced quickly and with impact whileremaining original, rigorous and packed with contributions by internationally acclaimed writers. Publishedby Abramis Academic, of Bury St Edmunds, they have focused on:• the crisis in trust in British television after the ‘faked quizzes’ scandal:• the coverage of the great financial crash of 2008;• the reporting of the war in Afghanistan;• the impact of the Internet on journalism;• the state of investigative journalism internationally;• the reporting of the ‘Arab Spring’, and• the phone hacking scandal and the ethics of journalism.On the Afghan war book, Professor Tim Luckhurst, Professor of Journalism at Kent University, wrotein the Times Higher Education of 2 December 2010: ‘The book contains the testimony of Britain’s bestfront-line correspondents set in historical context alongside detailed academic analysis. It is rigorous,relevant and timely.’ In terms of impact, all the texts have been launched at sell-out events in centralLondon and have been widely discussed on websites such as journalism.co.uk and pressgazette.co.uk– and are the subject of much Twitter activity. Most importantly, they are also bought and read inmajor newsrooms.Virtually all the texts have emerged from conferences organised jointly by Coventry University, theBBC College of Journalism and the University of Lincoln’s School of Journalism. The last book followedthe annual conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics (of which Prof. Keeble is a director andMair the chair) in London. Normally, the issue of Ethical Space following the annual ICE conference willbe a special issue carrying most of the papers delivered. As Tim Crook reports here, so many excellentpapers were given exploring various aspects of the on-going Hackgate scandal that only a book-sizedproduction could cope with the amount of copy.2 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012EDITORIAL


At the conferences top mainstream and alternative journalists, academics and students present briefpapers – some journalists, such as Bob Woodward of Watergate fame (talking on investigative journalism),Jeremy Paxman, of the BBC’s Newsnight (on the Afghan war) and Oliver Poole, of the LondonEvening Standard (on the reporting of Libya and the fall of Col. Gaddafi), link up via Skype. Theircontributions are then written up for the book – with the work of others added to make up the finaltext (normally with 30 chapters). The editing process is extremely rigorous – those submissions notmatching the high standards are simply rejected.The implications of this radical new publishing model are considerable. It certainly helps bring togethermainstream and alternative journalists and the academy in a crucial, critical dialogue. As Prof Luckhurstconcluded: ‘Abandoning the idle pretence that excellence and speed are incompatible helpsus to engage with the world. As higher education confronts intense new pressures, maximising suchengagement will be crucial.’• Beyond Trust: Hype and hope in the British media; The great crash of 2008 and the crisis injournalism; Afghanistan, war and media; Face the future: The internet and journalism today;Investigative journalism: Dead or Alive?; Mirage in the Desert? Reporting the ‘Arab Spring’;The phone hacking scandal: Journalism on trial (all published by Abramis Academic).Richard Lance KeebleUniversity of LincolnEDITORIAL Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 3


NEWStested by other perspectives as well as being thechance to air our own research and opinions.Hackgate and itsimplicationsTim Crook reports on the 2011 annual conferenceof the Institute of Communication EthicsThe Institute of Communications Ethics heldits annual conference on Friday, 28 October, inLondon and explored Hackgate and its implications.The papers presented at the Foreign PressAssociation in the Commonwealth Club reflectedthe consternation and divided opinions that thescandal has generated within British journalismand the academy.The discussion coincided with the judicial andpublic inquiry into the culture, practices and ethicsof the press, including its unlawful behaviour,headed by the English Appeal Court judge LordJustice Leveson set up under the 2005 InquiriesAct. According to the Independent, there arenow around 200 police detectives engaged ininquiries into alleged press illegality at NewsInternational’s News of the World and elsewhere,the work of private detectives, and alleged paymentsby journalists to police officers.I was happy to attend an event that I thoughtmore intelligently and effectively explored thekey issues in a way that the Leveson Inquiry maybe unlikely to achieve. I gave a paper entitled‘Infantilising the feral beast: The criminalisationof the bad boys and girls of popular journalism:Hackgate’s boomerang’ and was happily accompaniedby three students from Goldsmiths as wellas the researcher, Justin Schlosberg, a PhD candidateat Goldsmiths working within the LeverhulmeMedia Research Centre.Schlosberg presented a compelling paper indicatingthat British television news had marginalisedthe representation of the awkward questionsbeing raised about the death of the weaponsinspector Dr David Kelly and the Hutton Inquiry‘inquest’ verdict that he had died as a resultof suicide. This level of textual, qualitative andquantitative research enables us to question shibbolethsand preconceived notions about what is‘good’ and ‘bad’ journalism.Outside our comfort zonesAs I mentioned to my Goldsmiths’ colleagues,conferences of this kind take our opinions andknowledge outside our own comfort zones to beThe scandal has shaken me over the last fewmonths. Although I had heard the allegationsand acknowledged the ‘industrial gossip’ overthe years, I had naively and, I accept, stupidlyassumed that the new generation of showbusiness/celebrity‘masters and mistresses of theuniverse’ in the 1990s through to at least 2007obtained their ‘intrusive’ stories by persuadingfriends, associates and employees of thegreat, the good and the ugly to confidentiallywhistleblow however lowly the ‘lowest commondenominator’ of subject.I have an essentially shy and embarrassed anticipationand assumption about asking personalquestions and although having been a journalistfor several decades, I have never had that abilityto whisper and plumb intimate secrets with suchapparent panache and success.Well, now it seems some or much of that ‘success’and journalistic pizazz was no more thangrubby snooping of targets’ mobile messaging,and possible phone and computer tapping. Andother ‘great’ stories may have been obtained bymetaphorically passing brown envelopes stuffedwith cash to serving police officers. How absurdlypathetic.The reality for me: endless grind and sloggingIt is not even ‘hard’ work. Journalism for mehas hardly been glamorous. Any significant storiesI have ever unearthed, if they could ever bedescribed as ‘significant’, came about by endlessgrind and slogging, eyes straining through swirlsof microfiche and pages of documents in badly litsurroundings, working well into the early hoursof the morning, waiting forlornly for people tomeet me in cold, dreary and banal places, waitingfor telephone calls and emails that were neverreplied to. Most of the work was boring andattended by anxiety. The adrenaline and rushwere so rare, I find it hard to recall any.And as the mythology is stripped from the highoctane, on-the-edge realm of Hackgate sleazesleuthing, we are getting a sad and ridiculouspicture of some stoned journalists with addictionproblems and inadequate personalities, promotedand paid way beyond their talent zone, somesnorting cocaine and dropping ‘E’s to keep up onthe fringe with celebrocrats who probably hadmuch less talent than they had.And so the Wizard of Oz is a bald, little manstruggling to control levers and the puffing of4 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012NEWS


dry ice behind an illusory light and sound show.We have an almost allegorical myth of the HackgateWizard keeping a ledger of mobile phonenumbers, pin codes, computer ISP numbers, andan armoury of Trojan computer viruses, and digitalvideo and sound recording software in thewarehousing of sneaking and snooping acrossthe highs and lows of human success, failure, andtragedy. Just how typical, widespread and realthis myth actually was is a matter for police andjudicial inquiry. This degree of journalistic vice,although exceptional, risks being unfortunatelymisrepresented as the general.Equally absurd about the Hackgate phenomenonis the vista of the sins of the past visitingand punishing the innocent of the present. Farfrom being properly condemned as the impulsivevandalism, cynical business move, and destructivecensorship by a foreign press baron, Rupert Murdoch‘sshutting down of the News of the Worldwas fast hand clapped by Britain’s liberal intelligentsia.The Foreign Secretary William Haguesaid ‘sad, but necessary’ in a live two way fromBenghazi. And so George Orwell‘s 1946 observation:It is Sunday afternoon preferably before thewar. The wife is already asleep in the armchairand the children have been sent out fora nice long walk. You put your feet up on thesofa, settle your spectacles on your nose andopen the News of the World,is now consigned to an obscure and forgottenfootnote of popular cultural history.Brilliant and fascinating papersIn reflecting on the brilliant and fascinatingpapers given at the conference I have been leftwondering whether we might have a choicebetween modernism as antithetical to censorshipand a celebration of the anti-social and the art ofthe scoundrel and the rascal…and postmodernism,as the nihilistic indifference to freedom anda collage of the past to mask the present.The morning keynote address was provided byProfessor Brian Cathcart, of Kingston University– also accompanied by a cheerful brood of hisstudents – in which he explored the methodologyand modus operandi of developing a professionalindividual responsibility for journaliststhrough source trailing.Professor Cathcart is part of the ‘Hacked Off’campaign and very much an intelligent critic,along with the Media Standards Trust, of journalisticirresponsibility. ‘Hacked Off’, and in particularthe Guardian journalist Nick Davies andthe solicitor Mark Lewis, ably and courageouslyfought to challenge the denials, obfuscationsand false-consciousness of the country’s mediaand political establishment who had hoped thatthe 2006-2007 inquiry, prosecution and convictionof one journalist and one private detectivewere all that was needed and representative interms of discretionary policing.In my opinion Professor Cathcart and his associatescannot be blamed for the problems of boomerang:the disproportionate political and legalreaction to this scandal. They must be praised foriconoclastic campaigning, investigative journalismand outstanding legal advocacy.We cannot forget, as he took an opportunity ofreminding us in the afternoon, that Hackgate isnot just about super-rich indulgent celebritieshaving their silly private lives tittled and tattledabout. The events include the unlawful interceptionand manipulation of the phone messagesof a child abduction and murder victim, MillyDowler, the victims of modern day terrorismin London and possibly New York City, and thepotential interference and obstruction of a murderinquiry into a man slaughtered in a pub carpark in Sydenham whose body was left with anaxe embedded in his skull.Improving media accountabilityDr Damien Carney, Principal Lecturer in theSchool of Law at Portsmouth Business School,constructively discussed methods of improvingmedia accountability through regulation. Heemphasised the importance and advantage ofactively involving the National Union of Journalistsand balancing regulation with media freedomand rights scrutiny and protection.Sean Dodson, Senior Lecturer in Journalism atLeeds Metropolitan University, presented animpressive analysis of the need to develop arelevant and effective self-regulatory code forjournalists on the internet. He made some compellingreferences to codes agreed by US mediainstitutions that seem to be much more progressiveand alert to the new world of contemporarymultimedia journalistic practice.He also reminded us that there are many aspectsof US journalistic and online culture with muchhigher and stringent standards of integrity. UKjournalists should read the code of ethics for TheNew York Times and National Public Radio to discoverhow the US tradition of establishing andmaintaining trust between journalists and audiencehas a longer and more effective trail.NEWS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 5


John Mair, chair of ICE, passionately articulateda compelling charge against those responsiblefor Hackgate and a tribute to the warriorsshaking News International to its foundations.Rupert Murdoch’s operation as a media magnatebetween the 20th and 21st centuries, like that ofhis predecessor press barons, leaves a nasty andambiguous legacy.Business success and profits have sustained ailingnational titles and expanded broadcastingsatellite employment and provision. But thevery brakes that a strong trade union presencein mentoring and ethical regulation could haveprovided were long destroyed and dismantledwhen he divided and ruled the NUJ chapels ofhis Fleet Street assets in the middle 1980s to skedaddleto his notorious industrial theme park inWapping.Professor John Tulloch, of Lincoln University, wasa veritable high and cream tea mid-morning.Lovingly pressing his fingers against anthologiesof Charles Dickens’ journalism, Tulloch revealedthat hacks and coppers have been ‘at it’ from thevery beginnings of mass media newspaper publicationand modern policing that the creator ofChuzzlewit, Little Nell, Uriah Heap, and OliverTwist actually campaigned for in the mid-19thcentury.Cultural and intellectual treatProfessor Tulloch was a cultural and intellectualtreat, academic and scholarly nectar, and gave usa little flavour of the riches that undergraduateand postgraduate students at Lincoln must haveon a more regular basis.As he self-effacingly referred to his research as‘work in progress’ and extemporised with preciseand entertaining academic prose on Dickens’ roleas journalist, magazine editor, and his apparenthappy financial investment in MetropolitanPolice story provision, he left us with a compassionateentreaty for the tolerance of the journalisticrascal and scoundrel through the ages.Healthy sandwiches, mineral water, orange juice,coffee and biscuits for lunch were followed byRichard Peppiatt, former reporter for the DailyStar. Peppiatt could have been type-cast as therepentant tabloid hack, but in fact he contributedstrongly to the debate with intelligent analysisin a Baudrillardian frame of simulacra and hisrealisation that those working within a tabloidnewsroom need greater insight and awarenessof the difference between ‘journalism’ and ‘storytelling’. Both are creative enterprises, but the formerneeds ethics and responsibility.Peppiatt is no stranger to Goldsmiths. On his lastvisit there, he ‘confessed’ to infiltrating the firstdays of teaching in the history department of thePrincess Beatrice as part of his reporting dutiesfor a national ‘newspaper’ covering the countryand the world with two or three foot sloggers.His presentation indicated considerable potentialas an academic lecturer. If it is within hispersonal ambition, I certainly think he deserves afair run of intelligent journalism at the BBC or aGuardian-style media institution.Relationship between journalists and thebereavedJackie Newton, Senior Lecturer in Journalism atLiverpool John Moores University, and Dr SallyanneDuncan, Lecturer in Journalism and MediaEthics at the University of Strathclyde, revealedbrilliant research into journalistic use of socialmedia and the relationship between journalistsand the bereaved. This is just the kind of informationneeded at the Leveson Inquiry.They have quietly and professionally exploredand researched the practices of regional journalists,who of course, make up the majority ofBritish journalistic publication, and who do notappear to be properly represented at Leveson.What they discovered, and I apologise for simplifyingor not comprehensively reflecting thecomplexity of their study, is that:1) the bereaved need journalists and appreciatetheir interest; particularly when most of their sufferingis caused by the criminal justice system andnot the media;2) overblown construction and expectation of‘privacy’ for the bereaved should not result inany self-censorial journalistic avoidance of thebereaved;3) there is an active contestation and debateabout the ethics of using material from socialmedia sites without the permission of bereavedfamilies even though they appear to be publicspaces, when in fact they are perceived by manyrelatives of ‘victims’ to belong to Habermasian‘intimate space’.Dr Eamonn O’Neill, Programme Director of theMSc in Investigative Journalism at the Universityof Strathclyde, explored the complexities of challengingthe rule of law when pursuing a publicinterest that can be supported and confirmed as‘a greater good’.It requires professional discipline, strong andsupportive editorial and legal supervision, and6 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012NEWS


something I have been advising colleagues andstudents for many years: the need to protectsources and confidential information throughdigital safeguarding, counter-surveillance techniquesand putting controversial material in aprotective shield beyond the British legal jurisdiction.Working undercoverDr O’Neill spoke with authority and referencedsome of his own case histories working undercover(though in one case he used his own name:it seems nobody bothered to Google him!)exposing a miscarriage of justice and meeting arenegade MI5 agent abroad for the purposes ofjournalism. Digital finger-printing can, of course,work both ways. It seems his blog is regularlyvisited by somebody at the Home Office and heis tempted to increase the boredom level of hispostings in anticipation of the apparent surveillance.David Baines and Joel Stein of Newcastle Universitypresented more detailed qualitative andquantitative research into the potential problematicalrelationship between a regional businessdaily and the Northern Rock, then a majoremployer, investor and political and social institution.‘Don’t imagine,’ said Professor Luckhurst, ‘thatthe readers of the Daily Star are not perfectlyaware of what they are buying and reading. Ispeak as somebody who went from comprehensiveschool to Cambridge University and wouldnot for one minute wish to patronise the kind ofpeople who know what is real news and entertainingstory telling.’Why did Hackgate happen – and what is thesolution?The debate acknowledged the risk of moralentrepreneurs giving Hackgate an importancethat was disproportionate to the problems itrevealed. A reference was made to the weaponsof mass destruction scandal and the Chilcotinquiry. Surely more important? Points and argumentswere robustly and respectfully made andthen Professor Richard Lance Keeble, continuallygrabbing my copy of the last edition of the Newsof the World to highlight the quotation fromGeorge Orwell, got everyone in a circle, distinguishedprofessors included, to reflect on whydid Hackgate happen and what is the solution?Never being one to avoid getting in a last wordor two, I piped up: ‘Ego, fear and ambition’ andleft it to the other half circle to suggest somereforms and amelioration.As I found when presenting a broadcast businessprogramme many years ago, there was not a lotof scope for ideological questioning of the fruitsof capitalism, high profit and short-term bankingpractices. Baines and Stein’s exploration of‘myth-making on the business pages’ remindedeveryone that the world’s financial crisis haspowerful and compelling dimensions in the localand regional frame of journalism.The final, and I think, most powerful presentationof the day came from Professor Tim Luckhurstof the University of Kent. He warned convincinglythat Leveson and the wider crisis ofjournalism standards, ethics and illegality riskedmissing the target and ignoring the prize. Expensiveand invaluable public interest journalismneeds a new business model. The present one isfailing. What does a nihilistic endgame attack onNews International achieve? The Times is keptalive by the Sun. The success of the News of theWorld and others like it cross-pollinate across themedia industry that is dying from new media, thefiduciary drainage of media legal and compliancesettlements and many other climate changedimensions in economies of scale and social andmedia consumption.Solutions that do not cut journalism below theknees, as one of my colleagues once graphicallydescribed it, are difficult to find. But if therewas a consensus emerging, I thought it was theempowerment of the individual journalist’s ‘conscienceclause’ in regulation and employmentcontracts, long campaigned for by the NUJ. It isa low cost and non-punitive popularist option. Ithas the advantage of confronting the oppressionof aggressive and unethical media managementsdemanding ‘rat-like cunning’ with the ends justifyinga doubtful means culture. The battle zonewould be employment tribunals.• The conference was superbly organisedby Fiona Thompson and twittered as#ICE2011Tim Crook is Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths,University of London,specialising in Media Law, Ethics and Radio.NEWS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 7


John SteelThis interest was pursued in my PhD whichsought to understand how the various justificationsfor free speech were incorporated intothe ideological schemas and political contestationsof the nineteenth century and how thesewere articulated in the media of the day. It isthis connection between ideas and praxis thatI’ve attempted to explore in Journalism and freespeech, given journalism’s necessary relationshipwith this concept and its application as freedomof the press.Examining therelationship betweenfree speech andfreedom of the pressFree speech and freedom of the press are oftenconflated ideas, with the latter, in particular,lacking a clear conceptual and historical framing.In his recently published book Journalismand free speech (Routledge), John Steel examinesthe historical and philosophical relationshipbetween journalism, free speech and freedom ofthe press in light of contemporary debates andproblems related to media freedom, regulationand censorship. Here he outlines his motivationsfor writing the book and its main argumentsMotivationsThe development of political ideas and howthey come to be articulated in the ‘real world’of politics have always been at the forefront ofmy intellectual concerns. Perversely this interesthas intensified in recent years in an era in whichwe have arguably set ourselves adrift from therisky endeavour of pursuing ‘moral clarity’, toborrow from Neiman (2009) and embraced theuneasy comfort, though arguably limited gains,offered by grand political pragmatism or oppositionalmoments. Political ‘praxis’, I would suggest,is missing from contemporary politics withlittle sign of making a significant return. Thiswork then is an attempt to remind readers ofthe link between ‘big’ ideas, in this case ideasabout freedom of speech, and their applicationin historical and contemporary contexts.I came to the study of free speech after beingprompted by my undergraduate tutor, an experton J. S. Mill, to look at how Mill’s On liberty laidthe foundations of our modern conceptions ofthe realms of individual liberty and the appropriatelimits of state and social power. Fromreading Mill I became fascinated with the rangeof justifications for and limits to free speech.Main argumentsI take the view that both historical contextualisationand philosophical analysis are fundamentallyimportant to our understanding of contemporaryissues, particularly in the realm of politicsand it is this dual approach that I have soughtto expand upon and apply in the book. The centralclaim then is to assert a reconnection withthe historical and philosophical development of‘free speech’ as an ethical and political principlein order to remind ourselves of its virtues, its limitsand importantly how such a concept has beenand continues to be subject to misdirection andmisapplication.The philosophical and historical development offreedom of speech and its relationship to ideasabout freedom of the press are explored in thefirst two chapters of the book. Here I assertthat journalism’s relationship to the principleof freedom of the press has historically becomecontorted which in essence has severed the linkbetween it and its conceptual kin – free speech.Judith Lichtenberg (1987), of course, addressedthe conflation of press freedom and free speechand the consequences of such slippage on ourunderstanding of both notions. Yet I suggestthat a re-statement and re-articulation of thefunctions of these two concepts is required toremind us of their value and their fragility.The remainder of the book is centred uponjournalism and the debates which relate to itspolitical, social, cultural and civic functions, allanalysed through the conceptual prism of freespeech. Here I concern myself with constraints,both formal and informal, which are intended,though not always successfully, to balance freespeech with other important considerations, bethey security, privacy, protection from ‘harm’and so on.Of course, in the wake of ‘Hackgate’ freedomof the press is under pressure. The LevesonInquiry into the practices and ethics of the pressis underway as I write and the clamour for thepress to ‘get its house in order’ once and for all8 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012ARTICLES


grows seemingly day by day. What this scandalhas done has brought into sharp focus the disconnectbetween the essence of freedom of thepress with its strong civic dimension and the marketimperatives which drive much contemporaryjournalism. This book historically contextualisesthis dynamic and argues that the principle andpraxis of freedom of the press should be re-connectedto the civic and democratic ethos whichunderscores the principle of free speech.ReferencesLichtenberg, J. (1987) The foundations and limits of freedom of thepress, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 4 pp 329-355Mill, J. S. (1991 [1859]) On liberty, Oxford, Oxford University PressNeiman, S. (2009) Moral clarity, London, the Bodley HeadNote on the ContributorDr. John Steel is a Lecturer in the Department of Journalism Studiesat the University of Sheffield. He has published in the areas ofmedia historiography, popular journalism, technology and journalismand journalism education. Contact details: Department of JournalismStudies, University of Sheffield, 18-22 Regent Street, SheffieldS1 3NJ. E-mail: j.steel@sheffield.ac.uk.ARTICLES Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 9


Reeta ToivanenMedia watchdogs:Countering themainstream’s armourof smugnessReeta Toivanen summarises the contents of herBA dissertation looking at media watchdogs,their influence on the media – and press’s representationof themThe study examined the process of mediaaccountability and media criticism as practisedby three media watchdog organisations in theUnited Kingdom: the Campaign for Press andBroadcasting Freedom 1 , MediaWise 2 and MediaLens 3 .Literature reviewThe literature review demonstrated that investigationsinto media watchdog organisationsare fundamentally based on issues of mediaaccountability. There is currently no clear understandingof what media watchdogs are or shouldbe: should they be regarded as media critics,pressure groups or media activists? Thus, theliterature review discussed the overlap betweenmedia accountability, media critics and mediawatchdogs as pressure groups.This discussion revealed that there are cleargaps in the current knowledge about the roleof media watchdog organisations in the UK:their work, purpose and effectiveness in relationto the media, how that connects to issuessurrounding media accountability and mediacriticism, and how both the media and mediawatchdogs engage with those issues. Thus, thedissertation aimed to contribute to this situationby investigating how media watchdogs, bothas pressure groups and as critics, engage withmedia accountability and their potential impacton the media.Research methodsThe main aim of the research was to explore thesocial process and institutions of media accountabilityand criticism in relation to the threemedia watchdogs. With this aim in mind, thefollowing research questions were drawn up:• what role do they play in the UK, particularlyin relation to the mainstreammedia and the public in general?• how do the watchdogs themselvesunderstand their roles in mediaaccountability?• how do the mainstream media regardthe watchdogs?Based on the research questions, three differentmethods were chosen for the study: interviewswith the organisations, content analysis ofnewspaper and magazine articles, and discourseanalysis of a small subsample of the articlesfrom the content analysis. Interviews were chosenbecause they can help to produce an overallpicture of the organisations, their work andthe social world they inhabit. However, they donot say much about what kind of actors theseorganisations are seen as and depicted as by themainstream media.Therefore, a content analysis of UK publicationsthrough the Nexis database was undertaken toreveal if the organisations are given a voice inthe first place and thus what kind of actors theyare depicted as. Finally, a discourse analysis of sixrepresentative articles was undertaken to showin more detail how the media regard the organisations.Summary of findingsThe first part of the study explored the workof the organisations as pressure groups andmedia critics and it was shown that the organisationsdeployed a plethora of different strategieswhich were used in their work on mediaaccountability, despite the fact that some ofthem did not consider the theme as a priorityin their work. It was also shown that the organisations’engagement with media accountabilityfrom outside the industry constituted them asexternal M*A*Ss: a non-state means of improvingthe media, working outside the industry andworking on media accountability without theindustry’s acceptance (Bertrand 2003: 22-23).Under Bertrand’s typology all the three watchdogsare classified as ‘associations of militantcitizens’: media users who try to influence themedia via a number of strategies, such as appealsto law-makers, letter-writing campaigns, complaintsto regulatory systems, evaluations etc.(2000: 119). Finally, it was argued that thework of watchdogs in trying to hold the mediaaccountable was often reactive in nature.10 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012ARTICLES


