Friday, March 16, 2012

At long last - a commitment to truthtelling

NPR has announced a new editorial policy which consumers of news can only hope will set a new standard for other news organizations. They have committed themselves to eschew "he said, she said," or more often, "he said, he said," reporting in favor of actually reporting the truth. What a concept! As journalism critic Jay Rosen wrote, in reporting on the change:
NPR [now] commits itself as an organization to avoid the worst excesses of “he said, she said” journalism. It says to itself that a report characterized by false balance is a false report. It introduces a new and potentially powerful concept of fairness: being “fair to the truth,” which as we know is not always evenly distributed among the sides in a public dispute.
Maintaining the “appearance of balance” isn’t good enough, NPR says. “If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side…” we have to say so. When we are spun, we don’t just report it. “We tell our audience…” This is spin! 
There was nothing like that in the old Code of Ethics and Practices.
For too long, too many news organizations have simply reported what is said about both sides of any controversial issue, without regard to whether one or both of those sides is lying. This creates the "false balance" that we have, unfortunately, come to expect from the purveyors of journalism. This