The second part of the findings explored theorganisations’ relationship to their audiences,particularly in relation to the media. This wasdone by examining the results of the contentanalysis. It was suggested that the media weredismissive of the organisations. But it was alsoshown that when the media did use them intheir coverage they seemed to value the organisationsas sources, because they were oftenquoted and their opinions and comments wereneutrally reported. Despite the often negativeattitude from the media, press coverage of thewatchdogs was actually mostly neutral towardsthem. Almost 77 per cent of the articles wereneutral towards the groups and only 9 per centwere negative and 11 per cent positive.However, when these figures were brokendown in terms of individual groups, a slightlydifferent picture emerged. Almost 96 per centof the articles where CPBF was mentioned wereneutral towards the group. Similarly, MediaWisewas regarded neutrally in 85 per cent of the articles.This trend was also evident in the discourseanalysis which showed that CPBF and MediaWisewere represented fairly neutrally and portrayedas authorities. Analysis of representational strategiesshowed that in terms of representation ofsocial actors the articles either did not use anylabels or names for CPBF and MediaWise or elsethey were referred to as ‘press freedom campaigner’(Nousratpour 2010), ‘pressure group’or ‘media watchdog’ (Robinson 2006).In other words, the groups were either namedaccurately in terms of the types of organisationsthey are or they were ‘impersonalised’. FollowingVan Leeuwen’s (1996) inventory of howsocial actors can be classified, ‘impersonalising’social actors – i.e. treating them as institutions– gives more weight to their statements. Thelabels assigned to the groups also confirmedthis since they fairly accurately match the typesof organisations they are. This combined withthe fact that naming social actors can have animpact on how they are perceived (Fairclough2003) means that these labels then representthe organisations neutrally since they match thereality.The quoting verbs used in relation to the twogroups also highlighted this attitude. The word‘said’ was most often used in relation to thestatements made by CPBF and MediaWise (Travis2003, Andrews 2010, Nousratpour 2010). Theword ‘said’ is what Caldas-Coulthard’s (1994)typology of quoting verbs categorised as neutralstructuring verbs which introduce a sayingwithout evaluating it explicitly. In conclusion,CPBF and MediaWise were portrayed neutrallyand authoritatively, which confirmed the findingsof the content analysis.The exception was often Media Lens which thestudy showed being covered more negativelythan the other two organisations, being used asa source less frequently, and being mentionedless in the news pages. Whilst it was still mostlyregarded neutrally – in 46 per cent of the articles– there was a much higher percentage of negativecoverage in comparison to the other two: 23per cent versus 4 per cent for MediaWise and 2per cent for CPBF. Furthermore, Media Lens wasmostly portrayed in negative terms through lexicalchoices and representational strategies. Thelexical analysis revealed that Media Lens was discussedin negative and oppositional language.Portraying Media Lens in negative and oftenpatronising terms was used to undermine itsauthority and deny it any legitimacy as a socialactor. By doing that, the media implied thatMedia Lens should not be taken seriously and isnot worth engaging with.It was suggested that this finding was in linewith the prevalent literature on the mainstreammedia’s reaction to their critics. However, MediaLens was also shown to be an exception in termsof media’s reaction. Extensive evidence suggestedthat Media Lens had had an impact on workingjournalists, even if only to a limited extend.Neither of the other two organisations seemedto have been able to capture the media’s attentionto the same extent as Media Lens had.Watchdog’s influence on the mediaThe third part of the study discussed the watchdogs’influence on the media and suggested thatthe media is not entirely dismissive of the watchdogsand often regard them in neutral terms.The findings showed that the watchdogs werequoted directly in 47 per cent of the articles andmost often (32 per cent) appeared in news sections(as opposed to culture, comment, reviewsetc). But again, Media Lens was the exception.Whereas MediaWise and CPBF were mentionedin the news sections (49 per cent and 43 percent of the time respectively), Media Lens wasonly mentioned in 7 per cent of the articles inthe news sections. Instead, it was most often (30per cent) mentioned in the opinion and letterspages. Furthermore, in just over a third of thearticles (35 per cent) they were used as a primaryor a secondary source and in total they wereused as a source in 68 per cent of the articles.This shows that the media do not ignore themcompletely; they actually give them a voice.ARTICLES Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 11


Furthermore, whilst some of the data discussedabove showed that the watchdogs have had animpact on the media coverage, thus suggestingthat the media is not entirely dismissive ofthem, the total coverage is not very extensive.Most of the articles appeared in only a fewnewspapers and magazines: Morning Star (21per cent), the Guardian (20 per cent) and NewStatesman (17 per cent). The rest of the mainstreammedia only mentioned them on averagein 1-5 articles. In addition to the three publicationsmentioned above, only the Independent,and the Times Higher Education reached a tenarticle threshold, which translated to 4 per centof the coverage. That being said, biggest circulationpublications – i.e. what could generally beconsidered national media (the Daily Mail, theIndependent, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian,the Mirror, the Observer, the Sun and TheTimes) – were responsible for half of the coverage(50 per cent).Furthermore, a total of 248 articles means thaton average there were only two articles permonth over the ten-year period of study thatmentioned the watchdogs. The significance ofthis becomes clear when it is considered thatthe reason why media coverage is consideredimportant is because it can affect the success ofinterest group efforts (Thrall 2006) and it canalso legitimise actors (Andsager 2000). Thus,the fact that the media coverage of the watchdogswas quite infrequent and minimal in mostof the papers, suggests that the watchdogs arenot generally seen as, what Davis (2002) called,‘legitimate’ sources.But gaining media coverage was not necessarilythe most appropriate way of defining influenceof the three organisations because they donot look at their own work in terms of mediacoverage or being effective in specific targets. Itwas shown that goal orientation was not part ofhow they defined themselves as organisations.The work itself was considered valuable enoughin its own right for the watchdogs. For example,Tim Gopsill was not very concerned about beingcovered by the media because CPBF was notdriven by publicity, and he was not convincedthat media coverage would help the group’swork (Gopsill 2011).Furthermore, both CPBF and Media Lens arguedthat because they are not goal and target orientedorganisations, they do not measure effectivenessor success in achieving certain objectives.Gopsill argued that it is the general valueof the work ‘for its own sake’ that matters andthat the organisation’s basic existence is worthit in itself because it provides a ‘countervailingforce’ in public discourse against the media companies(ibid). A similar sentiment was expressedby Media Lens (2011).It was finally suggested that, because the inherentvalue of the work means that they play animportant role as M*A*Ss in the UK, they weredeemed more honourable than influential. Thiswas found to be similar to other studies on theinfluence of other media accountability systems.ConclusionThe study highlighted the challenges of workingas media watchdogs in the contemporary mediaenvironment – with sometimes hostile mediaand little influence over the media. But thatdoes not diminish the general value of the workof these organisations. There is some evidence tosuggest that enough of the public and a numberof media professionals appreciate the work ofthese organisations. The study also highlightedthe need for more evaluative research on mediawatchdogs in the UK particularly about theireffectiveness. The number of ‘media-watchers’is growing which makes it important to understandwhat kind of effects they might have onthe media environment.But the fact that these organisations mightnot have any idea of how effective they actuallyare, makes effectiveness an interestingand important area of research. Not only couldmedia research benefit from such studies (forexample, by deepening the understanding ofmedia accountability systems), the organisationsthemselves could benefit since the researchcould help them to reflect on and improve theirwork. Therefore, future research should lookmore analytically into the effectiveness of mediawatchdog organisations.ReferenceAndrews, A. (2010) BSkyB warning over News Corp inquiry, SundayTelegraph, 21 November pp 1-2Andsager, J. L. (2000) How interest groups attempt to shape publicopinion with competing news frames, Journalism and Mass CommunicationQuarterly, Vol. 77, No. 3 pp 577-592Bertrand, C.-J. (2000) Media ethics and accountability systems, NewBrunswick, NJ, Transaction PublishersBertrand, C.-J. (2003) A predicament and three solutions, Bertrand,C.-J. (ed.) An arsenal for democracy: Media accountability systems,Cresskill, NJ, Hampton Press pp 3-16Caldas-Coulthard, C. (1994) On reporting reporting: The representationof speech in factual and factional narratives, M. Coulthard (ed.)Advances in written text analysis, London, Routledge pp 295-308Davis, A. (2002) Public relations democracy: Public relations, politicsand the mass media in Britain, Manchester, Manchester UniversityPress12 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012ARTICLES


Fairclough, N. (2003) Analysing discourse: Textual analysis for socialresearch, London, RoutledgeGopsill, T. (2011) Interview with the author on 3 FebruaryMedia Lens. (2011) Interview conducted via email by the author on23 FebruaryNousratpour, L. (2010) Cable blocks Murdoch’s Sky Bid, MorningStar, 5 NovemberO’Neill, B. (2006) Pressuring the press, Spectator, 4 February pp47-48Robinson, J. (2006) To print or not to print, Observer, 8 January p.11Travis, A. (2003) Derision greets BBC plan to turn asylum into a game,Guardian, 31 May p. 1Van Leeuwen, T. (1996) The representation of social actors, Caldas-Coulthard, C. R. and Coulthard, M. (eds) Texts and practices: Readingsin critical discourse analysis, London, Routledge pp 32-70Notes1 See www.cpbf.org.uk2 See www.mediawise.org.uk3 See www.medialens.orgThrall, A. T. (2006) The myth of the outside strategy: Mass mediacoverage of interest groups, Political Communication, Vol. 23, No.4 pp 407-420ARTICLES Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 13


Kate Fitchinclude considerable stigma and misconceptionsabout these issues in the community (Herrman,Saxena and Moodie 2004, ConNeticaConsulting 2010).Communicatingmental illness andsuicide: Publicrelations students’perceptions of ethicalpracticeMental illness and suicide are complex issueswhich have significant social and economicimplications. This study investigates the perceptionsof public relations students in Australiatowards ethics, following exposureto resources developed to educate studentsabout the ethical challenges in communicatingmental health issues. The findings suggeststudents recognise ambiguity around ‘professional’ethics in relation to these issues; theneed for personal responsibility in ethical publicrelations practice; that ethical developmentis incremental; and that they learn most effectivelythrough major assignments. The studyincludes recommendations for the teachingof ethics in relation to complex issues such asmental healthKeywords: Public relations, ethics, education,mental illness, suicideIntroductionMental illness and suicide are significant socialissues. For example, in Australia mental illnessis estimated to cost the economy A$20 billioneach year (Council of Australian Governments2006). More people die from suicide than fromthe combined total of motor vehicle accidentsand homicide in Australia, where it is the leadingcause of death for men aged under 44 andwomen aged under 34, and suicides cost theeconomy an estimated A$17.5 billion annually(ConNetica Consulting 2009, 2010). These figuresdo not address the social and emotionalimpact on family, friends and work colleagues.Challenges in addressing mental health issuesThe Response Ability Project for Public RelationsEducation is managed by the Hunter Institutefor Mental Health, a not-for-profit organisationfunded by the Australian government as part ofthe Mindframe National Media Initiative. Theproject develops teaching resources for highereducation so that public relations graduates,as future communication practitioners, willbe more aware of, and able to respond sensitivelyand appropriately to, issues relating tomental illness and suicide in professional contexts.A pilot study was run in several universitiesin 2009 (Mason and Skehan 2009), and theresources made widely available to Australianpublic relations educators in 2010.This study investigates the recognition by finalyearpublic relations students of professionalethics, and of the communication challengesaround mental illness and suicide, following theuse of Response Ability resources. The aim ofthis research is to investigate how public relationsstudents respond to the introduction ofcomplex social issues such as suicide and mentalillness in their curricula in order to understandthe pedagogical and curricular implications.The broader issue is the need to understandhow students recognise professional responsibilityand, indeed, the ethical challenges whichthey may need to engage with in their futurecareers.The study makes specific recommendationsregarding the teaching of ethics and ethicalpractice, particularly in relation to social issuesaround mental health, to public relations students.The research design uses surveys and afocus group to investigate students’ knowledgeafter exposure to Response Ability resourcesin at least two units (i.e. the discrete subjectswhich make up the public relations major).The findings allow the development of recommendationsfor teaching public relations ethicsin higher education, particularly in relation tocomplex and sensitive social issues such as mentalillness and suicide.BackgroundPublic relations and ethicsPublic relations educators and professionalassociations differ in their perceptions of publicrelations ethics (Breit and Demetrious 2010).For example, ethical practice in the industry isorientated towards the client, profit and com-14 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


petitive advantage; however in public relationseducation, where public relations is perceived asa communication (rather than a management)discipline, there is more focus on the broadersocial role of public relations (Breit and Demetrious2010). One issue is that public relationsis potentially very powerful in terms of shapingpublic opinion, and can have a significantimpact on community attitudes and behaviour(Bowen 2005), meaning ‘practitioners have theobligation to act…in a socially responsible way’(Starck and Kruckeberg 2003: 37). Fitzpatrickand Gauthier argue ‘ethical standards [should]include considerations such as the welfare ofothers, the avoidance of injustice, respect forself and others, and the common good’ (2001:198). Public relations education must thereforeconsider the practitioner’s ethical responsibilities‘to yourself as a person, your professionand the wider community’ (Breit 2007: 308).Public relations, education and mental healthMental illness and suicide are complex issueswhich have significant economic and socialimplications. In 2007 in Australia, one in fivepeople suffered a mental disorder, where amental disorder refers to an anxiety, mood orsubstance abuse disorder (Australian Bureauof Statistics [ABS] 2009). Suicide is the leadingcause of death in men aged under 44 and womenaged under 34 in Australia (ConNetica Consulting2010). Challenges in addressing mentalhealth issues include the considerable stigmaassociated with mental illness and suicide anda lack of accurate information about mentalhealth in the community.Public relations practitioners may play a role,by recognising the need to develop sociallyresponsible and ethical communication practicesto reduce stigma and discrimination aroundmental health issues in the community; to bemindful of the link between communicatingspecific information around suicide and thepotential for copycat behaviour; and to recognisethat public relations practitioners may haveto make choices regarding ‘the use of appropriatelanguage, branding and promotions,communication materials, managing mediarelations and managing your clients, colleaguesand partners,’ where a knowledge of thesecomplex social issues can influence sociallyresponsible practice (Hunter Institute of MentalHealth 2010a: 1).Mental health issues, therefore, raise ethicalchallenges for public relations practitionerswho must consider the social impact of theircommunication activity. These issues also challengepublic relations educators as researchsuggests many students fail to make the connectionbetween practical tasks and academiclearning, or to demonstrate reflexivity aroundtheir role and responsibilities as future professionals(Fitch 2011). In addition, ‘students learnwhen they build on their previous experiences,have authentic learning tasks and engage inmeaningful activity, and have social interactionand critical dialogue around social issues’ (Cooper,Orrell and Bowden 2010: 49). The challengefor educators is to design a curriculum whichencourages a ‘critical dialogue around socialissues’ such as mental illness and suicide.The Response Ability for Public Relations EducationprojectThe Mindframe National Media Initiative wasdeveloped in response to a growing body ofresearch, which demonstrated certain representationsof suicide in the media could influencethe risk of copycat behaviour in vulnerablepeople (Pirkis and Blood 2001, 2010) andthat media representations tended to portraymental illness in negative and stereotypicalways (Pirkis et al 2001, Pirkis et al 2008), whichcan influence community attitudes and lead tostigma and discrimination. The Response Abilityproject began in 1998 and aimed to influencejournalism education to promote the responsibleand accurate representation of suicideand mental illness in the media; it developed arange of multimedia resources for use in teaching(Sheridan Burns and Hazell 1998, Greenhalghand Hazell 2005, Skehan, Sheridan Burnsand Hazell 2009).PAPERSIn 2009, six Australian universities participatedin a pilot project, Response Ability for PublicRelations Education, and the resources weremade more widely available in 2010 (see www.responseability.org). The website provides curriculumresources, including case studies, factsheets, and discussion questions for both lecturersand students, and is designed to introducestudents to the ethical issues involved in communicatingabout mental illness and suicide.According to the Hunter Institute of MentalHealth, ‘the aim of the resources is to enhancethe knowledge and skills of students so they areprepared to respond appropriately to communicationissues surrounding suicide and mentalillness’ (2010b).Public relations educators found the ResponseAbility resources ‘useful, easy to use, of highquality and well presented’ (Mason and Skehan2009: 19). Students found the resources interestingand relevant, but few accessed the web-PAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 15


Kate Fitchsite or demonstrated improved knowledge ofcommunication issues concerning mental illnessand suicide (ibid). In addition, students oftenfailed to recognise the issues in terms of theirrelevance for communication ethics and professionalpractice; rather they continued to offerresponses to survey questions which suggestedinterpersonal communication with individualswho were either experiencing a mental illnessor considering suicide (ibid).MethodologyThis study investigates how students perceiveethics in public relations in relation to mentalillness and suicide. The investigation providesuseful insights for incorporating ethics intopublic relations curricula, particularly in relationto communicating complex social issues such asmental health. The research design employs asurvey and a small focus group, which allows acomplex and potentially controversial topic tobe managed with sensitivity (Daymon and Holloway2011). The researcher’s university grantedethics approval (ethics permit 2011/009). Inorder to maintain a distinction between students’unit assessment and their participationin this research, students were recruited froma final-year unit where the researcher had noteaching role.Participation in the research was voluntary. Forty-fivestudents completed a survey regardingtheir attitudes towards, and their awarenessof, mental health issues in relation to publicrelations practice. Students responded to openendedquestions designed to assess knowledgeof the Response Ability principles, understandingof ethics, and how their studies contributedto that understanding. A thematic analysiswas conducted to identify dominant and subdominantthemes. In addition, units identifiedby students as useful in developing theirunderstanding of ethical practice in relation tomental illness and suicide were ranked in termsof frequency. Students also rated their level ofagreement with a number of statements aboutpublic relations practice. The researcher recodedresponses into a nominal scale of disagree/agree and used chi-square to investigate demographicdifferences.Following initial coding of the surveys, eightundergraduate students were invited to participatein a focus group; four students (two female,two male) accepted. A focus group offers ‘richdata that is cumulative and elaborative’ (Fontanaand Frey 2000: 652) to emerge from theinteraction between participants (Krueger andCasey 2000), allowing the researcher to investigatein more depth the themes which emergedfrom the surveys. An independent facilitatorled the focus group discussion regarding professionaland personal understandings of ethicsin relation to communication and mentalhealth, using stimulus material (a hypotheticalscenario involving the suicide of a colleagueand the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s[PRIA] Individual Code of Ethics) to encouragestudents to discuss the ethical issues andresponsibilities from a public relations perspective.The discussion was recorded using a digitalvoice recorder and transcribed. The transcriptionwas analysed in terms of the dominant andsub-dominant themes. As a form of memberchecking,a two-page summary of the analysiswas offered to focus group participants (Lincolnand Guba 1985). Participants agreed thatthe summary accurately represented the focusgroup discussion.Scope and limitations of the studyThis study reports public relations student perceptionsof ethical challenges in relation to mentalillness and suicide. Participants are enrolledin a public relations degree located in a communicationschool at an Australian university;their responses may not be generalisable.The research project investigated more broadlystudent understandings of professional ethics.However, the focus of this paper is the studentresponse to the introduction of mentalhealth topics, and their perceptions of the ethicalimplications for public relations practice.Although focus groups are not usually consideredappropriate for sensitive topics (Fontanaand Frey 2000), a small focus group is suitablefor complex, potentially contentious topics(Daymon and Holloway 2011) and may be morecomfortable for the participants (Krueger andCasey 2000). Focus groups ‘take various formsdepending on their purposes’ (Fontana andFrey 2000: 651) and can be as small as two orthree people (Wilkinson 2004, Daymon andHolloway 2011).Knowledge of mental health issues in relationto professional communicationKnowledge of Response Ability principlesFollowing exposure to Response Ability resources,many students articulated the need to be‘sensitive’ when communicating about mentalillness and suicide. However, the survey resultssuggested they could not demonstrate knowledgeof the specific guidelines in the resources.For example, participants were asked to: ‘namethree things that are important to considerwhen communicating about suicide’. Despite16 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


exposure to the resources in at least two units,89 per cent of participants could not give threeanswers consistent with Response Ability principles.Eleven per cent of students could givethree answers, and a further 53 per cent couldgive some (i.e. one or two) responses consistentwith the principles. Similarly, participants wereasked to: ‘name three things that are importantto consider when communicating about mentalillness’. Ninety-three per cent gave answers notconsistent with Response Ability principles. Sevenper cent of students could give three answersconsistent with Response Ability principles, anda further 56 per cent could give some (i.e. oneor two) responses consistent with ResponseAbility principles.As in the evaluation of the pilot study, a significantnumber of students understood the questionin terms of interpersonal communicationrather than the professional implications forpublic relations, suggesting the need for educatorsto emphasise professional obligations. Theproblem may relate to the way the questionwas worded as ‘the answers provided seemedto reflect that students believed the questionwas about talking directly to a person who isthinking about ending their life/has a mentalillness, rather than about communicating aboutthese issues from a public relations perspective’(Mason and Skehan 2009: 19).Communicating mental health issuesFocus group participants demonstrated familiaritywith the Response Ability principles, inthat they recognised the ethical implicationsfor the practitioners and knew to avoid conveyingspecific information regarding the locationand method of suicides and to encouragehelp-seeking behaviour: ‘You’re not allowedto put any details of how they did it, and youhave to provide contact numbers…for Lifelineand things like that.’ The students were askedif they found discussing complex scenarios suchas this useful in terms of their own learning andresponded positively: ‘Suicide, I think, is oneof the hardest issues to communicate aboutbecause it’s so sensitive’; and ‘Because these arethings that you may have to deal with whenyou get out into the world.’and that person, especially in this situation tothat person. And then there’s the responsibilityto yourself to act ethically too.’Professional ethics and mental health issuesThe students were critical of the Code of Ethicsproduced by the PRIA, primarily because itemphasised reputational issues for the industryrather than considered the social impact ofpublic relations activity: ‘It is mostly financialethics rather than…I don’t even know whatthe word would be…but I guess emotional ethics.’Focus group participants did not find thecode useful as an articulation of professionalethics, particularly following the discussion ofsuicide in the stimulus scenario: ‘I don’t findany of this relevant at all.’ At the same time,students acknowledged the difficulty in developinga code which would address the diversityof public relations practice. However, the needto consider the impact of public relations activityon others i.e. the social dimension of publicrelations was a strong topic of discussion. Studentsperceived an over-emphasis in the Codeof Ethics on risk and reputation management atthe expense of social responsibility.Students’ perceptions of ethics and educationDeveloping understandings of ethical practiceBoth survey and focus group participants perceivedthey learnt most about the communicationissues around mental illness and suicide bycompleting a major assignment on the topic:‘You actually have to make a decision whenyou are making the campaign, instead of justtalking about it.’ This finding echoes the resultsof a study which interviewed journalism studentswho had entered an award designedto encourage responsible reporting of mentalhealth: ‘The majority of students indicated thatthey had learnt more about suicide and mentalillness through their personal research in preparinga health or suicide piece,’ despite exposureto Response Ability resources in their studies(Romeo et al 2008: 127). Assessment tasksdefine learning objectives for students (Biggs2003); exposure at university to such tasks wasconsidered important by focus group participants:‘Because you don’t really learn that muchuntil you actually put it into practice.’PAPERSStudents also stated that they thought workingthrough such scenarios ‘reinforc[ed] reallyhow important it is to have certain ethicalguidelines’. Ultimately, students recognised theresponsibility for making socially responsibledecisions rests with the individual practitioner:‘The responsibility I think still stays with you –you have a responsibility to the [organisation]Eighty-nine per cent of students surveyedreported at least one unit from the public relationsprogramme as useful in developing theirunderstanding of ethical practice in relation tomental health issues. The most frequently citedunit was one which included a major assignmenton mental health the previous semester.The next most cited units were: one which par-PAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 17


Kate Fitchticipated in the Response Ability pilot studyin 2009 and continued to use the resources; areal-client unit, where students developed campaignsfor not-for-profit organisations; and aresearch unit, which introduced research ethicsand methodology. Neither of these unitsemployed Response Ability resources, althoughboth units encouraged students to consider thesocial impact and ethical implications of publicrelations activity.Focus group participants perceived the emphasison ethics in their public relations studies, incontrast to other disciplines, as important andvaluable. However, units from courses (such associology and commerce); journalism (whichhas used Response Ability journalism resourcesextensively); and public relations units whichhad not used Response Ability resources (suchas the real-client and research units) were identifiedby some students as contributing to theirunderstanding of ethics and ethical behaviourin public relations practice in relation to mentalhealth issues. This result is surprising, butconfirms that students perceive their developmentof professional responsibility and understandingof ethical practice builds on their priorlearning.Ethics of using mental health issues in teachingIt is important to acknowledge one surveyresponse, where a student wrote of their experienceof completing a major assignment relatingto mental health:I think I had a distasteful assignment lackingethical consideration based purely and onlyon choosing an assignment topic of mentalhealth – I learnt PR isn’t about ethics andteachers ‘teaching’ me about consideringpeople – an aim to offend NO-ONE is rubbish.I was disgusted with this assignment.to public relations practice. In the semesterprior to this study, one lecturer responded to asimilar concern about the use of mental healthas an assignment topic, justifying its inclusionbecause of its significance to, and insufficientawareness in, the community. These studentconcerns suggest careful planning across a curriculumneeds to occur to ensure that potentiallychallenging content, such as the ResponseAbility resources, are incorporated appropriatelyinto the structure of a degree, and are notover-used, i.e. a programme-wide approachto the introduction of the resources should beadopted.Cultural diversity and mental health issuesSurvey participants viewed ethics as sensitivityto, or empathy with, others: ‘Ethics, to me,is consideration of other genders, religiousbeliefs, politics, etcetera and the ability to maintaina compassionate view of the world.’ Otherstudents extrapolated the idea of sensitivity toothers, by defining ethics as an awareness ofthe social impact of one’s actions or behaviour:‘the consideration of how our actions will affectothers.’ Most participants recognised that ethicsinvolved a determination of what was sociallyacceptable, with a significant cohort recognisingthat ethics would vary due to culture andcontext.Therefore, students perceived ethics as adynamic process, where ethics varies dependingon the particular social context. This findingsuggests that educators should be aware of thedifferent cultural experiences students bring tothe classroom (Billett 2004) and should highlightthe impact of culture and context on ethicsin their teaching. However, this paper doesnot advocate that a cultural relativist approachshould be adopted; rather, an understandingof socio-cultural contexts must be considered inrelation to ethics and public relations.Although this response was the only negativecomment received in the surveys (N = 45), itillustrates that some students find materialrelated to mental health issues confronting,posing a challenge for educators who may considerscaffolding the ethical communication ofmental health issues in a degree. The ResponseAbility project offers advice on teaching sensitivematerial, and recognises that some peoplefind the topics challenging.Although this issue may be resolved by offeringstudents a choice of assignments, such anapproach means not all graduates will developknowledge of mental health issues in relationStudents have diverse experiences, which influencetheir learning and their understanding ofethics. Although chi-square tests revealed littlestatistical significance in responses by demographicsfor most questions, in relation to thestatement: ‘public relations practitioners cannotbe responsible for the impact that theircampaigns may have on members of the community,such as those people living with mentalillness’, a higher proportion of Australianstudents were more likely to disagree with thisstatement than international students. Such differencesneed to be addressed in the classroom,particularly given the diversity of students in,and the increasing internationalisation of,18 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


public relations education. Teaching resourcesshould be multicultural, and introduce culturaldifference. In particular, understandings ofmental health and attitudes towards mental illnessand suicide vary across cultural, socio-economicand political contexts (Herrman, Saxenaand Moodie 2004: 20-23).Students in Malaysia, for example, are accustomedto graphic and detailed reporting of suicidein newspapers and may not recognise theimpact of such reporting on suicide rates. Theculturally diverse understandings of mental illnessand suicide need to be taken into accountwhen developing a public relations campaign.Embracing cultural diversity develops in studentsnot only an awareness of difference butalso explicitly the ways in which public relationspractice can be socially responsible and culturallyrelevant (Chia 2009).Implications for public relations educationThis study is concerned with the ethical challengesin relation to mental illness and suicidefor public relations, and makes some initial recommendationsfor educators to consider howthey teach ethics in relation to these issues.• Public relations activity needs to beconsidered in terms of its social impact(Starck and Kruckeberg 2003, Bowen2005, Breit and Demetrious 2010),both on a community and – in the caseof mental health issues – on vulnerablemembers of society (Fitzpatrick andGauthier 2001). Some students, andindeed, practitioners, assume that professionalresponsibility relates to effectivebusiness practice, neglecting thesocial elements implicit in both ‘socialresponsibility’ and ‘public relations.’• Practical and contextualised learningtasks allow students to apply theirunderstanding of ethics. If they areencouraged to reflect on and sharetheir responses to the task, studentshave the opportunity to develop theirknowledge of ethical communication.• Public relations educators should set amajor assessment item on mental illnessand suicide. In this way, studentswill research the field and integratetheory with their understanding ofprofessional practice. However, careshould be taken in curriculum planningnot to introduce multiple majorassignments on mental health.• Public relations educators could developa real-client project or service learningactivity involving mental health.Students may share their experiencesand responses to the ethical issuesthey identify in a structured discussion(Fitch 2011), an approach supported bywork-integrated learning scholarship,which advocates students reflect onpractical experiences in order to betterintegrate theory and practice (Billett2009).• Public relations classes are diverse; atsome Australian universities approximatelyhalf are international students(Fitch and Surma 2006). In addition,Australia is considered a multiculturalcountry with one in four Australiansborn overseas (ABS 2006: 6). Introducingdifferent cultural perspectives ofcomplex social issues offers studentsan excellent learning opportunity.PAPERSConclusionsOne challenge in this study is the difficulty inisolating Response Ability resources as a singlevariable in terms of the impact on studentlearning in relation to ethics. Students, throughboth the survey responses and the focus groupdiscussion, acknowledged the positive impactof a range of units, the diversity of the studentbody, and other activities such as paid workon their understanding of ethics in relation topublic relations practice. This finding confirmsthat many factors contribute to students’ professionaldevelopment. From the student perspective,professional and ethical developmentis incremental and ethics demands a considerationof others, i.e. a recognition of the socialimpact of public relations, reinforcing otherresearch findings (Bowen 2005, Breit and Demetrious2010).Specific knowledge and professional expertisein relation to communicating mental healthissues should be scaffolded in a degree. Complextasks, possibly for assessment, will improvestudents’ understanding and knowledge ofcommunication management in relation tomental illness and suicide. However, such tasksneed to be carefully integrated into the curriculumto ensure that students develop appropriateconceptual knowledge to apply to differentscenarios. In addition, educators should developa context- and culturally-sensitive approach,which addresses the reality of both multiculturalismand internationalisation in contemporarypublic relations.PAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 19


Kate FitchAcknowledgementsThis study was funded by the Response AbilityAcademic Research Scheme, 2010.ReferencesAustralian Bureau of Statistics (2006) Migration, Australia 2004-05(cat. no. 3412.0). Available online at http://www.ausstats.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/subscriber.nsf/0/9D6824AFE7734DA8CA25713F0016F8C4/$File/34120_2004-05.pdf, accessed on 12 May 2011Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009) Mental Health, AustralianSocial Trends 4102.0. Available online at http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features30March%202009, accessed on 12 May 2011Biggs, John (2003) Teaching for quality learning at university, Buckingham,Open University Press/Society for Research into HigherEducation, second editionBillett, Stephen (2004) Workplace participatory practices: Conceptualisingworkplaces as learning environments, Journal of WorkplaceLearning, Vol. 16, Nos 5/6 pp 312-324Billett, Stephen (2009) Realising the educational worth of integratingwork experiences in higher education, Studies in Higher Education,Vol. 34, No. 7 pp 827-843Bowen, Shannon (2005) Ethics of public relations, Heath, RobertL. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Public Relations, Thousand Oaks, CA, SageReference pp 294-297Breit, Rhonda (2007) Law and ethics for professional communicators,Chatswood, NSW, LexisNexis ButterworthBreit, Rhonda and Kristin Demetrious (2010) Professionalisationand public relations: An ethical mismatch, Ethical Space, Vol, 7, No.4 pp 20-29Chia, Joy (2009) Intercultural interpretations: making public relationseducation culturally relevant, Journal of University Teachingand Learning Practice, Vol. 6, No. 1. Available online at http://ro.uow.edu.au/jutlp/vol6/iss1/5/, accessed on 12 May 2011ConNetica Consulting (2009) The estimation of the economic costof suicide to Australia. Available online at http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/clac_ctte/suicide/submissions/Add_info05.pdf,accessed on 14 July 2011ConNetica Consulting (2010) Suicide and suicide prevention in Australia– breaking the silence. Available online at http://suicidepreventionaust.org.tmp.anchor.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Breaking-the-Silence.pdf, accessed on 14 July 2011Cooper, Lesley, Orrell, Janice and Bowden, Margaret (2010) Workintegrated learning: A guide to effective practice, London and NewYork, RoutledgeCouncil of Australian Governments (2006) National Action Plan onMental Health 2006-2011. Available online at http://www.coag.gov.au/coag_meeting_outcomes/2006-07-14/docs/nap_mental_health.pdf, accessed on 14 July 2011Daymon, Christine and Holloway, Immy (2011) Qualitative researchmethods in public relations and marketing communications, Abingdonand New York, Routledge, second editionFitch, Kate (2011) Developing professionals: Student experiencesof a real-client project, Higher Education Research & Development,Vol. 30, No. 4 pp 1-13Fitch, Kate and Surma, Anne (2006) The challenges of internationaleducation: Developing a public relations unit for the Asian region,Journal of University Learning and Teaching Practice, Vol. 3, No. 2pp 104-113Fitzpatrick, Kathy and Gauthier, Candace (2001) Toward a professionalresponsibility theory of public relations ethics, Journal ofMass Media Ethics, Vol. 16, Nos 2-3 pp 193-212Fontana, Andrew and Frey, James (2000) The interview: From structuredquestions to negotiated text, Denzin, Norman and Lincoln,Yvonna (eds) Handbook of qualitative research design, ThousandOaks, CA, Sage pp 645-672, second editionGreenhalgh, S and Hazell, Trevor (2005) Student evaluation of theResponse Ability Project, Australian Journalism Review, Vol. 27, No.1 pp 43-51Herrman, Helen, Saxena, Shekhar and Moodie, Rob (eds) (2004)Promoting mental health: Concepts, emerging evidence, practice.Summary report from the World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland.Available online at http://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/en/promoting_mhh.pdf,accessed on 14 July 2011Hunter Institute of Mental Health (2010a) Issues and impact: Communicatingmental illness and suicide (booklet). Available online athttp://www.responseability.org/client_images/820717.pdf, accessedon 7 May 2011Hunter Institute of Mental Health (2010b) Response Ability for publicrelations. Available online at http://www.himh.org.au/site/index.cfm?display=153913, accessed on 7 May 2011Krueger, Richard and Casey, Mary Anne (2000) Focus groups: Apractical guide for applied research, Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage,third editionLincoln, Yvonna and Guba, Egon (1985) Naturalistic inquiry, NewburyPark, CA, SageMason, Nerida and Skehan, Jaelea (2009) Evaluation report:Response Ability for Public Relations pilot study, Newcastle, HunterInstitute of Mental Health. Available online at http://www.responseability.org/client_images/872504.pdf,accessed on 14 October2010Pirkis, Jane and Blood, R. Warwick (2001) Suicide and the media:A critical review, Canberra, Commonwealth Department of Healthand Aged Care. Available online at http://www.mindframe-media.info/client_images/372860.pdf, accessed on 21 January 2011Pirkis, Jane and Blood, R. Warwick (2010) Suicide and the news andinformation media: A critical review, Canberra, CommonwealthDepartment of Health and Aged Care. Available online at http://www.mindframe-media.info/client_images/900016.pdf, accessedon 21 January 2011Pirkis, Jane, Blood, R. Warwick, Francis, Catherine, Putnis, Peter,Burgess, Philip, Morley, Belinda, Stewart, Andrew and Payne, Trish(2001) The media monitoring project: A baseline description of howthe Australian media report and portray suicide and mental healthand illness, Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care,Canberra. Available online at http://www.mindframe-media.info/client_images/372858.pdf, accessed on 21 January 2011Pirkis, Jane, Blood, R. Warwick, Dare, Andrew, Holland, Kate et al(2008) The Media Monitoring Project: Changes in media reportingof suicide and mental health and illness in Australia: 2000/01-2006/07, Commonwealth Department of Health an Aged Care,Canberra. Available online at http://www.mindframe-media.info/client_images/900018.pdf, accessed on 10 May 2011Romeo, Michael, Green, Kerry, Skehan, Jaelea, Visser, Amy, Coan,Lyndall and Hazell, Trevor (2008) Researching and reporting on suicideor mental illness: A student perspective, Australian JournalismReview, October, Vol. 30, No. 1 pp 123-130Sheridan Burns, Lynette and Hazell, Trevor (1998) Response…Ability:Youth suicide and the National University Curriculum Project,Australian Journalism Review, Vol. 20, No. 2 pp 111-128Skehan, Jaelea, Sheridan Burns, Lynette and Hazell, Trevor (2009)The Response Ability project: Integrating the reporting of suicideand mental illness into journalism curricula, Journalism and MassCommunication Educator, Vol. 64, No. 2 pp 192-204Starck, Kenneth and Kruckeberg, Dean (2003) Ethical obligations ofpublic relations in an era of globalisation, Journal of CommunicationManagement, Vol. 8, No.1 pp 29-40Wilkinson, Sue (2004) Focus group research, Silverman, David (ed.)Qualitative research: theory, method and practice, London, Sagepp 177-199Note on the ContributorKate Fitch is academic chair of public relations at Murdoch Universityin Australia. Kate received an Australian Learning and TeachingCouncil Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learn-20 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


ing in 2011, and has written book chapters and journal articleson public relations pedagogy, global public relations, communityrelations, social media, gender, and public relations in SoutheastAsia. Her research interests include public relations education andtheory. Before joining the university, she worked in public relationsroles in arts and government sectors in the UK and Australia. Shehas published in Prism, Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal, HigherEducation Research and Development and the Journal of UniversityLearning and Teaching Practice. Recent articles include Developingprofessionals: student experiences of a real-client project (2011) andWorking girls: Revisiting the gendering of public relations (2010),co-authored with Amanda Third. Contact details: School of MediaCommunication & Culture, Murdoch University, South St, Murdoch,WA 6150, Australia. Email: k.fitch@murdoch.edu.au; tel:PAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 21


Chris FrostOfcom: Anevaluation of UKbroadcast journalismregulation of newsand current affairsRecent revelations about journalism ethics inthe UK have thrown regulation of the mediainto the spotlight with the Press ComplaintsCommission found wanting and suggestionsof change for the Office of Communication,the broadcast regulator, making this an idealtime to evaluate its performance. Amongstother duties, Ofcom is responsible for acceptingand adjudicating complaints about editorialand programme content from viewers andlisteners. Ofcom has received between 5,000and 30,000 complaints a year, depending onwhether some incident catches the publicimagination. This paper analyses the thousandor so complaints adjudicated by Ofcom in theperiod 2004 to 2010 to identify how effectiveOfcom is at dealing with complaints, particularlythose about news and current affairs. Thepaper also aims to gain some insight into howOfcom’s adjudications affect programme makers’decisions.Keywords: Ofcom, Office of Communications,regulation, broadcasting, journalism, complaintsIntroductionOfcom, the UK’s broadcasting regulatory body,came into existence in January 2003, set upby the Office of Communications Act 2002. Itsmain legal duties as set out by the CommunicationsAct 2003, are:1. ensuring the optimal use of the electro-magneticspectrum;2. ensuring that a wide range of electroniccommunications services – includinghigh speed data services – is availablethroughout the UK;3. ensuring a wide range of TV andradio services of high quality and wideappeal;4. maintaining plurality in the provisionof broadcasting;5. applying adequate protection foraudiences against offensive or harmfulmaterial;6. applying adequate protection foraudiences against unfairness or theinfringement of privacy. 1Ofcom is funded by fees from industry leviedfor regulating broadcasting and communicationsnetworks; and grant-in-aid from the government.It is answerable to the UK Parliamentbut is independent of the UK Government.At a time when UK media regulation is undergoingits most critical assessment from thepublic and parliament, including the Levesoninquiry set up by the government in the wakeof the Milly Dowler phone hacking revelationsand the closure of the News of the World, thispaper will look at Ofcom’s activities. Althoughbroadcasting has so far largely avoided thecriticism heaped on the national press for illegalactivities it is an ideal time to examine howOfcom carries out its regulatory duties enforcingits obligation to protect viewers and listeners(especially minors) from harmful or offensivematerial and to protect those who mightappear in programmes from unfair treatmentor invasion of privacy. The paper will attemptto identify trends in complaints and to examineparticularly any lessons that can be learnt fromcomplaints about news and current affairs.People wanting to complain about broadcastingstandards or unfair treatment in TV or radioprogrammes in the UK can complain to Ofcom.Ofcom advises them to contact the broadcasterfirst, complaining to Ofcom only if unsatisfiedwith the response, but that is not essential.Complainants are required to completea complaints form that is available online orcan be ordered by post or by phone. Once thecomplaint is received, Ofcom will carry out aninitial assessment to decide if there is a case toinvestigate. If it feels there has been a potentialbreach of its code, it will proceed to review theprogramme, providing details of the complaintto the broadcaster and seek a response.After considering the complaint and thebroadcaster’s response Ofcom’s content boardwill then reach a decision about whether thecomplaint is upheld, not upheld or has beenresolved. Board decisions are published on the22 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


Ofcom website in a fortnightly bulletin. Somemore serious breaches may require that thebroadcaster broadcast the adjudication at anappropriate time and in the most serious casesthe sanction can include a financial penaltyor even a suspension or removal of licence tobroadcast.Data gatheringData for this study were gathered from Ofcomreports (www.ofcom.org.uk). Ofcom publishestwo types of report:1. an annual report of their activitiesincluding statistics of complaints 22. a fortnightly complaints bulletin identifyingevery complaint adjudicated. 3The fortnightly complaints bulletins allowOfcom to identify the programme complainedof, the broadcaster, the clause of the code complainedof and the outcome of Ofcom’s adjudication.In the case of fairness and privacycomplaints it also identifies the complainant.It does not do this for standards cases, partlybecause it is not significant and partly becausethere may be more than one complainant. Forinstance, in the Ross/Brand case there werethousands of complainants. The detailed datacontained within the bulletins were all loggedonto a database allowing them to be filteredand manipulated in a way that best allowedanalysis.In order to identify programmes that werebroadcast by radio as opposed to those broadcastas TV and in order to identify programmesthat were news or current affairs each wastagged if it was radio, or if it was news andcurrent affairs. News and current affairs programmeswere identified as being programmesthat:• provided a regular news service or;• regularly commented on or analysedthe news or;• provided topical in depth analysis ofcurrent affairs.These included News at Ten, Newsnight, Panorama,Despatches and local news services.Programmes that although factually basedwere either reality television, educational programmesor contained no (or very little news)current affairs such as Motorway Cops, Neighboursfrom Hell, Police, Camera, Action, cookeryor nature programmes were excluded fromthis category.Tables of data were also extracted from Ofcomannual reports to show total complaints madeand programmes complained about. These areidentified separately in the analysis below. Theaim of analysing these data is to identify howeffective Ofcom is at dealing with complaintsand to gain some insight into how its adjudicationsaffect programme makers and theirdecision making. Is Ofcom able to address theissues that are of real concern to viewers andlisteners?Analysis of Ofcom complaintsOne way of analysing how effective Ofcom is asa regulator of editorial content in programmesbroadcast by licence holders in the UK is to measurethe number of complaints made and theresponses those complainants receive. Thereare three main categories of complaint:• those that complain about a programmebut that do not allege breachesof Ofcom’s broadcasting code;• those that complain about a programmeand that do allege a breachof Ofcom’s broadcasting code andthat are resolved after some action byOfcom;• those that complain about a programmeand that do allege a breachof Ofcom’s broadcasting code and thatare adjudicated by Ofcom.Those complaints that do not allege breachesof the code cover everything from complaintsabout schedule changes to irritation at theending of a favourite series. These are not pursuedby Ofcom. Complaints that are potentialbreaches of the code are identified in Ofcom’sfortnightly complaints bulletin.Ofcom’s broadcasting codeOfcom is required by the Communications Act2003 to draw up a broadcasting code againstwhich it can measure complaints made. Thismust cover programme standards (minors,impartiality, accuracy, harm and offence) andfairness and privacy. 4 The development of thetwo types of complaints (standards – and fairnessand privacy) is historical but covers thekey areas of concern of legislators. Standards,including matters of taste and decency, violence,sex and bad language were under thecontrol of the Broadcasting Standards Council,set up by Margaret Thatcher in 1988 and givenstatutory authority by the Broadcasting Act1990. The Broadcasting Complaints Commissionhad been set up by the Broadcasting Act1990 to consider complaints concerning unjustPAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 23


Chris Frostor unfair treatment or unwarranted invasionsof privacy (Frost 2000: 188-189).The two were combined by the BroadcastingAct 1996 to become the Broadcasting StandardsCommission. This covered the dual role of thetwo former bodies, looking at both standards– and fairness and privacy. It sat alongside theIndependent Television Commission and theRadio Authority who controlled the licensingarrangements for the independent TV andradio providers (ibid: 200). The BSC was obligedunder the Act to produce a code and it reliedon past codes, the BBC code and codes in useelsewhere to produce a code very similar to theone still in use today. This was taken over byOfcom when it replaced the BSC, ITC and RadioAuthority in 2003. The key difference withregard to the code was the legislative decisionto replace ‘taste and decency’ with ‘harm andoffence’.These new terms are more specific allowingmeasurement by regulators rather than personaljudgement. Offence can be determinedto have taken place even if one disagrees it isjustified and so regulators need only decide ifthe offence taken was reasonable or unreasonable.Similarly, harm can be measured by thecircumstances. Taste and decency is just that, amatter of taste. The new terms also fit muchbetter with the times smacking less of censoriousnessseen by many as unsuitable for the 21stcentury.The former BSC code was applied by Ofcom forits first year or so giving it time to consult on anew code that was introduced in 2005. This followeda similar pattern to previous codes andalthough a new consultation followed a coupleof years later, the new code introduced for 2011was little different covering standards (particularlywith reference to minors), harm andoffence (the newly updated and more specificnames for taste and decency) and elections.The Ofcom code is broken into ten sections(see table 1). The majority of complaints madelargely fall under section 1 (under 18s) and section2 (harm and offence).Table 1: Ofcom code and its operationSection 1: Protecting the Under-EighteensSection 2: Harm and OffenceSection 3: CrimeSection 4: ReligionSection 5: Due Impartiality and Due Accuracyand Undue Prominence of Viewsand OpinionsSection 6: Elections and ReferendumsSection 7: FairnessSection 8: PrivacySection 9: Commercial References in TelevisionProgrammesSection 10: Commercial Communications inRadio Programming(see http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/broadcasting/broadcast-codes/broadcast-code/)Over the lifetime of Ofcom there have beenthree major issues that have drawn a largenumber of complaints. The first programmeto attract large numbers of complainants wasthe BBC2 programme Jerry Springer: The operabroadcast on 8 January 2005. Critics claimedthe programme was blasphemous, containedseveral hundred swearwords and was very damagingto young people. Ofcom received 8,860post-transmission complaints whilst the BBCreceived 47,000 or so complaints before transmissionand another 900 after broadcast.Channel Four was the next to trigger widespreadprotests when Ofcom received morethan 45,000 complaints about alleged racism inCelebrity Big Brother (C4) in 2007-8. This wasfollowed by the Russell Brand show (BBC Radio2) in 2008-9 in which Russell Brand and his guestJonathan Ross rang actor Andrew Sachs and leftan offensive message on his answer machine.The show was broadcast on 18 October 2008and two complaints were received by the BBCthe next day. The Mail on Sunday ran a storythat the BBC might be prosecuted for obscenityon 26 October and the number of complaintsrose by a further 1,585.By the end of the week, the BBC had received30,500 complaints. The final total was 42,851.Ofcom investigated having received 1,939 complaintsby 25 October 2008 and in April it finedthe BBC £80,000 for breaches of the privacysection of the broadcasting code and £70,000for breaches of the harm and offence section 5 .These three were the biggest cases in terms ofthe number of complainants and therefore,presumably the amount of upset caused.How the analysis was doneThe analysis was carried out by compilinginformation on all the complaints taken up byOfcom and published in its fortnightly bulletins.The data were compiled into a databasegiving access to all Ofcom’s decisions aboutcomplaints made. The database includes informationabout the outcome, the clause of thecode against which the complaint was made,the programme and the broadcaster. Ofcom24 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


adjudicates on complaints concerning 200 to300 programmes drawn from the many thousandsof complaints it receives every year. Complaintsmay be unadjudicated either becausethey are duplicate complaints or because thecomplaint does not breach the broadcastingcode. There are, therefore, three headline statistics(to March 2011):• total number of complaints made:172,191;• total number of cases (programmescomplained about, some of which mayattract hundreds or even thousands ofcomplainants): 49,753;• total number of cases in potentialbreach: 999.Ofcom receives a considerable number of complaintseach year from viewers and listeners(see table two and figures one and two).Table 2: Complaints to OfcomYear cases closed complaints made2004-5 1,149 4,1842005-6 1,102 14,2272006-7 1,483 5,5752007-8 12,726 67,7422008-9 13,203 27,5492009-10 10,888 28,2812010-11 9,202 24,633(Ofcom 2004-2011 annual reports)Although the figures for ‘cases closed’ is reasonablysteady for the first three years and thenincreases dramatically by more than 10,000 toremain reasonably static again for the nextthree years, complaints made numbers canvary wildly from just over 4,000 to more than67,000.The number of complaints made reflects thenumber of complainants in any one year andso it is not possible to make any real judgementabout the variation. Some issues sparklarge numbers of complainants raising thetotal in any particular year quite dramatically.Most of the very large increases are explainedby complaints made about the high profile,controversial programmes mentioned above:Jerry Springer: The opera (BBC2); Celebrity BigBrother (C4) and The Russell Brand show (BBCRadio 2). If these complaints are factored out,the figures show that complaints made in thefirst three years are typically around 5,000 andin subsequent years around 25,000:(see Table5).Typically in the first three years there arearound 1,200 cases closed and subsequentlyaround 12,000. This jump in both cases closedand complaints made is explained by a changein the way Ofcom has collected the data. WhenOfcom first started operations, its Contact Centrelogged and assessed the broadcasting complaintsreceived by Ofcom and referred any thatraised potentially substantive issues under theBroadcasting Code to the standards team forinvestigation. It was these complaints that wereidentified in the annual reports. However, from2007/8 these data were no longer reportedseparately and so the much larger total numberof complaints made to the contact centre (notjust those referred to the standards team) werereported. An Ofcom spokesman said:This change in the way Ofcom reports onits broadcasting complaints was for thepurpose of clarity, and to provide a singlepicture of the work Ofcom undertakes onregulating broadcasting standards. Therefore,while it appears there was a suddenincrease in complaints, the number of caseshas remained relatively consistent.Of course, as awareness of Ofcom and its roleentered the public consciousness, an increase incomplaints might be expected.Table 3: Complaints received by Ofcom’s standardsteam after redacting major causes ofcomplaints identified above.2004-5 4,1842005-6 5,3672006-7 5,5752007-8 22,7422008-9 25,6102009-10 28,2812010-11 24,633Figure 1: Complaints made to OfcomPAPERS‘Cases closed’ refer to individual programmescomplained about, rather than complaints.PAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 25


Figure 2: Programmes complained aboutFor news and current affairs complaints, thereis an average of 14.4 standards cases per year ofwhich 47.4 per cent are upheld and an average28.9 fairness and privacy cases per year of which27 per cent are upheld. This compares with anaverage 155.3 standards complaints about nonnewsprogrammes per year of which 62.1 percent are upheld and an average 57.9 fairnessand privacy cases per year of which 27.2 percent are upheld (see Table 5).Ofcom investigates complaints made to it afteran initial assessment that allows it to rejectcomplaints that are not potential breaches ofits code. It then publishes the results of its investigationand whether it has upheld the complaintin its fortnightly broadcast bulletin. 6Table 4: All complaints listed in Ofcom bulletinsyear standards cases privacy and fairnesstotal % upheld total % upheld2004 141 47.5 67 22.42005 167 31.7 66 30.32006 168 31.5 92 26.12007 144 73.6 85 36.52008 195 76.9 95 35.82009 179 83.8 112 26.82010 179 81.0 31 19.4In its first seven years of operation, Ofcomadjudicated 1,522 complaints. These were complaintsthat allegedly breached its BroadcastingCode and that required Ofcom to reach averdict. Of these 528 concerned privacy andfairness. Looking at all the complaints, thevast majority are not in breach of the broadcastcode and so are rejected. On average eachyear 7,096 cases are not in breach of the code.An average of 168 standards cases per year arefound to be in breach with 61 per cent of thecomplaints upheld, an average of 15 involvingsanctions. The remaining cases are resolved followingsome action from the broadcaster. Anaverage of 78 fairness and privacy cases aredealt with each year of which 28 per cent areupheld (see Table 4).The biggest subject of complaint within newsand current affairs is fairness closely followedby privacy with 112 complaints (48.5 per centof the total) being about fairness and 51 complaintsabout privacy (22.1 per cent). There arefewer news and current affairs programmecomplaints than for other types of programmewith a ratio of standards programmes complaintsof 10.8:1 and for privacy and fairnesscomplaints of 2:1. However, without calculatinga ratio of transmitted news programmes toentertainment programmes (something that isoutside the scope of this research) it is impossibleto say whether this is significant.However, if the ratio of standards complaints innon-news and news are indicative of the ratioof entertainment and news and current affairsprogrammes, it is clear that the chances of newsand current affairs intruding on someone’s privacyor treating them unfairly is much higherthan for non-news programmes as the ratio ofthe number of news complaints is much higher.Since many non-news programmes are fictionallybased or require active participation, this isprobably not too surprising and may not meananything.Table 5: Complaints about news and currentaffairs listed in Ofcom bulletinsyear standards cases privacy and fairnesstotal % upheld total % upheld2004 5 60.0 28 28.62005 16 0.0 27 37.12006 15 26.7 40 37.52007 18 66.7 29 20.72008 16 50.0 32 37.52009 13 81.8 28 10.72010 18 46.6 18 16.6News and current affairsOfcom does not separate out its decisions oncomplaints made against news and currentaffairs and other programming. However, it ispossible to identify news and current affairsprogrammes in the complaints bulletins andflag them in the database so that they can becalculated separately.26 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


Table 6: Complaints about other programmeslisted in Ofcom bulletinsyear standards cases privacy and fairnesstotal % upheld total % upheld2004 136 47.1 40 17.52005 151 35.1 49 25.62006 156 31.4 51 17.32007 129 74.4 75 39.72008 183 78.7 86 35.72009 168 83.9 91 31.82010 164 84.1 13 23.0Table 7: Ofcom adjudications of news and currentaffairs complaints by type from 2004 to2010Figure 3: Fairness and privacy adjudicationsComplaints made against the code sections listedabove fall into two categories: those wherethe harm is done to the subject of the programme(or someone else in the programme)and those where the harm is done to the viewer.The key sections of the broadcast code fornews and current affairs are privacy, fairness,impartiality and accuracy, children, harm andoffence.• Fairness and privacy involve complaintsthat are nearly always made by someoneinvolved in the programme (orsomeone complaining on their behalf),usually the subject of the programme.There can be two types of complaintinvolved here: intrusion or unfairnessduring the making of the programmeand/or intrusion or unfairness by broadcastingor by what was broadcast. Inthis type of complaint, the harm is usuallyalleged to have been done to thesubject of the programme.• Accuracy and impartiality complaintscan be made by someone involved inthe programme, but they are moreusually made by someone who wasnot involved in the programme. Thesetypes of complaint often concern aharm (inaccurate information) doneto the viewer or another but can be aharm to the subject in that it misrepresentsthem.• Harm and offence complaints haveto be made by others as they concernonly the effect a programme can haveon viewers.• Children: complaints concerning childrenare generally made by viewersabout programmes they fear may harmchildren or offend those responsiblefor caring for children. If the complaintconcerns a child as the subject of a programmethese are likely to be made bya parent or guardian of the child andconcern intrusion into privacy.An analysis of all the complaintsabout news and current affairsadjudicated shows that thenumber of fairness and privacycases upheld was fairly small:20 for fairness and nine for privacy;fewer than one sixth ofthe complaints being upheldon adjudication in either case.Looking through the upheldstandards cases, there are noobvious lessons to be learnedother than continued vigilanceover code issues. However, on privacy and fairnessit is possible to categorise and consider severaltypes of complaint.Two of the privacy and fairness complaints concerncandid filming that risked being intrusiveat the scene: the first a woman filmed duringa police drugs raid and the second a womanfilmed at the scene of a traffic accident in whichher daughter died. In both, Ofcom decided thatthe broadcasts were unfair and had invadedthe women’s privacy and should not have beenbroadcast.PAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 27


Chris FrostNeither was considered to have been intrusiveat the time of filming as had there beena strong enough public interest reason forbroadcasting then Ofcom might have acceptedthat transmission was justified. Several of theunfairness complaints concerned intervieweeexpectations. It is difficult to tell through thefilter of the Ofcom bulletin whether these wereerrors of judgement, different expectationsfrom interviewee and interviewer or simply thenews bulletin failing to live up the promisesmade. The 18 upheld fairness complaints (someof which were also privacy complaints) coveredthe following issues that have been split intothree main categories:Unfairness: Privacy and unfairnessComplaints where intrusion into privacy wasalso judged to be unfair1. A woman was filmed handcuffed andin nightwear during a police drugsraid; she was not charged with anyoffence;2. an attack victim was promised shecould give a description of her attackers,which was not in the end transmitted,and ‘body shots’ invaded her privacy.Unfairness – reputationComplaints which were unfair because ofchoice of language1. allegations of Saudi Arabian ‘sweeteners’were unfair;2. use of the word ‘flop’ was pejorativeand thus unfair.Complaints which were unfair because ofimplications made1. A report suggested a council chiefexecutive’s job was at risk;2. a Sikh priest was unfairly maligned;3. ITV overstated ASA concerns about anadvert;4. coverage of a festival claimed it wasa cover for illegal immigration (twocomplaints).Complaints which were unfair because therewas no right to respond1. Complainant’s radio station was criticisedwithout right to respond;2. a woman’s accusations were said tobe false allegations, which treated herunfairly;3. a report on the collapse of a moneytransfer company (two complaints).Unfairness – sourcesConduct of relationship with source did not goas promised1. An interview was not conducted asexpected and as promised;2. the retraction of news piece was unfairto the reporter;3. a woman agreed to take part in aninterview if her identity was obscuredbut pictures of her were used;4. surreptitious footage of a hospital wasunwarranted;5. a confidential complaint.The broadcasters concerned were:ITV14 complaintsBangla TV3 complaintsPanjab Radio 2 complaintsSTV1 complaintBBC11 complaintRadio 41 complaintSky1 complaintFive1 complaintChannel 91 complaintIsles FM1 complaintChannel S1 complaintPrivacyPrivacy complaints covered the followingissues:1. A woman was filmed handcuffed andin nightwear during a police drugsraid; she was not charged with anyoffence (as 1 above);2. an attack victim was promised that adescription of her attackers would begiven, but it was not, also ‘body shots’of her invaded her privacy (two complaintsas above);3. a woman injured in a road accident inwhich her daughter died was filmedand the film transmitted without permission(two complaints);4. a programme examining the murder ofthe complainant’s sister without seekingpermission should have informedthe complainant that the programmewas to be broadcast;5. clandestine filming in a nurseryschool;6. a report on the collapse of a moneytransfer company (as 3 above).From broadcasters:ITV1 4BBC1 3Bangla TV 128 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


Complaints under the children’s section concernedeither violence or bad language. In twoof the three language complaints the wordswere contained in the lyrics of pop songs. Theprogramme had accidentally played the full version,not the ‘radio edit’ version of the recording.In one case, a story about child pornography,library footage had displayed websiteaddresses for pornography sites which couldhave been easily read by children. ITV had threecomplaints upheld, whilst Sky, GEO News, IslesFM and OneFM each had one complaint upheld.This was considered a significant enough problemfor Ofcom to have issued further guidanceon 30 September 2011: ‘Ofcom warns TV broadcastersto be more careful around watershed.’ 7Three of the five harm and offence complaintsconcerned flashing lights, two against BBC1and one against Sky. The Ofcom broadcastcode warns against flashing lights as they maytrigger photosensitive epilepsy. The other twocomplaints concerned a CCTV film of a latenight knife attack (GMTV) and murder and ananti-Semitic joke on Radio Faza. Although all ofthe complaints that were upheld were breachesof the code, none was serious enough to warrantsanctions.SanctionsOne of the major differences between Ofcomand the Press Complaints Commission is thepower Ofcom has to levy sanctions against seriousbreaches of the broadcasting code. Ofcomis able, under statute, to reprimand a licenceholder, levy a fine, suspend a licence or removea licence altogether. It is the last two sanctions,relying on Ofcom’s power to grant or refuselicences to transmit, that are seen as particularlycontroversial when Ofcom is suggested asa model for press regulation. The governmentis obliged to have some system to regulate theairwaves, which are a finite resource, and sousing this as a method to punish licence holderswho regularly breach the broadcast code hassome logic. Most commentators seem to viewthis as unacceptable for the press or web-basednews outlets.Ofcom uses these powers infrequently andwhile it has suspended the occasional licenceand even removed one altogether, these havebeen small specialist digital stations, involvedin the soft porn end of the market. The majorityof serious sanctions have been fines and,up to the end of 2010, Ofcom had fined stationsa total of £6.221m averaging £135,239 ayear. 2008 was a particularly punitive year with19 programmes facing fines of £4,612,500, anaverage of £242,763. However, this was theyear when competitions based on phone-in votingwere run with many of them closing votingor being repeat broadcasts allowing the publicto vote, even though their votes would not becounted.Granada Television, LWT and GCap Media Ltdwere all fined more than £1m each. ITV2 andMTV were both fined in excess of £250,000. TheBBC was involved in the Ross/Brand affair andalso had problems with Sport Relief, Children inNeed Comic Relief and several radio shows andwas fined a total of £495,000. Other penaltiesrange from £2,500 to £1.2m with a typical penaltyaround the £50,000 level. It is worth notingthat no news or factual programme in the studyperiod has breached the code badly enough forOfcom to consider a sanction.It is probably impossible to come up with aresearch method that would show whetherpenalties are successful in enforcing good practice.However, the general view from the publicis that sanctions are likely to promote goodbehaviour and certainly large fines are not likedby shareholders, or (especially in the case of theBBC) by the public. The fact that sanction penaltiesfell significantly in 2009 following a numberof serious incidents and then rose slightlythe following year adds credence to this view,but is hardly incontrovertible evidence.Table 8: Total sanctions levied by OfcomYear total average2004 52,500 26,2502005 185,000 30,8332006 385,000 12,83332007 390,000 78,0002008 4,612,500 242,7632009 240,000 40,0002010 356,000 71,200Total 6,221,000 135,239However, the compliance routine of all majorbroadcasters, particularly but not solely theBBC, does much to maintain high standards. Therequirement of evidence of discussion of ethicaldecision making and a contractual requirementto adhere to guidelines are contained inthe BBC’s procedures and its compliance forms.Knowledge and proper implementation of theguidelines are central:When applying the guidelines, individualcontent producers are expected to make thenecessary judgements in many areas, butsome issues require careful considerationat a higher level. The guidelines thereforePAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 29


Chris Frostadvise, and sometimes require, referenceto more senior editorial figures, EditorialPolicy or experts elsewhere in the BBC suchas Programme Legal Advice (BBC EditorialGuidelines 2011: 2.2.3).ConclusionThe recent outcries against the tabloid press andthe setting up of the Leveson Inquiry have leda number of observers and politicians to wonderif broadcasting also has problems, whetherOfcom ought to be given a role in regulatingthe press or whether there should be a jointmedia regulator. The data here make it clearthat complaints can be made about news andfactual programmes and are taken seriouslyby Ofcom which is then able to take a seriousline against transgressors. This seems to haveenormously improved standards of journalismin broadcasting, with no evidence of increasingproblems, no increase in complaints numbersand no significant problem complaints in thenews and factual programming area.Most breaches seem to be mistakes, minorerrors of judgement or misunderstandings. Thisis despite an open complaints procedure allowingall to complain and despite accepting complaintsthat concern harm and offence, neitherof which is fully the case with the Press ComplaintsCommission. Ofcom also has the abilityto levy sanctions, but has not needed to do thatfor a news programme.The PCC receives complaints mainly about accuracy(approximately 70 per cent) or privacy (20per cent) whereas Ofcom’s biggest complaintcategory is fairness (46 per cent) followed byprivacy (22 per cent) and harm and offence(10 per cent). There is of course some crossoverbetween accuracy complaints to the PCC andfairness complaints to Ofcom. Many accuracycomplaints made to the PCC are in reality aboutfairness or about offence. The PCC also doesnot accept complaints about harm and offenceexcept in very limited circumstances. Temptingthough it might be to have a cross-media regulator,these figures do suggest that there aredifferent problems to address in broadcastingto newspapers.The final question is whether these figuresshow that Ofcom should have a role in regulatingthe press. Ofcom’s ability to levy sanctionsmeans that the industry certainly seems to takeit much more seriously than the newspaperindustry takes the PCC, whatever editors sayabout taking PCC reprimands seriously in theirevidence to Lord Justice Leveson. Ofcom’s guidanceis noted and acted on and there is little evidenceof repeat breaches in news programmes.The statutory support that Ofcom can rely onto enforce its decisions on all broadcasters, theopenness of the complaints procedure and abilityto impose sanctions are all elements thatwould strengthen press regulation and shouldbe considered by Lord Justice Leveson, but theidea of a media council spanning all mediawould probably be a mistake.Despite convergence and the requirement fornewspapers, magazines and broadcasters tohave websites, a single media council wouldfind it very difficult to give sufficient weightto newspapers and to broadcast news in comparisonto the heavy load of TV entertainmentprogrammes in a digital age that will see asteady growth of low-budget specialist channels.Leveson should look to Ofcom for ideas,but should ensure the press, and their websites,continue with their own, but much stronger,regulation.Notes1 See http://www.ofcom.org.uk/about/what-is-ofcom/statutory-duties-and-regulatory-principles/,accessed on 24 November 20112 See http://www.ofcom.org.uk/about/annual-reports-and-plans/annual-reports/, accessed on 16 October 20113 See http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/enforcement/broadcastbulletins/,accessed on 16 October 20114 See C4 S319-328 Communications Act 2003. Available online athttp://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/21/contents, accessed on28 September 20115 See http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/enforcement/content-sanctions-adjudications/BBCRadio2TheRussellBrandShow.pdf,accessed on 28 September 20116 See http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/enforcement/broadcastbulletins/,accessed on 28 September 20117 See http://media.ofcom.org.uk/2011/09/30/ofcom-warns-tv-broadcasters-to-be-more-careful-around-watershed/,accessed on 28 September2011ReferencesBBC Editorial Guidelines (2011) Available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/page/guidelines-using-rolesresponsibilities/#editorial-responsibility,accessed on 21 November2011Frost, Chris (2011) Journalism ethics and regulation, London, PearsonEducation, third editionOfcom (2011) The Ofcom broadcasting code, February. Availableonline at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/broadcasting/broadcastcodes/broadcast-code,accessed on 1 November 2011Ofcom (2004-2011) Broadcast Bulletins. Available online at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/enforcement/broadcast-bulletins/,accessed on 1 November 2011Ofcom (2003-2011) Annual Reports. Available online at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/about/annual-reports-and-plans/annual-reports/,accessed on 1 November 201130 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


Note on the contributorProfessor Chris Frost is Head of Journalism at Liverpool John MooresUniversity, Liverpool, UK. He is the author of Journalism ethics andregulation (Pearson Education 2011, third edition), Media ethics andself-regulation (Longman 2000), Reporting for journalists (Routledge2010, second edition) and Designing for newspapers and magazines(Routledge 2011, second edition). He is also chair of the NUJ’sEthics Council and a former President of the NUJ. Contact details:Department of Journalism, Liverpool John Moores University, LiverpoolInnovation Park, Edge Lane, Liverpool L7 9NQ. Tel: 0151 2314835; mobile: 07976 296777; email: c.p.frost@ljmu.ac.uk.PAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 31


Luke GoodeNews as conversation,citizens as gatekeepers:Where is digital newstaking us?This paper considers the implications of recentshifts in the digital news landscape for democracyand the public sphere. It discusses the roleof participatory news platforms and the claimsmade about the new elevated role for citizensas participants in and even producers of news.The paper concludes by arguing that rhetoricsuggesting a radical upheaval in power relationsbetween citizens and professional newsmedia risks obscuring the real benefits of newmodes of audience engagementKeywords: news, democracy, citizenship, internet,participatory mediaIntroduction: Revolution in the air?Consider a scene scarcely imaginable 10 shortyears ago: of the hundreds of millions of Englishlanguage blogs tracked by blog engineTechnorati, a majority deal in topics that are thetraditional preserve of mainstream journalism(politics, technology, business, film, celebrity,sport and so on). Most aren’t just confessionaldiaries or online photo albums (though oftenthose elements are blended in). Technorati’sresearch suggests blogs tend not to made on awhim and then rapidly abandoned: 85 per centof them have been active for more than a year.About a third of American blogs have morethan 1,000 unique visitors every month (Sobel2010). On Twitter, Middle East opposition protests,earthquakes and celebrity scandals unfurlin real-time via tweets from innumerable andoften uncertain sources, and mainstream mediastruggle to keep up given their time-consumingresponsibilities for fact-checking and analysis.Mainstream media, in turn, are being relentlesslyfact-checked (and often found wanting)by dispersed but collectively potent online networks.So-called ‘crowdsourcing’ sees once disaggregatedcitizens pooling resources, poring overBritish MPs’ expenses accounts or scandalousdocuments released by WikiLeaks – too copiousfor professional journalism to monopolise.Internet users compile their own news agendas,circumventing the editorial craftsmanshipof broadcast news bulletins or print news editions;the very term ‘edition’ connotes a snapshottemporality at odds with today’s incessantnews flows or ‘ambient journalism’ (Hermida2010).News has become unbundled and modular;tools such as Google News and RSS Newsfeedsallow users to compile a Daily Me, a conceptprophesied by Nicholas Negroponte (1995)some 15 years ago. Or, via platforms like Facebookor Digg, audiences concoct news dietsshaped by friendship and social networks. Theexpertocracy of news has been radically undermined.This is not to claim that our dependenciesupon professional news outlets haveloosened (quite the reverse may be true) butonly that they have become more intricatelymediated. The shift is more profound than onefrom analogue table d’hôte to digital à la carte.In terms of their role in shaping our informationdiets news providers are increasingly inthe business of supplying ingredients ratherthan finished meals. Of particular concern tomainstream media, though, is how all this canfunction as a business at all when such an abundanceof information, analysis and commentaryis now available free at the point of delivery,and robust mechanisms for tying content toadvertising have so far proven elusive. Murdoch’sNews Corporation, The New York Timesand others (in concert with platform providerssuch as Apple) are, of course, busily engagedin trying to overcome this. It is difficult to seejust how exclusively digitisation is responsiblefor the apparent crisis across newsrooms. As wehear stories from around the world of newspaperclosures, newsroom ‘restructuring’, andcirculation, subscription and advertising levelsfoundering (e.g. Abramson 2010, Deveson2009, Oliver 2010, Pew 2009), somewhat apocalyptictones have crept into debates about thefuture of journalism.Clay Shirky is a leading US commentator on therise of digital news and journalism (among otheraspects of digital culture). With a rhetoricalflourish worthy of the Communist Manifesto,he says this:When someone demands to know how weare going to replace newspapers, they are32 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


eally demanding to be told that we arenot living through a revolution. They aredemanding to be told that old systems won’tbreak before new systems are in place. Theyare demanding to be told that ancient socialbargains aren’t in peril, that core institutionswill be spared, that new methods ofspreading information will improve previouspractice rather than upending it. Theyare demanding to be lied to (Shirky 2008).But isn’t it equally plausible to diagnose thereverse, namely an over-eager appetite fortales of revolution? Often we seem to demandto hear all that’s solid is indeed melting into air:this certainly makes for better headlines. I suggestthat the challenges faced by news mediaindustries, by the journalistic profession and, byextension, by the structures of democracy andpublic debate are indeed serious but that weare not necessarily in the midst (or on the brink)of a ‘revolution’ in news media, certainly if weuse the term ‘revolution’ properly to denote aradical change in ends and not merely in means.The future is certainly opaque but not leastbecause the future is still there to be mouldedby journalists, editors and owners as well as bycitizens and consumers.Citizens, consumers and gatekeepersThis paper is concerned with the implicationsof digitisation for civic, rather than commercial,values. However, whilst the focus will not be onpaywalls, advertising revenues or the future offree news on the Web, it is vital to recognisethat the fates of journalistic business modelsand of democracy are inextricably linked. Thisis especially so in our highly commercialisedmedia ecology. It is always tempting for themedia analyst concerned with democracy andcivic functions of news media to place disproportionateemphasis on the potential of thoseinstitutions at one remove from the constraints(for some ‘distortions’) of the market. In theUK, for example, the BBC and the Scott TrustsupportedGuardian newspaper, though facingserious pressures (Davoudi and Fenton 2009,Fenton 2010), can seem like beacons of civicpurpose amid a sea of cut-throat commercialcompetition.Moreover, both institutions have been keyinnovators in developing digital news platforms.And yet, realistically, the environment inwhich they operate (and from which they areonly partially insulated) is overwhelmingly commercialised.In smaller markets, there is oftenan inverse correlation between the perceivednecessity and viability of public service alternativesto markets dominated by few (often overseasowned) commercial players (Puppis 2009).In the face of near-ubiquitous commercialismacross news media, it is tempting to romanticisethe still relatively non-commercialised (oronly nascently monetised) domains of citizenjournalism, blogging and social media (wherecontent retains relative independence frommonetised platforms). The following argumentwill suggest an ongoing and vitally importantdemocratic role for professional journalism –one that cannot be disentangled from commercialism.A sense of market realism is requiredfor assessing the civic functions of news mediain the digital age and advocates for a democraticpublic sphere need to engage commercialmedia in critical dialogue and acknowledgetheir imperatives. If, as I will argue, we shoulduphold the importance of professional journalismin the era of citizen journalism and socialmedia, then it is unhelpful to treat commerciallogic with lofty disdain as defenders of the‘public sphere’ (Habermas 1989, Garnham 1992)are often wont to do.The commercial news market, I suggest, is aninsufficient but essential part of the publicsphere. To those who believe that the commercialnews market is essential and sufficient for ademocratic media ecology – those who perceivenon-market mechanisms such as public fundingas distortions not remedies – the concept of ‘citizensas gatekeepers’ invoked in the title of thispaper will seem unremarkable, possibly tautological.The liberal free press dream is one inwhich citizens determine the news – or get thenews they deserve – by voting with their walletsand/or their attention (Curran and Seaton2003: 346-62). Others, though, would arguethat the roles of citizen and consumer, thoughnot intrinsically contradictory, cannot be so easilymerged (Lewis, Inthorn and Wahl-Jorgensen2005). The kinds of news and information thatempower us as citizens are not always those wewould be drawn to by our immediate desires.Uncomfortable truths are often unpalatable inthe short term and their value is only realisedin the longer term. In any case, consumers cannever be truly sovereign in a commercial newsmarketplace: citizens have always been partialgatekeepers in a range of complex powersharingarrangements that include editors andjournalists selecting, filtering and framing thenews before citizens get to vote with their walletsor time.This is not a critical claim. As citizens, we requireprofessional newsmakers to exercise goodPAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 33


Luke Goodejudgement on our behalf about the news agenda,and all the more so in a digital environmentnow characterised by information overload andby dense and inter-connected news delivery systems.What matters from a democratic perspectiveis what values and imperatives are drivingthose selection and filtering decisions and howmedia literate the public is in terms of understandingnewsmaking processes. It is unconvincingand even regressive to hear the gatekeepingfunctions of professional news mediareferred to as if they were, by definition, somekind of affront to democracy, a kind of feudalpower bloc to be swept away by opening theinformation floodgates of the internet.Other agents in this complex power-sharingarrangement include, of course: journalists’sources and PR professionals; advertisers (andtheir particular target demographics); shareholdersand, in some cases, old-fashioned proprietorialpowers, though this kind of powerhas often been over-egged as a product of ourappetite for demons – the economic power andmarket behaviours of large media empires havedone more than the eccentric and ideologically-drivenpersonalities of their figureheads toshape the increasingly globalised media landscapeof the late 20th and early 21st centuries.But power-sharing arrangements have startedto shift dramatically during the last decade withthe rise of the internet and especially Web 2.0or the ‘participatory web’ of bloggers, citizenjournalists, YouTube and news recommendationengines hooked into social networks suchas Twitter and Facebook. Clearly, we can see citizensthemselves exercising more gatekeepingpower with ever greater choice, personalisationand unbundling of news as well as enrichedopportunities to discuss and even shape thenews agenda (Deuze 2008, Hermida and Thurman2008). Clearly, too, we see challenges tothe roles of some of the established gatekeepers:editors whose raison d’être appears calledinto question in the era of the Daily Me (astrong raison d’être can still be argued for butthe point is it now needs arguing for and haslost its axiomatic status – see Gans 2010); proprietorsand shareholders who see the internetsteadily eroding their advertising, subscriptionand cover-price business models (Harris 2010);and journalists incredulous at the apparenthypocrisy of a blogosphere so acutely critical of‘mainstream media’ and yet so often sloppy inits own journalistic standards and ethics (O’Dell2010).Google isn’t ’just a tool’A key issue for public ethics is how transparent(or opaque) are the mechanisms of publicsphere institutions including media and informationindustries. Digitisation is not simplyabout power shifting between two blocs – citizensand professional media. The emergenceof other gatekeeping powers complicates thepicture. At an institutional level, this means themajor online players – Google, Facebook andTwitter especially. At a professional level, thisbroadly means software and interface engineers.It is not the case that Google exercisesthe same kinds of gatekeeping powers as newsproviders: its influence is at the level of informationarchitecture, not content. And yet itis also not the case that the software drivingGoogle’s search and news engines are neutralgateways to information (Beer 2009). Neither,for that matter, are YouTube’s search or recommendationengines, or Facebook’s Newsfeedalgorithms. These are human-made systemsdesigned to sift, rank and filter informationflows on our behalf. They are, for the most part,proprietary (and jealously guarded commercialsecrets) and subject to less critical scrutiny orpublic awareness than even the relatively mystifieddomain of the newsroom.Neither is there anything intrinsically naturalabout the 140-character limit on Twitter; northe assumption made by Facebook that thekind of news I am exposed to should be determinedby the things that cause my ‘friends’ toclick a ‘like’ button. Such features have all sortsof attractions and benefits but they are humanmadeinterfaces that shape the way we consumenews. The same holds for conventions of‘traditional’ media: there is nothing natural ortimeless about daily newspapers or hour-longtea-time news bulletins.These are historical, human-made artefacts. Itdoes not necessarily mean we should want toget rid of any of them. But it does mean weshould always be thinking critically about theirbenefits and limitations, their usefulness andtheir fitness for purpose at any particular historicaljuncture. And at this point in history,just as we ponder the fate of the ‘dead tree’newspaper (often misleadingly conflated with,or used as a metonym for, the fate of professionaljournalism), so our critical scrutiny mustalso now extend to the various online platformsand news delivery systems that are shaping ournews consumption and, by extension, our conversationsand our debates.34 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


The digital world isn’t flatAn ethical perspective on digitisation requiresus, of course, to consider equality of opportunity.It is undoubtedly true that, for all theconstraints, features and quirks of these newonline delivery systems, citizens are grantedunprecedented opportunities to shape thenews agenda for themselves and, in many cases,for the peers in their networks. This undeniablyrepresents a form of democratisation. But theidea that there is a broad devolution of powerfrom the few to the many, from professionalmedia to the citizenry at large, is of course simplistic.Power is not distributed evenly amongthe citizenry and new communication tools cancreate new forms of inequality just as they canhelp to level others.The so-called digital divide is usually viewedfrom a supply-side perspective, as a primarilysocio-economic and geographical (especiallyurban versus rural) problem requiring redressthrough infrastructure investment. But onemajor factor often overlooked (because it lacksclear policy implications) is the divide betweenthe time-rich and the time-poor. An abundanceof news sources to navigate and opportunitiesto ‘join the conversation’ (whether blogging,re-Tweeting stories or commenting on newspaperwebsites) scarcely ‘democratises’ newsfor citizens who work double shifts or haveround-the-clock care responsibilities. Of course,we are led to believe that we are all leadingincreasingly busy and more time-pressuredlives. Under time constraints, we look to professionalnews media to provide packaged digestsof the important news of the day: this can be auseful antidote and complement to the moreamorphous news flows of the web.But as and when time allows, active and motivatedcitizens (motivation is also unevenly distributed)want and need longer-form journalismin order to understand issues sufficientlyand this too is a vital antidote and complementto the bite-size chunks of news flowing especiallyaround platforms like YouTube and Twitter.Can mainstream media do both the longand the short well? Both the wide-area surveyand the deep-drilling? This seems a tall order,perhaps reflected in much criticism of TV newswhich stands accused of failing on both countswith both excessive soft news padding and ashortage of in-depth coverage: too long andtoo shallow are common complaints.In terms of the digital divide, however, the issueis not simply the question of who has sufficientaccess, time and cultural capital to participate.There are various power dynamics emergingwithin online platforms. In blogging, the A-listblogger phenomenon is now well-known: HuffingtonPost and Instapundit may have challengedentrenched mainstream news power buthave become concentrated powers in their ownrights (Farrell and Drezner 2008, Sunstein 2007).Compared to mainstream media, there are lowbarriers to entry to the blogosphere and socialmedia and also fewer instances of producer loyaltiesdivided between audiences and advertisers.And yet there are certainly first-to-marketadvantages and snowball effects: in an incrediblycrowded marketplace like blogging, trafficis driven largely by word-of-mouth (its onlineequivalent, anyway), by referrals and links, notto mention profiling in the mainstream media:visibility begets visibility in what is essentiallyan ‘attention economy’ (Lanham 2006). This isnot to claim that top blogs can sustain theirposition in the long term if audience satisfactionfalls significantly (indeed, few mainstreammedia institutions have ever enjoyed such cushioning);brand loyalty doesn’t run too deep insuch a competitive market. But it is to suggestthat new entrants to the market face considerablehurdles in gaining the kind of visibilityrequired to compete.We also see power laws at play in other aspectsof online news consumption. The social newsmedia site Digg.com has, since its beginnings,had a small fraction of users responsible forsubmitting a majority of the stories that getvoted onto its front page because those powerusers accumulate visibility and influence andtheir stories are more likely to be seen and thenvoted for than those submitted by lower profileusers. Under criticism that this looks more like apopularity contest than a platform for decidingthe merits and newsworthiness of stories, Digghas made attempts to tweak the algorithm thatweights votes for stories to mitigate this snowballeffect: in turn, it has then come under firefor using secretive algorithms to underminethe meritocracy of a system that rewards thehard work and success of power users. Eitherway, ‘democratising news’, it turns out, is nostraightforward business.Recent research (Cha et al 2010) shows somestriking things about Twitter. It tracked 54 millionusers and almost 2 billion tweets across aneight month period in 2009, looking at threedifferent measures of network influence: first,who gets the most followers; second, whosetweets are most often re-tweeted through thenetwork; and, third, whose names are mentionedor cited most often in other tweets. ThePAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. 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Luke Gooderesearch found little overlap between thesemeasures (less than 10 per cent): the ‘millionfollower fallacy’ mistakenly assumes that theTwitter users who recruit the most followersare necessarily the ones shaping the agendaand the conversations on Twitter. It seemsTwitter is not just a popularity contest. But theresearch found strikingly low levels of reciprocitywhich cautions us against celebrating Twitteras some kind of gigantic water-cooler or digitalcoffee house. Steep power laws characterise allthree measures of influence: the influence ofthe top 100 users (across all three measures) isexponentially greater than the top 1,000 whoseinfluence is exponentially greater than thetop 10,000. Outside the top 10,000, influencebecomes statistically negligible – and this froma dataset of 54 million users!Of course, there are plenty of water-cooler conversationsoccurring on Twitter but it is structurallycloser to a broadcast medium than manyrealise: many followers and few followed; manytweeters and few re-tweeted; many commentatorsand few commented upon. There areagenda-setters and gatekeepers. Some of theseare mainstream news outlets. In the researchjust cited, Twitter accounts with most followersinclude outlets like CNN and The New YorkTimes, alongside various celebrities and politicians.But with sources that were most commonlyre-tweeted (a better indication of whoare the agenda-setters than who has the mostfollowers) it seems traditional news outletsare largely eclipsed by successful new players:news aggregator services are important newgatekeepers in this environment with serviceslike TweetMeme amplifying the power law byaggregating the most popular links and drawingyet more traffic to them in a self-propellingspiral.Simpler research looking only at the volume(rather than influence) of Twitter traffic foundthe most prolific 10 per cent of users postingmore than 90 per cent of tweets (Heil andPiskorski 2009): most people use Twitter primarilyto hear rather than to speak (not necessarilya bad thing as I shall argue later). And there arenumerous other examples of how variations onthe 80:20 rule prevail in social networks. Socialnetworks are not flat: they are hierarchical andoften less conversational than we assume.Does this matter? There have always been opinionleaders holding disproportionate influencewithin communities. It is true that their potentialreach is greatly extended in online socialnetworks. But this does not render such communitiesundemocratic in and of themselves. Infact, online social network research is at suchan early stage that we do not have a clear pictureof whether and how much hierarchies ofstatus and influence among peer networks areartificially bolstered by network design or aremerely a reflection of wider social hierarchies.The point is that the resilient myth of blogging,citizen journalism and social media driving uscloser towards some kind of egalitarian nirvanain the news where anyone can become newsmakeror opinion leader, where merit has trulytriumphed over status, is deeply problematic.News as conversationAssessing the civic implications of digitisationinvolves questioning quality and not merelyequality of opportunity. It is undoubtedly truethat a number of positive things have emerged:greater choice, access and opportunities forparticipation, and a massive reduction in economicbarriers to entry for aspiring amateurand even semi-professional newsmakers. Itwould be misleading to claim this is not a formof democratisation. Democracy is not simply aquantitative matter of how much choice, participationand opportunity is gained, though.The issue is also what citizens can do with theseextended opportunities to engage with newsand journalism.Dan Gillmor – champion of citizen journalismand author of the hyperbolically titled bookWe the media (2006) – argues that the internethas been steadily transforming news froma lecture into a conversation. But this risks settingup a false dichotomy. The idea that newsshould nourish and stimulate conversation isnot contentious: without conversation, citizenslack the wherewithal to test, refine and enrichtheir interpretations of and responses to thenews they read, hear and watch. Clearly theinternet enhances opportunities for citizens toengage in conversations with peers and withnewsmakers. But the idea that news shouldbecome conversation is deeply problematic. Itmisses the importance of listening first beforeexpressing opinion. To see journalism itself asconversation smacks of juvenile impatience orattention deficit. We risk celebrating instantaneousfeedback and downgrading the valuesof reading below the fold and processing at apace fitting for the complex issues news throwsup. Tellingly, etymology links the word ‘lecture’(for all its contemporary negative baggage) tothe act of reading.Gillmor himself, though, does not run amokwith this rhetoric of news as conversation. He36 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


is, in fact, deeply concerned with the quality ofthe conversation and worries about the fate ofcareful reflection. Recently, he has suggested wemight need something like a slow news movementanalogous to the slow food movement(2009, see also Shapiro 2010). Notwithstandingthe point made already about the constraintson time-poor citizens, there is something usefulin this concept. We tend to focus on the supplyside of shrunken news cycles and competitivescoop-fests trumping the time-consumingjournalistic practices of analysis and even, onoccasion, verification. But we often neglect thedemand-side: a slow news movement wouldhave to be one that encouraged audiences toslow down, chew their news slowly and moderatetheir portion sizes rather than assumingmore is better, to appreciate dishes that havebeen marinated and slow-cooked, which is justwhat the most valuable long-form, investigativejournalism tends to be.The ‘morselisation’ of news (Atkinson 1994) is,I suggest, not merely a supply-side but also ademand-side issue. This is not to deflect criticismof professional news media nor to supportthe simplistic claim that outlets serving upmorselised news are just giving audiences whatthey want: supply and demand are shaped bynumerous exogenous factors and also by eachother. Moreover, it is not to support the claimthat market realism dictates an inevitable drivetowards faster, softer, more bite-size news.Such a claim constitutes fatalism rather thanrealism. It is simplistic at best and condescendingat worst to fall back on the assumption thatfew outside the chattering classes want seriouslong-form news and current affairs any longer.So the point here is not that the public merelygets the news it deserves. However, there aresome serious demand-side issues at stake hereand we misread the problem, I suggest, if we donot acknowledge them. These issues are aboutcitizenship and civic engagement.When we hear about trends of declining voterturnouts in Western democracies, decliningpolitical party memberships, declining audiencesfor television news and declining newspaperreadership figures, especially amongthe younger generation, some will proclaim alamentable deterioration. Others, though, willsay that matters are not necessarily deteriorating,only changing. After all, young peoplein particular may be increasingly disaffectedwith mainstream national politics but engagingin new and different ways: protests, petitions,online campaigns and the like. So too, aturn away from traditional news sources suchas newspapers and national TV news does notsignal a decreasing interest in news and currentaffairs. Quite the contrary, in fact, as anarray of new outlets for news, and opportunitiesto interact with the news, are being tappedinto. This may be a cause for optimism unlessone believes that, whatever the diverse arrayof debates and conversations going on at localand global levels, there is also vital importancein the kinds of shared conversations required tokeep a democratic light shining on the nationalpolity and its key players (both elected andunelected). If increasing numbers of, particularlyyounger, citizens are turning away fromthose conversations then there is a much widersocial issue at stake, I suggest, than the qualityof the news. To highlight the shortcomingsof mainstream news media does not oblige usto single out and scapegoat the media for thestate of the contemporary public sphere.Google isn’t evilIn a similar vein, it is not helpful to scapegoatthe new media players for the perceived crisisin mainstream news and journalism. Google,whose unofficial motto is ‘don’t be evil’ is, ofcourse, the devil incarnate for Rupert Murdochwho argues that it has been brazenly stealinghis content. Others, though, cite Google forother sins. In particular, it is seen as one of themajor driving forces behind the unbundlingof news: it deep links audiences into newsstories, bypassing front-page portals with theadvertising and branding that brings with it;and it fosters a fragmented, decontextualisedapproach to news consumption, encouraginggreater morselisation and less critical scrutinyof the source behind the content. The tradeoffbetween unprecedented choice in news andinformation brought about by digitisation andthe unprecedented fragmentation of public lifeit threatens represents a major dilemma froman ethical perspective.Google and its rivals have, indeed, impactedon the way news is accessed and consumed.But whilst this allows audiences to skim rapidlyacross the surface and enjoy superficial engagementwith news, the very same platform allowsaudiences to plumb remarkable depths on astory, issue or event. It takes reading below thefold to new levels and allows citizens to interrogateand assess the credibility of news sourcesthrough cross-referencing and fact-checking.It also allows suitably motivated citizens to siftthe hard news from the soft, to filter out theinfotainment or ‘noise’ that seems increasinglyprevalent in the bundled news of broadcastingand the press. A technology such as GooglePAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. 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Luke Goodecan have such profoundly contradictory consequencesprecisely because its consequencesare not hardwired into the technology: theyare very strongly contingent on users and theirsocial context. Again, this is about the demandsideas much as the supply-side.As Fallows (2010) suggests, Google is attemptingto redress the reputation it is acquiring fordamaging both the business models of commercialnews outlets (and especially newspapers)and the culture of long-form journalism.He profiles several projects designed to getGoogle partnering more constructively withmainstream news outlets. One example is theopen source Living stories experiment designedto allow the automatic collating of reports on astory (one that might develop over a period oftime) on a single page that will be prioritised inGoogle search results. In other words, Google isexploring ways to adapt the information architectureto encourage curation of stories on theproducer side and deep reading on the readerside, redressing the decontextualisation ormorselisation it is commonly held responsiblefor. As Fallows points out, not only is Google farfrom the sole factor driving the fragmentationof news, it also has no vested interest in the corrosionof quality, in-depth journalism: quite theopposite, in fact, as such corrosion is detrimentalto its own value as a news gateway.If it is reassuring that Google would encourageus to access in-depth, credible journalism, this isstill under the auspices of the bespoke Daily Me.Again, Google can’t be held solely responsiblefor the so-called ‘echo chamber’ effect wherecitizens seek out sources that reinforce theirown views and prejudices without exposure toalternative or challenging perspectives (Sunstein2007, Farrell and Drezner 2007). Google’soutgoing CEO, Eric Schmidt, has an answer tothis that he calls the ‘serendipity principle’. Inother words, his vision of a healthy online newsenvironment is one in which individuals can getfinely grained bespoke news whilst still stumblingacross unanticipated topics and perspectives.This sounds like a healthy balance. Butit leaves shared conversations about mattersof common public interest very much to thewhims of trending memes. If personalised newsdiets and micro-conversations are increasinglydominant, then perhaps the role of mainstreammedia is increasingly one of complementing(rather than competing with) the Daily Me,to regularly draw people out of their newsbubbles and to convene debates on matters ofpublic interest fueled by in-depth coverage ofsalient facts and perspectives. Such a claim willno doubt appear futile, nostalgic or paternalisticto some.Conclusion: Who is in the driving seat?One way of drawing citizens out of their microconversationsinto a shared arena is to activelyengage with citizen journalists, amateur bloggersand social media rather than seeing themas attempting to encroach on professionalterritory or merely paying lip service to them– something the Guardian online has undoubtedlyled the way in. But it pays not to forget theobvious point that for all the committed bloggers(many of whom are either journalists orconsider themselves journalists), a majority ofcitizens relate to mainstream media as audiencesfirst and foremost and not as participants.Without trying to reduce news and journalismto conversation, it may be possible to encouragemore members of the audience to participateand contribute in order to foster greaterengagement with the news and, significantlyfrom a market perspective, with particular newsmedia brands. For mainstream media to treat itsaudience as intelligent citizens and as potentialcontributors to an ongoing conversation doesnot mean treating them as equals. As citizenswe tend to look to professional journalists tokeep us informed about important events andto access newsworthy places and people on ourbehalf. But we also look to them to interpret,analyse, sift fact from conjecture and opinion,dig beneath the surface, air different voices,and tell us interesting stories. Despite therhetoric of ‘democratising news’, citizens donot routinely aspire to be the professional journalist’s‘equal’ in matters of newscraft, evenamong those busily blogging and tweeting ona daily basis. Jay Rosen (2006) coined the nowwell-worn phrase ‘the people formerly knownas the audience’ for these citizens. But as wesee in other contexts (theatre, live music, televisiontalk-shows and so forth), increasing audienceparticipation does not in any sense renderthe concept of audience itself defunct.Clay Shirky (2009) draws an analogy betweenjournalism in the digital age and driving:Like driving, journalism is not a profession…and it is increasingly being transformed intoan open activity, open to all, sometimesdone well, sometimes badly…The journalisticmodels that will excel in the next fewyears will rely on new forms of creation,some of which will be done by professionals,some by amateurs, some by crowds, andsome by machines (Shirky 2009).38 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


There is undoubtedly some truth in this claim.But the analogy with driving is an odd one thatdiminishes the craft and complexity of journalism,whether or not we want to label it a ‘profession’.Truly anyone with basic motor, visualand cognitive skills can be a proficient driver;not so a proficient journalist. Good journalismpushes the boundaries, is creative and involvestaking risks; not so, good driving.Perhaps a better analogy would be with music.Many of us enjoy participating in music as wellas listening to it. But picking up an instrument,whilst enjoyable and rewarding, also teachesmost of us just how big the gap is between greatmusicianship and our own efforts. Participatingin this way sharpens our appreciation (and criticalskills) as listeners. Having some competencein music does not make us less respectful of orless interested in listening to expertly producedmusic – quite the reverse. And perhaps that isthe mind shift needed in respect of bloggingand citizen journalism. Mainstream news medianeed not disdain or fear the growth of amateurjournalism, questioning whether it really is‘journalism’: it should instead be engaging withit, offering master classes, showcasing the best,and treating it as an opportunity to increaseunderstanding of and appreciation for the journalisticprofession.Again, such idealism should be tempered by anote of realism. Those of us outside the professionshould care about the state of journalismbecause we care about democracy. Journalismis shaped by many forces on the supply-sideand also on the demand-side. On both sides ofthe equation, there are forces which go muchwider than journalism itself (including the economicclimate on the supply-side and a growingculture of cynicism towards public life onthe demand-side). But journalism, new or old,is neither the exclusive cause of nor a potentialpanacea for the shortcomings of democracy.The internet is bringing citizens greater choicesand some extremely interesting opportunitiesfor enriched forms of engagement with, andeven participation in, the news. It also bringssome risks for citizens: of fragmentation andpolarisation, of information overload and dizzyingacceleration. But the extent to which theinternet can democratise news is a much lessimportant question than the extent to which itcan help democratise democracy itself.• This paper is adapted from a publiclecture delivered as part of the Universityof Auckland’s 2010 Winter LectureSeries ‘The End(s) of Journalism’.ReferencesAbramson, Jill (2010) Sustaining quality journalism, Dædalus, Vol.139, No.2 pp 39-44Atkinson, Joe (1994) The state, the media and thin democracy, Leapinto the dark: The changing role of the state in New Zealand since1984, Sharp, Andrew (ed.), Auckland, Auckland University Press pp152-162Beer, David (2009) Power through the algorithm? Participatory webcultures and the technological unconscious, New Media and Society,Vol. 11, No. 6 pp 985-1002Cha, Meeyoung et al (2010) Measuring user influence in Twitter:The million follower fallacy, Association for the Advancement ofArtificial Intelligence. 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Thomas Burger)Harris, Paul (2010) Rupert Murdoch defiant: ‘I’ll stop Google takingour news for nothing’, Guardian, 7 April. Available online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/apr/07/rupert-murdoch-googlepaywalls-ipad,accessed on 3 May 2011Heil, Bill and Piskorski, Mikolaj (2009) New Twitter research: Menfollow men and nobody tweets, Harvard Business Review Blogs, 1June. Available online at http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2009/06/new_twitter_research_men_follo.html,accessed on 4 May 2011Hermida, Alfred (2010) Twittering the news: The emergence ofambient journalism, Journalism Practice, Vol. 7, No. 3 pp 297-308Hermida, Alfred and Thurman, Neil (2008) A clash of cultures: Theintegration of user-generated content within professional journalisticframeworks at British newspaper websites, Journalism Practice,Vol. 2, No. 3 pp 343-356Lanham, Richard (2006) The economics of attention: Style and substancein the age of information, Chicago, Chicago University PressLewis, Justin, Inthorn, Sanna and Wahl-Jorgensen, Karin (2005) Citizensor consumers? What the media tell us about political participation,Maidenhead, Open University PressPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 39


Luke GoodeNegroponte, Nicholas (1995) Being digital, London, CoronetO’Dell, Jolie (2010) How to tell a journalist from a blogger,Jolieodell.com, 21 July. Available online at http://blog.jolieodell.com/2010/07/21/how-to-tell-a-journalist-from-a-blogger/, accessedon 4 May 2011Oliver, Laura (2010) Journalism job losses: Tracking cuts across theindustry, Journalism.co.uk. Available online at http://www.journalism.co.uk/news-features/journalism-job-losses-tracking-cuts-acrossthe-industry/s5/a533044/#disqus_thread,accessed on 4 May 2011Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism (2009) The state of thenews media. Available online at http://www.stateofthemedia.org/2009/index.htm, accessed on 4 May 2011Puppis, Manuel (2009) Media regulation in small states, InternationalCommunication Gazette, Vol. 71, Nos 1 and 2 pp 7-17Rosen, Jay (2006) The people formerly known as the audience,Pressthink, 27 June. Available online at http://archive.pressthink.org/2006/06/27/ppl_frmr.html, accessed on 1 May 2011Shapiro, Walter (2010) After Breitbart and Shirley Sherrod, we needa slow-news movement, Politics Daily, 28 July. Available online athttp://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/07/27/after-breitbart-and-shirley-sherrod-we-need-a-slow-news-movemen/,accessed on 1 May2011Shirky, Clay (2008) Newspapers and thinking the unthinkable, Edge:The third culture. Available online at http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/shirky09/shirky09_index.html,accessed on 1 May 2011Shirky, Clay (2009) Not an upgrade – an upheaval, Cato Unbound, 13July. Available online at http://www.cato-unbound.org/2009/07/13/clay-shirky/not-an-upgrade-an-upheaval/, accessed on 1 May 2011Sobel, Jon (2010) State of the blogosphere 2010, Technorati. Availableonline at http://technorati.com/blogging/article/state-of-theblogosphere-2010-introduction/,accessed on 4 May 2011Sunstein, Cass (2007) Republic.com 2.0, Princeton, Princeton UniversityPressNote on the contributorLuke Goode is a senior lecturer in the Department of Film, Televisionand Media Studies at the University of Auckland, Aotearoa NewZealand. He is the author of Jürgen Habermas: Democracy and thepublic sphere (Pluto Press 2005) and co-editor with Nabeel Zuberiof two editions of Media studies in Aotearoa New Zealand (Pearson2010, second edition). His teaching and research interests aremainly in the area of new media and he has published research ontopics including citizen journalism, digital television, social mediaand cultural citizenship in the digital age. Contact details: Departmentof Film, Television and Media Studies, University of Auckland,New Zealand Aotearoa. Telelephone: +64 9 373 7599 ext 86030.40 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


Gary James Merrillscholarly interest has been rather limited inthese areas (Doyle 2006: 434) the researchsuggests that EBF journalisms have, at best, apatchy record of connecting with the public;explaining concepts; highlighting nascent dangers;and promoting knowledge of alternativesto the status quo.The revolution mustwait: Economic,business andfinancial journalismsbeyond the 2008crisisAlthough it is tempting to blame journalism’sapparent failure to warn of the 2008 financialcrisis on a lack of training, rigid routines or anover-reliance on elite sources, the malaise is farmore deep-seated. For the last three decades,the British and American news media haveseemed largely oblivious to the inherent weaknessesof free market economics and equally,the merits of alternative models. Economic andbusiness journalisms are the inevitable productsof the ideology that sustains them and inthe absence of a coherent, mainstream politicalcounterweight to neoliberalism, it is left toauthors, satirists and even TV chefs to provideengaging economic and business journalismwith a social dimensionKey words: business; economics; journalism;neoliberalism; alternatives; BBCThe great industrialist Henry Ford was not particularlynoted for his sociological insight buthe clearly appreciated the potency of publicknowledge:It is well enough that the people of thenation do not understand our banking andmonetary system for, if they did, I believethere would be a revolution before tomorrowmorning (in Maguire 1957:79).Although Ford gave no indication of the causesof such ignorance, the news media shoulderssome responsibility. Indeed, economic, businessand financial (EBF) 1 journalisms are inherentlyanthropomorphic in that their normative functionis to inform people about the economicenvironment which they inhabit (Kinsey op cit:160; Budd 2007: 2; Parsons 1989: 7). AlthoughThe universal importance of economics, businessand finance, combined with the inherentcomplexities of the subjects places a considerableburden on the news media to explain andcontextualise while holding the audience’sattention. Journalists constantly struggle to produceappealing content (Corner et al. 1997: 91)and yet only around a fifth of Britons profess tobeing interested in business and financial news(Ofcom 2007: 25) and very few can explain basiceconomic concepts (see Peston 2009: 18).It is a similar story in the United States. Forexample, in 1987 the Ford Foundation foundthe public need for quality coverage of businessand economic matters ‘remains measurably andmarkedly unfulfilled’ and twenty years later,American journalists were still underachieving(Roush 2006: 201). Similar deficiencies werealso noted by Diana Henriques (2000) and MarkLudwig (2002). Evidence of the efficacy of EBFjournalisms is scarce on both sides of the Atlanticand Gillian Doyle’s stark assessment providesa pithy synopsis of the corpus: ‘The task offacilitating a sound public grasp over the significanceof financial and economic news developmentsis largely being neglected’ (2006: 433).In these terms, Ford’s nightmare of a citizenrythat comprehends financial matters has littlechance of being realised.History repeats: Three centuries of irrationalexuberanceThe deficiencies of EBF journalisms are most evidentwhen disaster strikes and the 2008 FinancialCrisis inevitably stimulated renewed interestfrom academia (Tambini 2008, 2010, Marronet al 2010, Manning 2010). Such research is certainlyinvaluable but few scholars acknowledgethat this was merely the latest in a long list offailures. Indeed, far from alerting the public tonascent dangers, the media habitually sustainbooms which can lead to speculative bubblesand, hence, financial crises (Shiller 2000: 98).This has arguably been true since the earlyeighteenth century when coffee house gossipcombined with enthusiastic reports in newslettersand pamphlets and ‘fed the frenzied tradingof speculators’ prior to the bursting of theSouth Sea Bubble in 1720 (Dale 2004: 17, Balen2002: 107).PAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 41


Gary JamesMerrillFinancial journalism grew in tandem with liberalcapitalism and expanded significantly throughthe nineteenth century and into the early twentieth(Parsons op cit: 5, 48). In this period thelink between bubbles and the media strengtheneddespite huge improvements in communicationtechnology. The trend continued fromthe 1920s to 2000, and over these years:among the top American corporations (NiemanReports 2002: 4). In heaping such adoration onthe company, the media ‘actively helped createthe Enron scandal’ (Madrick op cit: 3) and yet,according to Bob McChesney: ‘Despite the vastresources devoted to business journalism in the1990s, the media missed the developing story intoto’ (2003: 314)....the flaws of business journalism in writingabout stock markets have remained almostthe same: their reporting is too enthusiastic(or positive) and uncritical (Ojala and Uskali2004: 1).The EBF media grew considerably in size, scopeand audience reach in the late-twentieth century.In the 1980s, the Thatcher and Reaganadministrations promoted pro-business economicpolicy, market liberalisation and popularshare ownership and in the 1990s, these combinedwith new technologies (satellite TV andthen the internet) to give business and financefar more prominence than ever before (Bekken2005: 75; Cassidy 2002: 178). Across all media,economics, business and finance are now partof the standard news offering.Despite a century of expansion, however, thereis little evidence of an improvement in the journalisms.For example, immediately before theWall Street Crash of 1929, even the most cautiousof the American financial media believedthe boom would continue indefinitely (Bow1980: 447). Seven decades later, the media wasalso instrumental in hyping the New Economywhich spectacularly crashed in 2000. ThomasFrank maintained that the media were complicitbecause they eagerly promoted the‘democratisation’ of the stock market with littleregard for the risks (2001: 123). Lionel Barber,editor of the Financial Times, conceded thatthe ‘financial media could have done a betterjob…ahead of the dotcom crash’ (Barber 2009)but other critics were far sharper. John Cassidy,for example, wrote: ‘Despite some honourableexceptions, the overall standard of reportingon the internet stock phenomenon was dismal’(2002: 326).The failures of business reporting are also mostapparent in exceptional times and for many,Enron is the definitive example. Until the companycollapsed in autumn 2001, the majority ofbusiness journalists were seemingly obliviousto Enron’s dubious accounting practices. Justmonths before its downfall, Enron ‘had beenthe business media’s poster child, praised forits ‘innovative’ practices and consistently listedSome may argue that Enron was an exceptionand to cite it as an example of endemic problemsin business journalism is unfair. However,Danny Schechter (2009) wrote: ‘There is aunfortunate dialectic between financial failuresand media failures.’ This view is supported byDyck and Zingales, who found that the media’sinability to warn of Enron’s impending collapsewas ‘not an occasional lapse, but a systematicproblem that emerges during stock marketbooms’ (2003: 99).Although questions about journalism’s role inthe 2008 crisis promise greater understanding,they evoke a strong sense of déjà vu. Similarquestions were posed in the wake of Enron’scollapse (for example, McChesney 2003, Doyle2006, Madrick op cit and others) but there’s littleindication that EBF journalisms have improvedover the last decade. Indeed, the previous threehundred years suggest that the weaknesses arefar more entrenched than many acknowledge.Even so, the public requirement is strongerthan ever:The world desperately needs good financialjournalism. We need to understand thepractical, ethical and editorial problemsthat can prevent it… (there is) …an historicopportunity to address this need (Tambini2008: 3).In normal times: Three lines of academic inquiryGiven the relative lack of research into EBF journalisms,it is unlikely that these problems willbe understood in depth for some time. A usefulstarting point, however, is to assume that, likeother genres, EBF ‘news items are not simplyselected but constructed’ (Schudson 1989: 265).Hence, news is the product of a complex processthat is influenced by a plethora of professional,commercial and cultural factors. Threefactors that are particularly pronounced in EBFjournalisms – ethics, routines and journalistknowledge – have become fertile ground foracademic investigation.Firstly, unlike other genres, EBF journalismscan influence the performance of the subjects42 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


and the outcome of events upon which theyreport. They have the unique ‘power to movemarkets’ (Tambini 2008: 9, Robinson 2008) and,as demonstrated in 1929, 2000 and 2008, thesejournalisms can influence the trajectory of thenational – and even the global – economy. Consequently,journalists have an ethical responsibilityto cover events accurately but withoutinducing panic (Wu et al 2002: 21; Kinsey opcit: 167; Marron 2010: 274). Financial journalistsalso need to be wary of breaking criminallaws, such as ‘market abuse’ which includesinsider trading, market manipulation, conflictsof interest and non-disclosure (Tambini 2010:162-163).Secondly, routines strongly influence EBF newsproduction. Gillian Doyle (2006: 448) notedthat diary events – such as government economicreports and corporate results – providean orderly and largely scheduled flow of ideasfor stories. This might be convenient for journalistsbut Lawrence (1988) suggests that theregimented coverage of the 1980s bull marketgave rise to inconsequential reporting thatmissed the warning signs of the 1987 stock marketcrash. Such a predictable schedule of prepackagednews also means coverage becomesevent-centred and episodic (Marron op cit: 271).Journalists tend to move as a herd (Payne 2008),become reliant on newswires and thus, there’san increased risk of producing mere ‘churnalism’(Davies 2008). Similarly, competition forpublicity is intense, so business and financialjournalists are bombarded by PR companiesattempting to frame stories in their clients’interest (Davis 2002: 70, Doyle 2006 :435).Thirdly, a lack of journalist knowledge is commonlycited as a reason for the EBF media’sinability to spot the warning signs of the 2008Crisis (Barber 2009; Fraser 2009: 51) and thishas become the focus of much recent study.Training has been an unresolved and neglectedissue for years (Tambini 2008: 19) particularlyfor reporters working on the business sectionsof the non-specialist mainstream media (Doyleop cit: 440-441). The training deficit was themedia’s default explanation to criticism aboutthe Enron episode (Madrick op cit: 6) and thiswas even acknowledged by Marjorie Scardino,CEO of Pearson (owner of the Financial Times)in a surprisingly candid mea culpa by proxy:‘We could have done a lot more digging (aboutEnron.) But business journalists often don’tknow a lot about business’ (in Byrne 2002).This was a worrying admission: if Financial Timesjournalists do not sufficiently understand theirspecialism to be an effective watchdog, whathope is there for the non-specialist media?Furthermore, although training undoubtedlyplayed a part in the 2008 failure, there are fewsigns that addressing the knowledge deficiencyis on the agenda. For the two leading Britishtraining councils – the National Council for theTraining of Journalists (NCTJ) and the BroadcastJournalism Training Council (BJTC) – multimediaskills are the top priority. While accreditedcourses are also expected to cover medialaw and public affairs, business and economicsare barely mentioned on either organisations’website (NCTJ 2011, BJTC 2011). Consequently,only a handful of British universities run specialistcourses, or even modules, in economics andbusiness journalism and there are ‘no reportsof journalists rushing to enrol on accountancycourses’ (Wilby 2009).BBC journalists and their audiences: A minicasestudyResearch into ethics, routines and practitionerknowledge will undoubtedly contribute to adeeper appreciation of the nature of the journalisms.But if EBF reporters are to deliver onnormative expectations, a more productive lineof investigation might begin with the relationshipbetween journalists and their audiences.The BBC provides a revealing case study for tworeasons. First, despite increasing competitionfrom satellite channels and online providers,it remains a highly trusted source of economicand business news (Blinc Partnership 2007: 42).Second, and most crucially, the BBC has a statutoryobligation to be: ‘…fair and open mindedin reflecting all significant strands of opinion,and exploring the range and conflict of views’(Neil Report in Budd op cit: 6). The BBC’s stricteditorial policy applies equally to its television,radio and increasingly popular online newsoutput (Ofcom 2007: 34). Hence, with impartialityat the heart of its journalism (BBC 2011),the BBC arguably offers the greatest hope forimproving public knowledge of the economicenvironment and offering pluralistic perspectivesof economic and business issues.The perennial challenge facing EBF journalistsis to match content with the needs of a heavilysegmented, lay audience (Milne 2009, Pestonin Smith 2008). Specialist publications such asthe Financial Times, can safely presume strongknowledge and common interests among theirreaders. But popular newspapers and broadcastersneed to produce content that appealsto consumers, investors, employees, the unemployed,the retired and numerous other sub-PAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 43


Gary JamesMerrillgroups, all of whom require different information,have varying levels of interest andunderstanding, and will decode messages intheir own, unique ways.One audience-building strategy is to connecteconomics to personal wealth – such as houseprices, interest rates and pensions – and addressthe viewer primarily as a consumer or investoror, in business reporting, to focus on wellknownbrands (Tumber 1993). A second strategyis to humanise business by concentrating onpersonalities (Starkman in Schechter 2009: 23,Manning 2010: 8). This applies equally to corporateheroes who personify a company – suchas Richard Branson – or villains, such as bankersin the aftermath of the 2008 crisis who wereframed as the epitome of greed and deception(Tulloch 2009: 104).Another related strategy is to frame businessas drama, complete with characters and a grippingnarrative. This was the ethos of Jeff Randallwho became the BBC’s first business editorin 2001 (Kelly and Boyle 2011: 230.) A few yearslater, he said BBC editors now ‘get’ what businessis about:If you tell the story properly, business isevery bit as compelling, every bit as soapopera as politics. It’s about power and influence,treachery and betrayal, money, bignames and brands. Not about accountantsin grey suits sitting behind desks shufflingpaper (in Burrell 2004).When Randall arrived at the BBC, he shared awidely-held belief that the organisation ‘wasculturally and structurally biased against business’(Randall in Kelly and Boyle op cit: 232).In 2007, in response to such charges, the BBCTrust commissioned a comprehensive study thatlooked at the impartiality of the corporation’sbusiness reporting (Budd op cit). Chaired by SirAlan Budd, the research revealed no evidenceof a bias against business per se, but it did findthat BBC business news tended to focus onconsumers and the buying public’s relationshipwith companies (ibid: 14, 16).Contrary to perceived left-wing sympathiesat the BBC, trade unions felt their perspectivewas under-represented. Witnesses expressedconcern that there were programmes on consumerrights but none about workers’ rights:‘the world of work does not really feature onthe BBC – and even when it does it is withoutthe workers’ (ibid: 20). In his narrative, Buddshowed sympathy with the unions’ assessment:Around 29 million people work for a livingin the UK and spend a large proportion oftheir waking hours in the workplace. However,little of this important part of UK lifeis reflected in the BBC’s business coverage(ibid: 19).This is one of the most illuminating of Budd’sfindings, particularly as it resonates withresearch from an earlier era. In the late 1970s,the work of the Glasgow University MediaGroup (GUMG) was widely criticised, partlybecause it challenged deeply held beliefs, particularlywithin the BBC, that television news isimpartial (Deacon 2003). The Glasgow researchersdiscovered that in the reporting of industrialdisputes, the views of workers were marginalisedwhile disproportionate credence, airtimeand context were given to managers and thegovernment (GUMG 1976, 1980).It is somewhat ironic that a BBC-commissionedreport focused on perceived bias against businessshould concur with such radical research.Furthermore, although Budd encouraged journalists‘to pursue innovative ways of treatingthe audience as employees, citizens and investors[direct and indirect]’ (Budd op cit: 24), somebelieve that the BBC is too eager to assumethat shareholder contentment is synonymouswith universal economic wellbeing. In a debateat London’s City University, Professor AlistairMilne asked why the FTSE 100 index is quotedon every BBC News report (Milne 2009). Fellowpanellist and chief BBC economics correspondent,Hugh Pym, replied : ‘… because 10 millionBritish people are shareholders’ (Pym 2009a).This brief exchange is revealing for four reasons.First, the FTSE is of negligible value to the publicbecause professional investors have access tomarket information far sooner (Schuster 2006:97). Second, two-thirds of the profits of FTSE100 companies are earned overseas (BBC 2010),so the index only partially reflects the health ofthe domestic economy. Third, although manyBritons are, indeed, shareholders, their cumulativeinvestment is tiny in comparison to thefinancial institutions which own around 90 percentof all shares (Davis 2006: 11). And fourth,the FTSE 100 is immaterial to non-shareholders,and other indices – income statistics, povertyrates and un-paid overtime – would arguablybe more relevant to, for example, almost sevenmillion British trade union members (TUC2010).As with the BBC’s former business editor (seeabove), the views of its senior economics cor-44 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


espondent hint at underlying assumptions inthe BBC’s coverage of economics and business.For instance, although Pym acknowledged thatthe media should share the blame for the 2008crisis with governments, banks and consumers(Pym 2009b), his post-mortem of the crisis (coauthoredwith Nick Kochan) gave no indicationthat the prevailing economic ideology warrantedcritical analysis. Instead, Pym and Kochannoted consensus among mainstream politicalparties that the free market brings prosperityto all: ‘rocking the capitalist boat went out offashion some time ago’ (2008: 3).There are two theories about the origins of suchjournalistic assumptions. One states that theyare derived from shared values: reporters simplyreflect generally-held views. An alternativetheory is that journalists are part of a dominantgroup in society and, in their reporting, theytend to gravitate to other members of the elitefor information and then reflect and reinforcethe dominant perspective in their work (Curranet al 2005: 302).On the surface, Pym’s reluctance to criticise capitalismsuggests his reporting is underpinnedby commonly-held views. However, althoughparliamentary parties have, indeed, embracedneoliberalism over the last three decades, alternativeshave not totally disappeared. For example,nationalisation, redistributive taxation andother pillars of post-war Keynesianism wererediscovered by the British and American governmentsas the 2008 crisis unfolded. What’smore, there is evidence that such policies mightbe popular among the general public.In 2009, for example, a major internationalsurvey (29,000 people in 27 countries), commissionedby the BBC World Service, revealedwidespread disillusionment with capitalism. Inonly two countries did more than 20 per cent ofpeople think capitalism was working well, anda higher proportion thought it ‘fatally flawed’.There was also significant global support formore government regulation of business and afairer distribution of wealth (BBC World Service2009).Such data suggest that Pym’s statement ismore in tune with the beliefs of the politicaland business elite than the general public, andfurther supporting evidence for the dominanttheory can be found in the educational backgroundsof BBC journalists. Like Hugh Pym, theBBC’s current business editor Robert Peston;economics editor, Stephanie Flanders; and herpredecessor, Evan Davis; all studied philosophy,politics and economics (PPE) at Oxford University(BBC 2001, White 2005, Greenham 2011,BBC 2004).This observation has limited value in isolationbut it clearly chimes with the argument thatBritish journalists per se lack genuine publicempathy because of their privileged roots and,in particular, their education. Edwards andCromwell, for example, point to a Sutton TrustReport which revealed the imbalance: 45 percentof leading journalists attended Oxbridgeand ‘54 percent of the top 100 newspaper editors,columnists, broadcasters and executiveswere educated privately’, compared to justseven percent of the general population (2009:234-235).No rebellion: The reinforcement of ‘professional’Although Robert Peston also accepts the ‘slowand lingering death of financial paternalism’,and hence the pre-eminence of individual economicactors (Peston 2009: 18), it would befoolish to make bold claims about either commonpro-market beliefs among BBC journalists,nor indeed a tendency to favour that ideologyin their reports. Indeed, most reporters wouldrecoil in horror at accusations of bias, and yetthere is agreement among academics, that‘“bias” and opinion are fundamental conditionsof the production of news, not accidentalpathologies’ (Curran and Seaton 1991: 174).Edwards and Cromwell maintain that an organisation’srecruitment strategy is the originalsource of bias. At the BBC, they wrote, this is:‘systemic, rooted in the very structure – who itemploys, how they are chosen, who does thechoosing and so on’ (2009: 36). On this basis itwould be fair to assume, for example, that RobertPeston’s education and prior career – includinga period as a stockbroker and nine years as aFinancial Times journalist (White 2005) – wouldin some way influence how he sees the world ofbusiness. One would certainly expect this frameof reference to differ from that of an hypotheticalrival of equal ability and knowledge whowas born into a low-income family, attended anon-elite university and whose early career wasspent as a researcher for a trade union.In the absence of ethnographic studies, one canonly speculate about the nuances of EBF newsproduction process – at the BBC or elsewhere– and the extent to which the backgrounds ofjournalists influence the news product. Nevertheless,it would be reasonable to assume that,as with other genre, a journalist’s presumedPAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 45


Gary JamesMerrillautonomy is greatly reduced once he or she hasbeen socialised into the culture, norms, ritualsand procedures of the group (Schudson opcit: 266). This process begins with recruitment,and then training, newsroom discipline andthe influence of one’s peers combine to createa ‘cultural air’ which sustains and defines ‘professional’journalists (Zelizer 2005). A cohort ofreporters is, to a large extent, homogenised inits appreciation of news values and workingpractices, and hence its production of news(Gavin and Goddard 1998: 466).Journalistic culture is a powerful force and onecan appreciate how it might trump other factors.Indeed, the ‘increase training’ argumentoften fails to acknowledge that additionalcourses will not necessarily produce more balancednor critical perspectives. This depends toa large extent on who has designed the curriculum.In the United States, for example, businessand journalism education have a long-standingrelationship: corporations have been fundingtraining programmes and sponsoring textbooks since the 1970s (Dreier 1982: 126, Bekken2005) and some newspapers hire business peopleto train journalists in-house (Ludwig 2002:134). In such circumstances, journalism classeswould clearly be more sympathetic to the goalsof big business than stakeholders such as localcommunities or workers.The UK’s training regime is less formalisedbut there are still hints of how course contentmight determine the parameters of journalists’understanding. At the BBC, Alan Budd notedthe importance of senior business journalists inknowledge transfer (Budd op cit: 21) and suchinformal training – by which less experiencedjournalists learn ‘on the job’ – is surprisinglyprevalent in other news organisations in theUK (Doyle 2006: 440-441). Irrespective of whowrites the text books and delivers the classes, itwould seem reasonable to assume that teacherswould to some extent pass on their owninterpretations of the economic environment.Consequently, in the case of journalists teachingother journalists, one can appreciate howa largely-unspoken newsroom modus operandimight be reinforced to the extent that even themost enterprising of journalist would find ithard to rebel against the dominant culture.Pluralism denied: The ideological monocultureIt is important to reiterate that economics is aninherently subjective discipline. For centuriestheorists have toiled over models – and politicianshave grappled with practical realities – inthe quest for enhanced, sustained and universaleconomic wellbeing. Debates in economicsare perpetual and there is no definitive answerto the basic economic problem of reconcilingfinite resources and infinite wants. The sameis true of business: the joint stock corporation,owned by public shareholders and focused onmaximising investor returns, is just one formof commercial entity. Others include mutualorganisations, worker co-operatives, privatelimited companies, state-owned enterprises,family-run businesses and freelances.Although the word is rarely used outside academia,neoliberalism has been the dominanteconomic paradigm for the last three decades(McChesney 1999). At the core of the ideologyis the belief that ‘human wellbeing can bebest advanced by liberating entrepreneurialfreedoms and skills’ (Harvey 2005: 2). Hence,markets are the ‘primary means of organisingsociety’ (Mansell 2011: 20) and together withlow taxation, low inflation and minimal governmentintervention, a fertile environment isproduced in which private enterprise can flourishand hence, create wealth (Heywood 1992:81-86). True to its roots in classical liberalism,neoliberalism places faith in the individual ratherthe collective and ‘business’, particularly thejoint stock company, is seen as the engine ofeconomic success.Slavoj Žižek (2008) is one of many to notethat neoliberalism has become the universalpolitical economic framework. Echoing FrancisFukyama’s (1992) proclamation that the demiseof the Soviet bloc represented the ‘end of history’and proved the intellectual superiorityof capitalism, Žižek suggests that by adoptingthe tenets of neoliberalism, the traditionallyleft-wing parties of Europe and the US havenegated neoliberalism’s negation (2008: 189)This argument resonates strongly with HughPym’s assertion that few people criticise capitalismthese days.Indeed, many other British EBF reporters acceptneoliberalism as a fact of life: researcher GillianDoyle’s interviews revealed ‘passivity in relationto pro-market ideologies’ (2006: 446). In theUnited States media, there has been very littledebate about whether ‘markets work’ (Sherman2002:28) and the view that reduced corporateregulation and ‘free markets’ have contributedto widespread prosperity has been largelyaccepted as ‘conventional wisdom’ (Goozner2000: 24). Mark Fisher maintains that faith inneoliberalism is so entrenched that it is impossibleto even imagine an alternative economicmodel (Fisher 2009: 2).46 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


Although political parties have no ‘convincingalternative grand narrative capable of challengingneoliberalism’ (Cammaerts 2011: 48), theideology still has plenty of credible opposition.For example, Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitzquestions the neoliberal assumption that marketsare inherently self-correcting and serve thepublic interest well (in Mansell 2011: 20).Other authors have focused on the apparentbrutality of a system that prioritises unfetteredprofit maximisation over social concerns (Klein2000, 2008; Monbiot 2001; Pilger 2002; Bakan2004.) Bob McChesney branded neoliberalism‘capitalism with the gloves off’ (1999: 8) andin the absence of criticism from left-of-centreparties, counter arguments typically come fromtrade unions’ anti-poverty, environmental anddevelopment NGOs, think-tanks and a scatteringof intellectuals (Cammaerts op cit: 48).With the world’s economies still reeling from thefallout of the 2008 Financial Crisis, one mighthope that the news media would redouble itsefforts to give exposure to such dissenting voices.The evidence from the last three decades,however, suggests this is highly unlikely. Manystudies have, like the Glasgow University MediaGroup’s early work (1976, 1980), noted the marginalisationof alternative perspectives. In additionto the BBC report (Budd op cit), examplescan be found in South Africa (Kariithi and Kareithi2007), Finland (Ainamo et al 2006), andthe United States (Chomsky in McChesney et al1998, Kollmeyer 2004 and Bekken 2005.)Such empirical research demonstrates a significantideological dimension in EBF news.Indeed, Daya Thussu argues that neoliberalismis such a pervasive, hegemonic discourse thatit has become: ‘part of the commonsense viewof the world’ (2007: 134). It is also a subtle discourse:many economic and business conceptsare abstract so metaphors are commonly usedby reporters. By characterising ‘the economy’(or indeed, ‘the market’) in anthropomorphic,meteorological, biological or mechanical terms,it becomes a reified, mysterious force outsideof the control of people or even government(Emmison 1983, 1986). What’s more, the languageand images: ‘which serve to constitute(the economy) are produced without reflection.It has become the “natural” way to see ...a world of normality’ (Emmison 1983: 154).Business as unusual: The varied voices of dissentWith the normalisation and reification of neoliberalism,it is perhaps no surprise that EBFjournalisms have such a poor record of warningof potential dangers in inherently volatile markets.What’s more, these journalisms have beencriticised for neglecting deep-seated issues thataffect millions of citizens. Poverty, unemployment,shortages of affordable housing andsocial deprivation are long-term problems,inexorably connected to much larger debates,and yet EBF news tends to be episodic, dealingwith: ‘…single issues that emerge, occupyjournalists’ and the public’s attention and thenrecede’ (Wu et al 2002: 33). Bob McChesneygave a blunt assessment of this tendency amongAmerican journalists:...the virtual absence of news concerning theworking class and poor is taken for grantedby professional journalists. It is not seen as‘self-censorship’ to shape the news in such amanner. That is the genius of professionalismas a form of regulation (2003: 313).This inability to address economic issues criticallyand as part of a far bigger picture, arguablycharacterised the non-reporting of warningsignals in the prelude to the 2008 Crisis. PaulManning argues that evidence of impendingdisaster was available to journalists but ‘fewbegan to develop a comprehensive or holisticapproach that might point to the broadest dangers’(2010: 6). Professor Alistair Milne echoedManning’s concern and said journalists rarelyanalyse the capitalist system, and its impact onsociety as a whole (Milne op cit).Why would such a critique be absent frommuch reporting? Perhaps it is because, in StuartHood’s words, journalists interpret ‘impartialityas the acceptance of that segment of opinionwhich constitutes parliamentary consensus’(Curran and Seaton 1991: 200). Hence, if politiciansdon’t argue for alternatives, then journalistsfeel no obligation to find and present them.Protestors, intellectuals or left-wing politiciansmay vocalise criticism of neoliberalism but, inDaniel Hallin’s terms, these groups may exist inthe ‘zone of deviance’ outside of what mainstreamculture accepts as normal, and hencebeyond the professional codes of objectivityand fairness (in Schudson 2003: 187).This is not to say, of course, that ‘radical’ voicesare totally absent from EBF reporting. Indeed,dissenters are sometimes allowed to contributeto debates (Schudson 1989: 267; Tumber op cit:358) and research suggests their inclusion ispopular: a Glasgow University survey of televisionviewers, for instance, revealed that 73 percentwould like to see ‘alternative’ viewpointsPAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 47


Gary JamesMerrill(such as Noam Chomsky, John Pilger and NaomiKlein) considered ‘as part of a normal range ofopinion’ (in Edwards and Cromwell op cit:13).When counter-arguments to the political consensusare eloquently and passionately aired,the audience response is often exceptional(Edwards 1998: 95).Arguably the most sustained criticism of bigbusiness in the UK can be found in Private Eye.Sharon Lockyer suggests this is because of thepublication’s unique ownership structure; anapolitical editorial line; and its disregard forreader sentiment and libel threats. Hence,unlike the majority of the British commercialmedia, the Eye can follow a: ‘citizen-led ratherthan customer-led approach to journalism’(2006: 777). The magazine is also known for its‘comedy section’ which provides a surreal complementto its investigative journalism. Indeed,the unlikely combination of biting satire andprobing journalism was also used to great effectby American film-makers Morgan Spurlock, inhis comprehensive demolition of McDonald’s(Supersize Me!), and Michael Moore in hiscritical analysis of the American health system(Sicko) and neoliberalism itself (Capitalism: Alove story).Again, these films were extremely popular andgenerated debate about neglected economicand business issues. Similar innovation can befound on British television. In recent years, chefJamie Oliver has raised public awareness of thepoor quality of school meals in both the UK andthe US (Jamie’s school dinners and Jamie Oliver’sfood revolution) and in the process he questionedthe ethics of the ‘junk’ food industry.Also on Channel 4, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalllobbied supermarkets to banish factory-farmedchickens from their shelves (in Hugh’s chickenrun) and, more recently (in Hugh’s fish fight),encouraged more than 700,000 people to join acampaign for changes in European Union fishingpolicy and to urge the canning industry touse only sustainable tuna.By following a hero on his righteous mission,these programmes inject a sense of drama inorder to hook the audience (Thirkell in Kellyand Boyle 2011: 242). In this sense, they aresimilar to popular business-entertainment programmes,such as The Apprentice and Dragons’Den, but unlike these latter examples, the focusis not on key components of the neoliberal paradigm(the individual, competition and profit)but on ethical considerations (animal welfare)and the broader society (public health).Although it may not be immediately apparent,television chefs and satirical film-makers haveproduced the most creative, inclusive and compellingexamples of economics and businessjournalism of recent years.The future of alternativesGretchen Morgenson, of The New York Times,said that the media’s failure to ring the warningbells about Enron should have promoted anew era of ‘widespread scepticism’ among businessjournalists (in Sherman 2002: 28). A decadelater, with the world’s economies still sufferingfrom the 2008 Financial Crisis, there are preciousfew signs of a critical instinct (Schechter2009:20, Manning 2010, Marron et al 2010).When three centuries of the EBF media’s contributionto booms and busts is considered, itis hardly surprising that journalism failed thepublic in 2008. Furthermore, over the last threedecades, and irrespective of the trajectory ofthe stock market, there has been little indicationthat EBF journalisms in the UK or US havepaid much attention to the views of those whodispute the merits of neoliberalism or indeedthe informational needs of the full spectrum ofstakeholders. The neglect of structural problemsand an apparent lack of interest in alternativeeconomic and business models strongly suggestthe problems in journalism stretch far beyondmicro-factors such as routines and training.In his 2009 Richard Dunn Memorial Lecture,BBC business editor Robert Peston said financialjournalism needs ‘to empower people to participatefully in democracy’ (Peston 2009: 18).Few would disagree with this statement but itis unfortunate that probing the foundationsof the dominant ideology is seemingly out ofbounds for many journalists. This is painfullyironic: if there were ever a time when the worldneeded to dissect neoliberalism and assess itsalternatives, it is now.Although the media are not simply ‘passivetransmission belts of capitalist propaganda’(Dreier 1982: 123) and theories of elite dominationare far from infallible, we are evidentlya long way from a truly democratic and inclusivemedia that might facilitate greater publicdebate. Reporting from the point of view ofcitizens, rather than consumers or shareholders,would obviously necessitate a widespreadchange in emphasis of the news product:whereas investors want enthusiasm, citizensneed a high level of scepticism (Henriques inHarber 2009). But as things stand ‘commercial-48 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


ly-led financial news production… is not reallydesigned for and is unlikely to succeed in anypublic educational role’ (Doyle 2006: 451).But it is not all doom and gloom. The mainstreambroadcast media occasionally produceexceptional documentaries that investigateerrant companies or analyse elements of thebroader economic world. In the printed media,progressive publications such as the Guardian,the New Internationalist and the New Statesmanin the UK, and The New York Times, theNation and Mother Jones in the US often castbig business and neoliberalism in a critical light.And then, of course, there’s the satirists andtelevision chefs who have taken economic andbusiness journalism in a new direction.But the fact remains that, when compared toviewpoints that support neoliberalism, dissidentvoices are rare in the mainstream EBF media(Payne 2008, Cottle 2003: 161-162). What’smore, progressive publications are unlikely toreach a mass audience and television documentariesprovide only infrequent criticism, and typicallychip away at small parts of the neoliberaledifice. The internet offers some salvation andthere is certainly a surfeit of online opinion butthe internet is not (yet) a primary news source(Fenton 2011: 68). Furthermore, the larger,more established news providers continue todominate in a way ‘that limits the possibilitiesfor increased pluralism’ (ibid: 64).Thanks to the near monopoly of the commercialnews media in the US (and the reasons outlinedabove) it is unlikely that American citizens willreceive regular critiques of neoliberalism. In theUK, however, the BBC’s commitment to impartiality,the quality of its reporting, and relativefreedom from the profit imperative makes itarguably the likeliest candidate to air dissidentviews on a regular basis.There is widespread agreement among journalistsand academics alike that the EBF medianeeds to improve its game, and the first stepto a increased pluralism is to acknowledge thatneoliberalism is not the only economic model.Politics extends far beyond the walls of parliamentand, to fulfil their fourth estate duties,journalists need to regularly give airtime, pagespace and credence to ideas beyond the mainstream.Only then will the public be able tomake up their own minds about the merits ofthe dominant economic ideology and its alternatives.Note1 Although they are interrelated and often cover similar territory,economic, business and financial journalisms are not synonymous.For the purposes of this study, the following delineations apply:‘economic journalism’ applies to macro-economic issues (inflation,trade, unemployment, wages, poverty, etc.). ‘Business journalism’relates to the activities of companies and industries; and ‘financialjournalism’ applies to financial markets, investments and consumerfinance reporting.ReferencesAinamo, Antti, Tienari, Janne and Vaara, Eero (2006) Between Westand East: A social history of business journalism in Cold War Finland,Human Relations, No. 59 pp 611-636Bakan, Joel (2004) The Corporation: Pathological pursuit of profitand power, London, Constable and RobinsonBalen, Malcolm (2002) A very British deceit: The secret history ofthe South Sea Bubble and the first great financial suicide, London,Fourth EstateBarber, Lionel (2009) On why journalists missed the impendingfinancial crisis, Poynter Fellowship Lecture at Yale University, 21April 2009. 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Milne, Alistair (2009) Saints or sinners: The role of the financialmedia in the financial crisis. Conference, City University, 2 December2009. Available online at http://www.city.ac.uk/whatson/2009/12_dec/021209-media-financial-crisis, accessed on 23 December 2009Monbiot, George (2001) Captive state, London, Pan Books/MacmillanNCTJ (2011) National Council for the Training of Journalists. Availableonline at http://www.nctj.com/, accessed on 31 July 2011Nieman Reports (2002) Reporting on business: Enron and beyond,Vol. 56, No.2, Summer pp 4-5Ofcom (2007) New news, future news: The challenges for televisionnews after digital switch-over, Ofcom discussion document, 26 June2007. Available online at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/tv-research/newnews.pdf, accessed on 24 July 2011Ojala, Jari and Uskali, Turo (2006) Any weak signals? The New YorkTimes and the stock market crashes of 1929, 1987 and 2000. 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His thesis, Prophets orprofits: British economic and business reporting from 1999 to 2008,compares and contrasts how UK broadsheets and the BBC Newswebsite covered three important economic and business issuesduring the Labour Party’s most recent period in government. Garypreviously taught journalism at the University of Glamorgan andthe University of Bedfordshire and has provided training coursesfor the National Union of Journalists, ITV Wales and S4C. From 2001to 2008, he taught at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media andCultural Studies, and before his teaching career, he was a freelancebusiness journalist specialising in the technology industry.PAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 51


Joel Stein and David BainesMyth-making on thebusiness pages: Localpress and glocal crisisThe role news media played in the global financialcrisis has been widely examined. However,there has been little investigation into waysin which the corporate structure of the newsmedia may have influenced the tone and framingof coverage. This paper interrogates thereporting by a local newspaper, the Journal,owned by one of Britain’s largest newspapercompanies, of the collapse of local bank NorthernRock which precipitated the UK’s bankingcrisis; the misconduct of senior executives, andtheir punishment by industry regulator theFinancial Services Authority. We show the Journalframed the bank predominantly as a victimof circumstance and the executives’ actions aslapses, rather than calculated deceptionsKey words: Local journalism, financial journalism,business news, corporate media, politicaleconomy, CDA (critical discourse analysis)IntroductionThe banking crisis in Britain was precipitated inSeptember 2007 by the collapse of Newcastlebasedbank Northern Rock (NR), then Britain’sfifth largest mortgage lender. NR was rescuedby the government but subsequently robustlycriticised for risky lending strategies and seniorexecutives fined for having misrepresented itsliabilities. The role the news media played inthe banking crisis has been widely examined:for example, journalists in Britain were calledbefore a House of Commons Treasury SelectCommittee to account for their failure to alertaudiences to signs of impending collapse, andhow they subsequently covered that collapse.There has been little investigation, however,into ways in which the corporate structure ofthe media, and particularly local and regionalnewspapers, may have influenced, even deter-mined, the tone and framing of that coverage.The NR coverage became a space in whichglobal, national and local socio-political discoursesintersected and cross-fertilised and thestudy presented here bridged some of the gapsbetween global, national and regional levelsof analysis of credit-crisis reporting. The crisisoffered an illuminating context within which toreassert the value of critical media theory andengage in further research into the ideologicallimits of marketised journalism, in particular,local journalism.This paper interrogates from a dialectical-relationalperspective (Chouliaraki and Fairclough1999, Fairclough 2003, 2006, 2009) the relationshipbetween institutional and structuralaspects of the press, professional practices andstrategies of journalists and the semiotic manifestationsof the coverage of this crisis. Ouranalysis focuses on coverage by Newcastlebasedregional morning newspaper, the Journal,published by Trinity Mirror (one of Britain’sbiggest media companies) of three criticalepisodes: the collapse of the city’s ‘local bank’;publication of the report criticising the bank’sand regulators’ failings; the punishment of NRexecutives. The Journal predominantly framedthe bank as a victim of circumstance, privilegedsources favourable to it and marginalised criticalvoices.This paper draws on existing literature to mapout the cultural political economy of the press. Itidentifies structural explanations for journalisticdeficiencies; provides textual evidence for theseclaims, and uses this as an elucidatory foundationfrom which to mount a critical analysis ofadvanced capitalist news discourse. It seeks toboth ‘explore some of the institutionalised forces...dominatingtoday‘s news-making practicesin general and their discursive dimension inparticular’ (Jacobs et al 2008: 4) and go beyonda critical analysis of linguistic representation(Barkho 2008: 279). It draws on Marxist theoreticaltraditions to interrogate relationshipsbetween the material realities of capitalism andideological character of a media establishmentembedded within that system. To facilitatecritical engagement with local press coverageof the NR story, the paper reviews some theoreticalinsights into the political economy ofthe media and relates this to the Habermasiannotion of the public sphere. It then identifieskey issues affecting local journalism and business/financialreporting. From this foundation,it confronts a selection of relevant news textsthrough a dialectical-relational version of criticaldiscourse analysis (CDA).52 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


MethodologyFairclough identifies four ‘essential’, but not‘mechanical’, elements of a methodology forconducting a dialectical-relational CDA in transdisciplinarysocial research (2009: 167):1. to focus on a social wrong in its semioticaspect;2. to identify obstacles to addressing thesocial wrong;3. to consider whether the social order‘needs’ the social wrong;4. and identify possible ways past theobstacle.The ‘social wrong’ identified in this paper is thefailure of corporate journalism to alert audiencesto impending financial crisis and the semioticprivileging of corporate hegemony and suppressionor marginalisation of critical discoursesin the public sphere, thereby limiting its abilityto properly investigate and report on abuses ofcorporate power. Obstacles to addressing thesefailings are explored within the analysis of corporatestructures and ideology of commercialmedia industries, and the semiotic dimensionsembedded within and constitutive of the relationshipsbetween media and other corporateinstitutions. In considering ‘whether thesocial order needs the social wrong’, the paperexplores the naturalisation of meanings whichidentify the interests of the community withthose of corporate structures and institutions.To ‘identify possible ways past the obstacles’, isbeyond the scope of this paper, but our inquiryinvites comparison between discursive themeswithin the corporate press and in the noncorporatemedia sector (such as the Guardian,owned by the Scott Trust); discourses emergingfrom the academy and the subversive voices ofindividual journalists, their trade unions andprofessional associations.To explore these issues, the study focused ondialectical relations between a commerciallocal newspaper, events connected with thecollapse of NR, and those relations which holdforce within each of these elements. Key newstexts relating to three critical episodes in thedevelopment of events were analysed, drawingon the dialectical-relational approach which‘focuses not just upon semiosis as such, but onthe relations between semiotic and other socialelements’ within a cultural political economyframework (Fairclough 2009: 163). These episodeswere:1. the story breaking and launching ofthe campaign to rescue NR (September2007);2. the parliamentary investigation of NR’scollapse and regulatory failings andthe subsequent resignation of the NRchairman (October-November 2007);3. the punishment by the Financial ServicesAuthority of three senior NR executivesfor providing misleading figuresrelating to its liabilities (April-July2010).Analysis of ‘critical instances’ can be revealingof underlying trends, motives and structures(Tripp 1994, Berlak and Berlak 1981, Sykes et al1993). Such incidents can also entail modelledreactions which embed values which the actorsconcerned (in this study, the journalists) maynot espouse – may even contest – but which areconditioned by structures, context and practice(Tripp 1994: 69-70). The semiotic dimensions ofthese episodes are embedded in wider socialpractices and Richardson (2007: 24) advocatesa functionalist definition of discourse, where‘to properly interpret...a newspaper report...we need to work out what the...writer is doingthrough discourse, and how this “doing” islinked to wider...institutional, socio-culturaland material contexts’. In this approach, theinstitutional, socio-cultural and material levelsof analysis that feature throughout this studyare very much a prerequisite to and componentof any meaningful examination of particulartexts and the discursive practices manifesttherein.Corporate media and the free marketHerman and Chomsky (2002: 298) argue that‘the “societal” purpose of the media is toinculcate and defend the economic, social, andpolitical agenda of privileged groups that dominate...societyand the state’. They posit fivesystemic filters in their propaganda model, thefirst two of which (relating to ownership andadvertising) critically inform this study.By linking media texts to economic imperatives,the structural influence on ‘form, content, andideology’ become ‘visible’ (Craig 2004: 236).Craig (ibid: 237) observes that long and shorttermtrends have ushered in an era of corporatemedia management, and warns that ‘themedia‘s reliance on advertising revenues doesnot bode well for an informed and activelyengaged public and a democratic society’ (ibid:250). Habermas’s concept of the public sphere(1989, 1996) has been much criticised, but neverthelessprovides a useful concept againstwhich to critique the normative function of corporatemedia. Fairclough argues that in moderndemocracies ‘oligarchy and democracy arePAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 53


Joel Stein andDavid Bainesopposing principles in tension and any regimeis an unstable compromise between them. Thepublic sphere is the sphere of encounters andconflicts between these principles’ (2009: 172).But Moore (2007: 39) holds that ‘in the currentnews media revolution some of the basic principlesunderpinning good journalism [depth,context, objectivity, balance and accuracy] arebeing lost’. And Staats suggests that profit-motivatedmedia have generated ‘a media-basedtechnofeudalism’ which has transformed thepublic sphere into a place where manipulationof public attitudes is more in evidence thandemocratic dialogue (2004: 593).In delineating ‘ideological dynamics’ (see Allan2001: 65) of the profit-driven media system,this paper demonstrates that in the ‘conflict’between oligarchy and democracy within thepublic sphere, democratic principle is undermined.The British regional press and the economics ofcampaignsIt is well documented that journalism is experiencingits ‘most cataclysmic financial crisis...since the beginnings of an unfettered press’(for example, Barnett 2010: 13, McMillan 2009).Much of Britain’s provincial newspaper sectorhas been consolidated into large groups, whichhave been criticised on grounds of editorialquality, diversity, independence and robustness(Barnett 2010: 17, Franklin 2008: 14).Drawing on experience, Pecke (2004: 27) talksabout ‘endemic … problems of low pay, poorworking conditions, the complete absence oftraining, long hours, understaffed newsrooms,and a managerial emphasis on quantity ratherthan quality’.There is often a focus on personalities overissues, but in some cases issues are given apparentweight. In covering the NR collapse, Newcastle’sJournal launched a campaign to savethe bank, drawing on the local communityhaving shared interest in its survival. Aldridge(ibid: 492) suggests that when such a campaignis initiated, normal economic logic still applies:appealing to a sense of community or sharedexperience can help drive newspaper sales andcommodify audiences to be sold to advertisers.As such, the local press campaign to save NR canbe seen as a profit-motivated exercise, the significanceof which is amplified by the fact thatit uncritically defends an organisation whichturned out to be reckless in its own profit-seeking.Such campaigns are also indicative of theregional press’s tendency to simplify complexsocial issues in a populist interpretive frame andsustain ‘the papers’ self-definition as importantmovers and shakers with whom a loyal readershipwill identify’ (ibid: 500).How business and financial journalism worksFraser (2009: 82) points to a culture of tacitcomplicity between media and money andSchechter (2009: 21) observes that ‘not onlywere there few investigations of sub-primepredatory practices between 2002 and 2007,media companies took billions … in advertisingrevenue from dodgy lenders and creditcard companies’. At the level of local journalism,Aldridge found that ‘reluctance to disturbold friendships and vital contacts, fear of losingadvertising revenue from local firms and lack ofresources all combine to leave...local businessinterests largely unchallenged’ (op cit: 495).There are, however, problems with the productionof business and financial news other thanadvertisers’ influence. Doyle (2006: 433) suggeststhat while reporters are strongly inclinedto highlight instances of corporate underperformance,constraints within which they workmake it unlikely that they will consistentlydetect irregularities obscured within companyaccounts. She states:The notion that business news coverage isheavily influenced by powerful and selfinterestedcorporations accords with theradical critique offered by economist J. K.Galbraith [where] economists, politiciansand media are all party to an ‘innocentfraud’ in their interpretation of economicand financial events and all have colludedin myths (such as that of a benign ‘market’)that obscure rather than illuminate the gripof big business over public life (2006: 435).The perpetuation of these myths is inimical tocivic empowerment and democracy. The tendencyin the local press is, on the business pagesas elsewhere, centred on actors, events andintrigues at the expense of ‘the more analyticaland penetrating forms of journalism throughwhich public comprehension of events in thefinancial world might be strengthened’ (ibid:437-8).While most journalists may well be suspicious ofhypercapitalist greed, they often lack training,resources and editorial freedom to investigatecorporate crime or analyse the ‘financialisationof the economic system’ (Schechter 2009: 20).But too often, in relation to the recent crisis,business journalists weren‘t suspicious, and54 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


were ’swept up in the irrational exuberancethat drives markets upwards towards theirinevitable collapse’ (Fraser 2009: 78). A collapsewhich cost many journalists’ jobs, exacerbatingthe lack of depth and resources.There is, however, a deeper ideological processoperating through the business/journalism axis:the media shape perceptions of commerce andsituate audiences ontologically. The power ofthe corporate business sector is such, arguesStaats (2004: 591), as to cause citizens to thinkof themselves primarily as creatures of economics,consumers of goods and services, and politicalleaders as stewards of the economy.Shared interests, shared agendas: NR and TrinityMirrorOn 13 September 2007, BBC business editorRobert Peston revealed that Northern Rockwas seeking emergency Bank of England support.Customers immediately queued to withdrawdeposits and hundreds of jobs were atrisk. The government eventually bailed out thebank and, on 22 February 2008, nationalised it.Until then its fate had remained uncertain. TheJournal launched a campaign to save the bank(Wood 2007) and, reflecting on that campaigna year later, said it had been clear that ‘supportrather than neutral coverage would be needed’(Pearson 2008).When NR collapsed, Sir Ian Gibson, chairmanof Journal-owner Trinity Mirror, was a seniornon-executive director at NR and the bank wassponsoring the region‘s football, rugby andcricket teams, and the Journal’s business pages.UK broadcast regulator Ofcom bans sponsorshipof broadcast news and current affairs programmes,but no such restrictions are imposedon the press. The ‘Advertising Solutions’ website1 of ncjMedia (Trinity Mirror’s subsidiarywhich publishes the Journal) states: ‘Sponsorship[of sections of the publications] gives youa sustained presence in the newspaper foryour message with repetition helping to buildyour reputation.’ It also offers ‘advertorials’,‘designed to mimic the editorial content, styleand layout of the publication in which theyappear’.The charitable NR Foundation gave (and gives)the bank a substantial involvement in theregional community, but there is a body ofresearch which shows that corporate philanthropyand social responsibility build up socialcapital and enhance profitability, and thatself-interest is the critical motivation behindbusinesses engaging in such activity (Hustedand Salazar 2006, Kapoor and Sandhu 2010:200). Communities benefit from such activities,regardless of motivation, but the NR Foundationcan be seen as a continuing PR exercise.The foundation‘s £175m spending in the regionfeatured in sympathetic accounts of NR’s collapsein 2007 when the bank was largely portrayedas hapless – a victim of the US sub-primecrisis – rather than reckless.Myth-making: ‘The Rock’ as victim; money marketsas villain;Stephen Karpman‘s ‘drama triangle’ (citedin Mrotek 2001: 147) is a transactional socialand psychological model of human interactionwhich breaks down participants’ roles intothose of victim, persecutor and rescuer. Thismodel offers a fertile metaphorical base fromwhich to address the Journal’s framing of theNR crisis in its earliest stages: NR as victim of thecredit crunch – the Journal as rescuer. When thestory broke, the Journal’s first report was headlined‘Job loss warning as Rock calls for help’(Robinson 2007a): the company presented asa casualty, calling for help. The article opens:‘Mortgage lender Northern Rock confirmedtoday that it had agreed emergency fundingfrom the Bank of England after being rocked bythe credit crunch in financial markets’ (emphasisadded). From the outset, the cause is externalised:the ‘credit crunch in the financial markets’seen as a malignant force to which NR fellprey. The report states: ‘Banks fearful of potentiallosses from increasing defaults on higherrisk US mortgages have hiked up the rates atwhich they lend to each other’, reinforcing NRas victim of poor judgement overseas. Such discoursesof externality are described by Hay ascentral features of an increasingly dominant‘necessitarian neoliberalism’ (2004: 500).By 18 September 2007, the Journal’s campaignto save NR was in full swing with an articleheadlined ‘Support the Rock’ (Wood 2007). Thisaddressed the audience directly and employedterms of ‘obligation modality’ (Richardson,2007: 60) to promote a specific course of actionamong readers: depositing money with thebank. The article opens: ‘Good causes in theNorth have received £175m from Northern Rockin the past 10 years – and now is the time, theJournal believes, to help repay that support.’This moral exhortation mobilises the transactionallogic of capitalist discourse, and situatesthe audience in ideologically-loaded terms,stating that NR has ‘helped some of the mostvulnerable members of society’. Sources in thistext are ideologically homogenous: NR Foundationbeneficiaries voice gratitude and there isPAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 55


Joel Stein andDavid Bainesno place for oppositional voices. An associatedreport featured the Chamber of Commerce andTreasury, institutions which had engaged inthe same neoliberal adventure as NR, expressingsupport for NR. The latter announces thatdeposits would be guaranteed by the government.NR is the victim but the Journal is now itssaviour, rallying the community to its defence.These themes continued to define the coverage.On 19 September 2007, the Journal reported‘Savers return as crisis eases’ (Pearson 2007). Languageof conflict pervades the text: ‘The NorthernRock fightback began in earnest yesterday,as bosses declared themselves “delighted” withthe public response to their battle for survival.’Discourses deployed here, and throughout thecampaign as a whole, exemplify the positioningof the newspaper as ‘community commando’(Richardson 2007: 119). The article quotesan NR customer: ‘What I want to do more thananything is to make sure that Newcastle doesn‘tlose thousands of jobs because of some irresponsiblemedia scare-mongering.’ This continuesthe externalisation of responsibility, exoneratesNR and distances the Journal from therest of ‘the media’, responsibly championinglocal institution and community. These initialnarratives were adapted as the story becamemore complicated, mapping ideological boundarieswithin which these discourses continuedin the face of mounting evidence of the hazardsof neoliberalism.Blaming the regulatorsIn the following months, the Treasury SelectCommittee inquiry into NR criticised the UK’stripartite financial sector regulatory system(Financial Services Authority, Treasury and Bankof England) but its report made clear that NR’sdirectors ‘were the principal authors of the difficultiesthat the company has faced’ (House ofCommons Treasury Committee 2007-08). In theNewcastle press, there was a shift from blamingunsustainable lending practices in the US,to blaming Britain’s regulators. On 14 November2007, the Journal published an article headlined‘Bank regulation system branded a disaster’(Green 2007). The regulators’ response isdescribed, no doubt accurately, as having been‘strewn with errors’, but the focus on proceduraloversight inhibits critical engagementwith the governing ideology exemplified by thepermissive regulatory conditions. As Richardsonnotes, ‘the campaigns and appeals of local andregional newspapers focus almost universallyon the symptoms rather than the causes’ ofsocial issues (2007: 126), and ‘any discussion orcritique of capitalism (as a concept, as a system,as a material reality) is, almost universally, offthe agenda’ (ibid: 136). On 27 March 2008, theJournal reported the FSA’s humiliating reviewof its supervision of Northern Rock under theheadline ’Watchdog‘s failings let bank slide intocrisis’ (Decker 2008). The headline is unequivocal:NR is definitively absolved of responsibility.Thus, local press reporting of the findings ofthe Treasury Select Committee and FSA reviewrearticulated the construction of NR’s blamelessness.Uncomfortable revelationsAs the story developed, it became increasinglyclear that the bank was not simply a victimof global turmoil and regulatory failures butthat senior executives had misrepresented theextent of its liabilities to its own Assets andLiabilities Committee, and market analysts. As aresult of the Treasury Select Committee inquiry,Northern Rock chairman Matt Ridley resignedand, following subsequent FSA investigations,three former executives were fined for publishingfalse mortgage arrears figures (FSA 2010a,2010b). Discourses both mobilised and excludedin the Journal’s coverage of these events warrantfurther analysis.On 20 October 2007, the Journal reported ‘Rockchairman quits’ (Robinson 2007b). ‘NorthernRock chairman Matt Ridley quit the troubledbank yesterday, a month after the lender wasplunged into crisis’, sustains the discourse ofbank-as-victim. Ridley is an advocate of neoliberaleconomic ideology and a strong critic ofstate interventionism. A Journal interview withhim was headlined neutrally, ‘Former NorthernRock chairman speaks to the Journal’ (Wilson2010). It highlights in the second paragraph thathe was ‘blamed for “damaging the good nameof British banking” when the lender almost collapsedand needed a £26bn Government bailout’.It quotes him: ‘I have nothing but remorsefor my role in what happened. I’ve apologisedand explained as much as I can what happenedbefore the Treasury Select Committee.’ But inthe paragraph which follows Ridley reinforcesthe narrative within which the Journal had consistentlyframed the NR story:We were all taken by surprise by that. Therewas almost nobody who saw it coming.Those who did were not in the right placeto warn everyone else. Northern Rock endedup suffering a fate no different from anyother mortgage bank.And he endorses criticism of the regulators, saying:‘I’ve always been of the view that financial56 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


markets were under regulated and commercialmarkets were over regulated.’ Four monthsbefore this interview, the FSA fined and bannedfrom working in the financial sector former NRdeputy chief executive David Baker (£504,000),former finance director David Jones, (£320,000)and former managing credit director RichardBarclay (£140,000). These were, however, ‘regulatory’rather than ‘criminal’ offences and,reflecting this, the Journal’s coverage framestheir actions as lapses, rather than deceptions,underling Croall’s observation that ‘public,political and criminological representations ofwhite collar and corporate crime all illustrateits long recognized ambiguous criminal status’(2009: 175).The reports examined encapsulate the complexitiesinvolved in the social construction andreproduction of mass-mediated notions of whatshould and should not be a ‘crime’, what shouldor should not constitute ‘justice’, and how bothof these are also framed in relation to a massarticulation of legal order (Barak 2007: 102). On13 April 2010, the Journal published an articleheadlined ‘Former Northern Rock chief finedfor “misreporting” figures’ (Hill 2010). Misreporting,in quotes, comes from the FSA report,but is then woven into the news narrative. Itimplies error rather than intent, lexically mitigatingBaker’s (and Barclay’s) wrongdoing. On14 April, a follow-up (‘Ex Northern Rock executiveis handed record fine’, McCusker 2010)opens by stating ‘Northern Rock’s former deputychief executive has been handed a recordfine and banned for life by the City regulatorfor “manipulating” mortgage arrears figures atthe lender’ (emphasis added). While ‘manipulating’implies intent, the report quotes theFSA’s press release and not the notice of finding,which states more forcefully: ‘Mr Baker’sconduct demonstrated a lack of integrity andhe is therefore considered not fit and properto perform any controlled function in relationto any regulated activity …’. 2 David Jones wasthe final NR executive fined. On 27 July, theJournal (2010) reported: ‘Northern Rock bossfined £320,000 over figures.’ While the words‘manipulation’ and ‘misreporting’ reappear,the report also states ‘the FSA discovered thatfalse mortgage arrears and possession figureshad been reported before the bank’s nationalisation’,removing the agents from the narrativethrough use of the passive voice. Baker,Barclay and Jones made no personal profit, butthe false figures inflated NR’s share price andmisled investors and regulators. Language usedin the NR articles effectively neutralises theoffences in moral terms, symbolically resolvingtensions between the Journal’s support of NRand the revelations that emerged.ConclusionWhile the output of all profit-oriented mediacan fruitfully be analysed by interrogating theimpact of ownership, advertising and othercommercial factors, local newspapers are morevisibly affected by the inadequacies associatedwith cost-cutting. By specifically interrogatingthe NR story, this study has delineatedthe economic and discursive features of a localnewspaper campaign and bridged some of thegaps between global, national and regionallevels of analysis of credit-crisis reporting. Incovering a corporate story at a time of widespreadcorporate crisis, the corporate press wasworking in an echo-chamber where the ideologicaluniformity of private power resonatedwith reciprocal lucidity. We have shown thatthe discourses governing the Journal’s newsreports were constituted by hard economicrealities, and explored the ways in which thosediscourses reproduce and intensify the dominantsocio-economic order. Analysis has shownthat the media‘s absorption into the apparatusof consumer capitalism has had a detrimentaleffect on its ability to articulate or challengethe ‘worldwide romance with “free” markets’(Golding and Murdock 2000: 79), and that thishas limited its ability properly to report onabuses of corporate power. Corporate powerand the agents of that power were discursivelyabsolved of or distanced from blame withintexts relating to critical instances throughoutthe NR story, even represented as victims ratherthan as wrongdoers. As Hall and Winlow (2005:42) argue, opposition to consumer capitalismis ‘disappearing even as a utopian ideal as itslanguage and images evaporate in the heat ofmass-mediated neo-liberal culture’.Notes1 See http://www.trinity-mirror-north-east.co.uk/advertising-solutions.aspx,accessed on 22 July 20112 See http://www.fsa.gov.uk/pubs/final/david_baker.pdf, accessedon 22 July 2011ReferencesAldridge, Meryl (2003) The ties that divide: Regional press campaigns,community and populism, Media, Culture & Society, Vol.25, No. 4 pp 491-509Allan, Stuart (2001) News culture, Buckingham, Open UniversityPress, second editionBarak, Gregg (2007) Mediatizing law and order: Applying Cottle‘sarchitecture of communicative frames to the social construction ofcrime and justice, Crime, Media, Culture, Vol. 3, No. 1 pp 101-109Barkho, Leon (2008) The BBC’s discursive strategy and practices visà-visthe Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Journalism Studies, Vol. 9, No.2 pp 278-294PAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. 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An empirical examination of impact of corporatesocial responsibility on financial performance, Global BusinessReview, Vol. 11, No. 2 pp 185-208McCusker, Peter (2010) Ex Northern Rock chief is handed recordfine, Journal, April 14. Available online at http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2010/04/14/ex-northern-rockexecutive-is-handed-record-fine-61634-26239248/,accessed on 22July 2011McMillan, Robert (2009) Analysis: Newspaper crisis spurs debateon free online news, Reuters, 15 March. Available online at http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/03/16/us-newspapers-online-analysis-idUSTRE52F03520090316,accessed on 22 July 2011Moore, Martin (2007) Public interest, media neglect, British JournalismReview Vol. 18, No. 2 pp 33-40Mrotek, Diana D. (2001) The drama of dysfunction: Value conflict inUS managed care, Human Relations, Vol 54, No. 2 pp 147-172Pearson, Adrian (2007) Savers return as crisis eases, Journal, September19. Available online at http://www.journallive.co.uk/northeast-news/newcastle-campaigns/northern-rock/2007/09/19/saversreturn-as-crisis-eases-61634-19812961/,accessed on 22 July 2011Pearson, Adrian (2008) Bank story was like no other. Journal, September13. Available online at http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2008/09/13/bank-story-was-like-no-other-61634-21808828/, accessed on 22 July 2011)Pecke, Samuel (2004) Local heroes, British Journalism Review, Vol.15, No. 2 pp 26-30Richardson, John E. (2007) Analysing newspapers: An approachfrom critical discourse analysis, Basingstoke, Palgrave MacmillanRobinson, Chris (2007a) Job loss warning as Rock calls for help,Journal, September 14. Available at http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/newcastle-campaigns/northern-rock/2007/09/14/job-loss-warning-as-rock-calls-for-help-61634-19789582/, accessedon 22 July 2011Robinson, Chris (2007b) Rock chairman quits, Journal, October 20.Available online at http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2007/10/20/rock-chairman-quits-61634-19980614/,accessed on 22 July 2011Schechter, Danny (2009) Credit crisis: how did we miss it? BritishJournalism Review, Vol. 20, No. 1 pp 19-26Sikes, Patricia, Measor, Lynda, Woods, Peter (1993) Critical phasesand incidents, Teacher development: Exploring our own practice,Soler, Janet, Craft, Anna and Burgess, Hilary (eds) Thousand Oaks,Sage pp 104-116Staats, Joseph L. (2004) Habermas and democratic theory: Thethreat to democracy of unchecked corporate power, PoliticalResearch Quarterly, Vol 57, No. 4 pp 585-594The Journal (2010) Northern Rock boss fined £320,000 over figures.Journal, July 27. Available online at http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/breaking-news/2010/07/27/northern-rock-bossfined-320-000-over-figures-72703-26939829/,accessed on 22 July2011Tripp, David (1994) Teachers’ lives, critical incidents, and professionalpractice, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education,Vol 7, No. 1 pp 65-76Wilson, Karen (2010) Former Northern Rock chairman speaks to theJournal, Journal, August 28. Available at: http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2010/08/28/former-northernrock-chairman-speaks-to-the-journal-61634-27153658/,accessed on22 July 201158 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012PAPERS


Wood, Sam (2007) Support the Rock, Journal, September 18. Availableat http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/newcastle-campaigns/northern-rock/2007/09/18/support-the-rock-61634-19805829/, accessed on 22 July 2011Note on the contributorsJoel Stein graduated with distinction in the MA Media and Journalismat Newcastle University in 2010. He has written for the OpenRights Group, as well as various music magazines. He works for adigital marketing firm in Manchester, and is heavily involved withthe Insight Film Festival – a bi-annual event promoting inter-faithdialogue and community cohesion.David Baines lectures in journalism at Newcastle University. Hewas a newspaper journalist for 30 years, and for most of that timeworked on the Journal, Newcastle. He left the newspaper in August2007. He has published papers on journalism education and hyperlocaljournalism and is a trustee of MediaWise and a member of theboard of the Institute of Communication Ethics.PAPERSPAPERS Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 59


REVIEWsMirage in the desert? Reporting the ‘ArabSpring’John Mair and Richard Lance Keeble (eds),2011Bury St Edmunds, Abramis, 337ppISBN 978-1-84549-514-5Mirage in the desert? Reporting the ‘ArabSpring’, edited by John Mair and Richard LanceKeeble, is a timely, well-structured, informativebook. It hosts contributions from Western journalistswho covered the events that swept theArab world in 2010-2011 and led to the overthrowof three Arab presidents/dictators, BenAli of Tunisia, Mubarak of Egypt and Gaddafi ofLibya.The book also features contributions from wellknownscholars and writers in the field of journalismstudies, political communication, warreporting and propaganda. It is cleverly dividedinto seven sections. It starts with relativelyshort articles from journalists reporting fromthe frontline, then moves to question the term‘Arab Spring’ and the problem with the notionof the ‘tweeting revolutions’. One section looksinto the role al Jazeera, the international televisionnetwork, played in the uprisings and anothersection at women on the frontline in the Arabrevolutions, be it reporter or activist.After analysing the way Western media representedGaddafi, the book ends with reflectionson the long-term, political effects of the Arabrevolutions. Apart from the section on al Jazeera,the book mainly captures and examines reportingon the Arab revolutions in the Western-Britishmainstream media and Libya is a main focus.The reason might be that the Tunisian and Egyptianrevolutions took the Western media by surprise(the BBC kept calling the events in Egypt‘civil unrest’ for the first few days of the revolution),or that the events in Libya were closer tohome with the Nato intervention in support ofthe rebels.The editors’ decision to question the term ‘ArabSpring’ is important and significant. The authorswho contributed on the issue shed light on thehistorical, political and cultural roots of the term.In the Arab world, the uprising took differentnames: originally it was the Jasmine Revolutionin Tunisia, the 25 January Revolution in Egypt,the 17 February Revolution in Libya – and thensimply referred to as the Tunis revolution, theEgypt revolution and so on.The term ‘Damascus Spring’ was first used bylate Lebanese journalist Samir Kasir (killed inJune 2005). Kasir called for and predicted inhis writings a ‘Damascus Spring’ similar to thatof Prague Spring in 1968. Speak to journalistsfrom Tunisia, and Egypt and they tell you thatthey are still in the midst of their revolutions.Defending and protecting the achievements ofthe uprisings have become the priority for theyouth of both countries. For the people of thesenations, the ‘spring’ is yet to come.The journalists whose stories from the battlefieldfeature in the book do not seem to reflect onhow they came to adopt such a term and fromwhere it emerged. Some of the articles read asheroic self-promotions (see the chapter by StuartRamsay, chief correspondent of Sky News)while others appear as fascinating narratives –but with little reflective commentary (see theeye-witness reporting from the Libyan frontlineby Oliver Poole, of the Independent and LondonEvening Standard).Comprehensive reflectionsLindsey Hilsum and Alex Crawford (who gainedenormous fame for being the first Western journalistto enter Green Square in Tripoli as Gaddafi’sregime fell in late August 2011) succeedin their short contributions in highlighting someof the problems journalists face while reportingsuch complex situations. Wrye Davies, BBC MiddleEast correspondent, and Alan Fisher, seniorcorrespondent of al Jazeera, reflect comprehensivelyon their institutions’ performances duringthe revolutions.The chapter by Mashaal Mir, a Danish-Pakistanijournalists studying at Kingston University, needsto make a clearer distinction between al JazeeraArabic and al Jazeera English – and that criticismcould also apply to the whole section on alJazeera. There have been significant differencesin the editorial policies of the two channels –largely because their respective target audiencesare very different. The Arabic channel followsclosely Qatar’s foreign policy positions while alJazeera English seems to adopt a far more flexiblenews agenda.David Hayward, of the BBC College of Journalism,challenges the tendency to highlight thesimilarities between the events in the Arab worldand those that took place in Eastern Europe in1989 – but his writing at times can be over-generalisedand simplistic (particularly when he istalking of events in Bahrain and Lebanon).60 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012REVIEW


Some of the chapters are excellent startingpoints for further research: for instance, SimonCottle’s chapter on democratising media andcommunications, John Jewell’s chapter on howthe war was communicated in Libya, AlexanderKazamias’s on how Edward Said’s Orientalismthesis applies to the way Western media reportedthe ‘Arab Spring’ and Julie Tomlin’s on howArab women of the revolutions defied the Westernstereotypes.Mirage in the desert? Reporting the ‘Arab Spring’is a must read and a good reference book foracademics and researchers interested in studyingmedia, communications and journalism. Itis also a must read for journalists who reporton the Middle East and conflicts in general. Itis accessible reading to the general public interestedin the Middle East too. Mair and Keeble’sbook is guaranteed a place on my ‘Reportingthe Middle East’ class reading list.Zahera HarbSenior Lecturer, International Journalism,City University, LondonPR today: The authoritative guide to public relationsTrevor Morris and Simon GoldsworthyPalgrave MacMillan 370 ppISBN 978 0 230 24009 4There is no doubt that the pedigree of theauthors – Trevor Morris, former CEO of one ofthe UK’s biggest PR groups, and Simon Goldsworthy,senior academic and founder of WestminsterUniversity’s MA in PR – gives them credibilityand authority. But to say that PR Todayis ‘the Authoritative Guide to Public Relations’might be rather over-stating matters. It is, however,a very readable and well reasoned overviewof a much maligned profession.PR Today ranges from meaningful discussionsabout how PR is defined and sees itself throughto simple, practical tips and tools for planning,practising and even securing a job in PR. Thedebate about propaganda is excellent and popsup at relevant and challenging places throughoutthe book, poking a finger at PRs who insistthat it is others who engage in propaganda –and not them. The assertion that PR is amoralis well reasoned and accurate while the thornysubject of ‘truth and ethics in PR’ is also handledhonestly and well.Public Relations has an uncomfortable time inacademia as this book points out because itcomes from practice, is too often consideredlight weight – even fluffy – and lacks rigour. Butwhat do we want to achieve from an academicstudy of PR? The theories will be scant becausewe are looking at – in relative terms – a newdiscipline which needs time to build up its academiccredentials.The nature of PR requires practitioners to beable to draw from a wide variety of underpinningknowledge and theory ranging across persuasion,ethics, politics, social sciences, creativity,law, business disciplines and – possibly most ofall – reason. A successful PR practitioner will beable to marshal their thoughts coherently, writeand speak eloquently, command respect at alllevels of an organisation and to deliver theirstrategies.You could argue that there is no need to studyPR in and of itself but a programme of studythat brings all these elements of knowledge andskills together produces a well rounded graduaterather than one with specialist knowledgeof just one discipline. The future for PR in academiais bright if this book is anything to go bywith its willingness to challenge the practice andto encourage deep, critical thinking.One of the major roles of PR, it has to be stressed,is helping organisations and individuals thinkthrough the implications of their decisions andactions and how best to present the same. Someof that will require the media and other thirdparties,but much of it will be around presentationand tackling crucial questions. For instance,are the messages aligned across the organisation?Is the time and the place right? Do weneed to move the goal posts? PR also crossesboundaries, keeping an eye on what is going onthat could affect the organisations and individualsensuring that issues are identified and managed,avoiding the need to delve into the crisismanagement tool kit.Dividing the book into three sections, coveringtheory and analysis, planning and strategy andfinally practice, allows PR to be considered fromall angles leading to a realistic conclusion thatbodes well for the future. It is disappointingthat PR Today spends so little time on integratedcommunications – where PR, marketing andadvertising come together in a powerful combination.It would have been a great opportunityto consider the power struggles – particularlywith marketing – and debate where the emphasiscould lie with each.REVIEW Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 61


The future is rosy according to PR Today andgrowth in PR is something to be welcomed as asource of employment not just for young practitionersbut also for the necessary growth in theindustries that nurture, educate and train thepractitioners of the future. I do, however, takeissue with the authors’ assertion that reducedstate ownership is a prerequisite for this growth.They seem to forget that PR is also about providingwell presented public information with itsroots, certainly in the UK, in national and localgovernment campaigns to help the citizen live abetter, healthier, safer life.PR Today is an excellent textbook coveringmany of the crucial areas. The exercises dottedaround the text are useful to stimulate theapplication of the theories and ideas. As yet theweb resources on the companion website areunavailable but I will look forward to exploringthose in due course. I shall have no trouble at allrecommending it to my students, to new practitionersand, indeed, to organisations who needto understand what PR can do for them.Note to instructors: this work is clearly intendedto be a journalism textbook. It is clearly written– accessible to students without pandering tothem – and provides conclusions and thoughtfuldiscussion questions at the end of each of theseven chapters. Further, it has a most welcomefocus on journalism, not on the much broadertopic of mass media or, broader still, mediatedcommunication. The reporter that Ward usedto be still, thankfully, shines through, and theresulting book should appeal to both studentsand professionals, within academia or outside.As a teaching text, the strongest part of thebook is near the start. The concept of ‘ethics’ isnicely distinguished from prudence, custom, etiquetteand related concepts. Ward presents incapsule form much of his first book, The inventionof journalism ethics: The path to objectivityand beyond (2005). The major schools ofthought, particularly the consequentialism ofJeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill and thedeontology of Immanuel Kant, are clearly andeconomically explained.Let’s be honest: any book with a list of sourcesof useful information that includes The girl withthe dragon tattoo (Larsson), Salmon fishing inthe Yemen (Torday) and Absolute power (BBC)has to be worth a second look.Jane Crofts,Lecturer in Public Relations,University of LincolnEthics and the media: An introductionStephen J. A. WardMontreal, Cambridge University Press pp 290ISBN 978 0 521 71816 5In this portion of the book, Ward also providesa robust defence of journalistic objectivity that,in itself, is worth the cover price, in the opinionof this unrepentant hack who cut his reportorialteeth on the wire service conviction that itis possible, and necessary, to get things right.Ward has become a major champion of the conceptof objectivity in recent years. Aside fromthe history book, Ward has several journal articlesand book chapters on the topic, includingInventing objectivity (2010: 137-152) and Truthand objectivity (2009: 71-83). Such work is particularlyneeded at a time when assaults upon theconcept of objectivity have pushed even someof its strongest defenders to talk instead about‘fairness’ or ‘balance’, even though the conceptsare not the same thing at all.In Professor Stephen J. A. Ward’s latest book, heaccomplishes a rarity in scholarship: he deliversmore than he promises. For this volume, his thirdin two years (2010a, 2010b), is far more thanthe media ethics introduction promised by thetitle. Yes, it is a primer on news media ethics,and a very good one, but it also takes a seriouslook at two tough problems that 21st-centuryjournalists are grappling with. One is trying tocome up with a single ethical framework thatcan encompass the practices of new media andold. The second takes on one of the most vexingproblems of all: how to build, or at least startbuilding, a new journalism ethic that is as globalas contemporary journalism’s reach.Two meanings of ‘objectivity’As Ward points out, ‘objectivity’ means at leasttwo things. The first dates from the 1920s in theUS, where objectivity became a defining characteristicof the emerging journalism professionand came to mean a reporting method. Tocounter inherent human bias, journalists tried toadopt approaches from the hard sciences thatwe lump under the name ‘scientific method’: thedisinterested examination of empirical evidence,transparency, full disclosure and so on. Journalistsuse objective methods in their reportingbecause they know they are not utterly neutral,not because they believe they are.62 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012REVIEW


Ward presents the other sense of the term aswhat he calls ‘pragmatic objectivity’. This hedescribes as the analysis and interpretation thatare an alternative to or evolution of the ‘justthe facts’ neutrality associated with wire serviceor press agency journalism. When analysisand interpretation are done honestly and fairly,Ward maintains, they qualify as pragmaticobjectivity.Although the name is new and some of itsdetails differ in Ward’s telling, the concept ofpragmatic objectivity has been around since atleast the 1940s. In 1943, Henry Luce, publisherof Time magazine, created a blue-ribbon studygroup, the Commission on Freedom of the Press,to examine the US press system. In 1947, it producedwhat is usually known as the HutchinsCommission Report, named after its chiefauthor, Robert Maynard Hutchins, presidentof the University of Chicago. The report reassertedan 18th-century principle that democracywas possible only with a robust and unfetteredpress – not so that press barons could get richon celebrity gossip. So citizens are entitled to ‘atruthful, comprehensive and intelligent accountof the day’s events in a context that gives themmeaning’, the report said.A leading Hutchins Commission authority, StephenBates, has concluded that the report ‘hasappreciably influenced academic thinking aboutjournalism’, but that journalists have eitherignored or opposed it. He said the report ‘hasproved, as a call to action, a magnificent failure’(Bates 1995). One can still, however, seethe report’s legacy in the growing role of newsanalysis in today’s journalism, which is surely aneffort to present events ‘in a context that givesthem meaning’.Ward’s pragmatic objectivity idea builds uponthe social responsibility concept of the HutchinsCommission by elaborating on ways to makeinterpretive articles fair. To Ward, journalists arejust as honour-bound to be truthful and accuratewhen providing interpretation and analysisas when they are writing straight news articles.Elitist sense of omniscience of bigfoot journalismThe middle portion of the book is more contentiousas Ward endeavours to bring new mediaand old media under one ethical framework.He argues that the world of staid verify-before-publishingprint journalism and the snazzyTwitter/Facebook/blogosphere world canmore or less happily co-exist, even under thesame nameplate or on the same website. Wardinveighs against the elitist sense of omnisciencethat bigfoot journalism has tended to displayand is positive about the technology that allowscitizen-journalists and ordinary people to weighin on issues.Up to a point, the broadening of access is good.Journalism has tended to cover institutions betterthan it has covered the lives and problemsof the people those institutions are supposed toserve, so it is good that ordinary people can nowpublish their own information and opinions.However, journalists spend years learning howto cut through clutter and spin so they can dotheir jobs responsibly. Verifying before publishingis not just a quaint relic of the days of hottype and ‘Sweetheart – get me rewrite!’ Verifyingbefore publishing is part of the absolutecore of what good journalists do, and that kindof reliability is often lost in new media.Journalists are also taught to weigh the chancesof doing harm against the positive effects of theirwork. Ward argues that reporters may legitimatelygive trivial offence, but not profoundoffence, and he offers a way to think about suchquestions. One is reminded of the line from thecrusty old editor in the classic journalism filmAbsence of malice: ‘I know how to tell the truth.And I know how not to hurt people. I just don’tknow how do both at the same time.’So journalism has not outgrown its need forstandards of journalism ethics, and Ward is correctin arguing for codes that are more up todate. The National Union of Journalists’ Codeof Conduct, which covers the UK and Ireland,was first written in 1936. In the US, what is nowcalled the Society of Professional Journalists(formerly called Sigma Delta Chi) adopted itsfirst code a decade before. The codes were writtenin a world of print. Ward’s basic principle iscorrect: codes of ethics should reflect the newstechnology world of today’s journalists. Payingmore attention to citizens and the informationand insights they bring to stories can be worthwhile,but it also has its dangers.In the last section of the book, Ward contendsthat ethical standards should also take intoaccount the global stage where today’s journalistswork. Over three books now, he has arguedfor a universal ethical system, and he offers asa starting point what he calls cosmopolitanism,which asserts ‘the equal value and dignity of allpeople as members of a common humanity’.This, he says, is connected to what he calls the‘ethical flourishing’ of all humanity, the growthof individual, social, political and ethical dignity.REVIEW Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 63


Ward is certainly aware of the problems withdeveloping such a system. In his book, Globaljournalism ethics, and on his University of Wisconsinwebsite (ethics.journalism.wisc.edu), hespeaks regularly of the difficulties in gettingjournalists – even more than academics – onboard with his vision.as the world ushered in by Newton and Locke,Hume and Montesquieu. It is so much a part ofWestern democracy – the theory anyway, if notthe practice – that it may be easily forgotten thatthe principles are not automatically transferableto areas of the world where the Enlightenmentdid not extend.Integrating partial and impartial perspectivesWard says the questions to be answered includethese: ‘What exactly do journalists “owe” citizensin a distant land? How can global journalistsintegrate their partial and impartial perspectives?How can journalists support global valueswhile remaining impartial communicators?’ Buthe adds: ‘…[S]ome journalists may accuse globaljournalism ethicists of being unrealistic in thinkingthat news organizations will provide theeducation, expertise and extra resources neededto achieve a high-quality cosmopolitan journalism.’Ward clearly knows the difficulties of creatinga standard that would be essentially crowdsourced– a standard that would emerge fromthe work of journalists from many cultures.Notably, there are some professional organisationsthat are working on the topic; the InternationalFederation of Journalists began ahuge project in 2008 called the Ethical JournalismInitiative (ethicaljournalisminitiative.org/en/). And the International Center for Journalistsin Washington has worked with journalismgroups in 180 countries for more than 25 yearson improving journalism quality, including ethics.The bottom-up change Ward wants is deeplyproblematic. The frustrations inherent in suchefforts were colourfully described by the secondUS President, John Adams:If there is ever to be an amelioration of thecondition of mankind, philosophers, theologians,legislators, politicians and moralistswill find that the regulation of the press isthe most difficult, dangerous and importantproblem they have to resolve. Mankind cannotnow be governed without it, nor at presentwith it (Leigh 1947: iii).A core problem in a global approach – and possiblyan insurmountable one – is that journalismas we understand it in the West is clearly achild of the Enlightenment. Yes, when we lookfor antecedents, we can claim that the ancientGreek writer Herodotus was writing about currentevents when he wrote his Histories 2,500years ago. But the idea of journalism as a watchdog– as an essential ingredient in democraticself-government – grew out of the same etherDespite that, it is not particularly difficult tocome up with a short list of ethical principlesthat are universal. Every culture ever studied hassome sort of sanction on the taking of humanlife without cause. What belongs on the list ofexceptions to the ban is the stuff of heated orreasoned debate: war and capital punishmentleading the list at the state level, self-defencebeing a major exception at the personal level.But nowhere can a citizen be simply gunneddown with impunity.Positive value of truth-tellingIt is easy to see why. Any culture’s moral codeis, by definition, a set of acceptable and unacceptablenorms of behavior, built to help thatculture survive and thrive. And a society that toleratedrandom homicide simply would not lastvery long. Similarly, all cultures place a positivevalue of truth-telling because the cohesion of asociety depends upon meaningful communicationamong its members. Caring for the youngis another universal moral imperative. (Is therea story that generates more moral outrage thanone about a mother whose children perish in ahouse fire after she left them alone for a nightout?)But some things are not universal, such as respectfor the tribal wisdom of elders and respect forprivate property. When it comes to ethical moresregarding journalism, nations that are not builtaround the concept of popular sovereignty arequite different working environments for journaliststhan countries that are. Even non-Westerncountries with considerable press freedomgenerally expect journalists to protect societyand uphold its values to an extent not found inthe more individualistic West. For example, theJordanian ethics code calls on journalists to protectnational unity and support freedom movementselsewhere in the world.In conclusion, Ward offers much more to chewon in Ethics and the media: An introduction thanmight be expected for a journalism ethics textbook,even a couple of big problems for readersto ponder after they close the book. Will therebe a new code of journalism ethics that will dealintelligently with digital news media, with itswide base of non-journalist contributors, as well64 Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 CORRECTION


as with older news operations? Will there everbe a universal ethical system for journalism, orwill the post-Enlightenment chasm prove toowide? Democracy as we understand it is a productof the Enlightenment, from John Locke’sSecond treatise on government straight throughto the revolutionary documents of France andthe American colonies. But there are other modelsfor national progress in today’s world, suchas China’s system of totalitarian politics and anincreasingly capitalistic economy, where journalismrelies on the good will of the government.Finding points of agreement among nations onsome general ethical points is not hard becauseof universal moral principles that have developedby accident or design, by selective advantageor dumb luck. But this is not the case withjournalism, so Ward and any converts to his causehave their work cut out for them. The world ofnew media is a fast-moving target for would-becode proposers. And while Ward talks about de-Westernising the global ethics code he wants tosee come into being, it is probably worth notingthat nearly all of the efforts at building such acode come from either Western Europe or theUS, the home of grand experiments in Enlightenmentgovernance.ReferencesBates, Stephen (1995) Realigning journalism with democracy: TheHutchins Commission, its time and ours, Washington, D.C., TheAnnenberg Washington Program in Communications Policy Studiesof Northwestern University. Available online at www.annenberg.northwestern.edu/pubs/hutchins, accessed on 2 January 2012Leigh, Robert D. (ed.) (1947) A free and responsible press, Chicago,University of Chicago PressThe Commission on Freedom of the Press (1947) A free and responsiblepress (known as the Hutchins Commission Report), Chicago,University of Chicago PressWard, Stephen J. A. (2005) The invention of journalism ethics: Thepath to objectivity and beyond, Montreal, McGill-Queens UniversityPressWard, Stephen J. A. (2009) Truth and objectivity, Wilkins, Lee andChristians, Clifford G. (eds) The handbook of mass media ethics,New York, Routledge pp 71-83Ward, Stephen J. A. (2010a) Global journalism ethics, Montreal,McGill-Queen’s University PressWard, Stephen J. A. (2010b) Media ethics beyond borders: A globalperspective (co-edited with Herman Wasserman, Rhodes University,South Africa. Johannesburg, SA: Heinemann Books, 2008; Routledgeinternational editionWard, Stephen J. A. (2010c) Inventing objectivity, Meyers, Christopher(ed.) A philosophical approach to journalism ethics, New York,Oxford University Press pp 137-152Note on the ContributorSteven Knowlton is Professor of Journalism and Chair of the undergraduatejournalism programme at Dublin City University. He haswritten or edited six books, most of them on journalism ethics.REVIEW Copyright 2012-1. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 9, No 1 2012 65


The Institute ofCommunication EthicsICE aims to:• formalise the study and practice in the fast growing discipline of CE andarticulate the communication industries’ concerns with ethical reasoningand outcomes;• provide communication practitioners with a centre to drive the study ofethical practice in communications;• develop specific tools, quality frameworks and training methods andprovide them to its members; assess initiatives in related disciplines andoffer guidance and ethics training for communicators;• offer qualifications that support the practice of communication as anethical discipline underpinned by principles, rules of conduct and systematicself-examination.Membership ApplicationI would like to apply for annual membership to the ICE with:Personal membership with access to Ethical Space online (£55)Personal membership plus printed copy of Ethical Space (£75)Organisational membership (non profit £200, for profit (small) £500, multinational£5000)Note: Please contact the ICE office for further details of local chapters of ICE.NameAddressCountryPostcodeEmailTelFaxName of University/Institute/OrganisationPaymentI enclose a cheque payable to ‘Institute of Communication Ethics’Please return to: ICE, Faculty of Media, Business and Marketing, Leeds Trinity and AllSaints, Brownberrie Lane, Horsforth, Leeds LS18 5HD, UK.For assistance please contact: info@communication-ethics.net

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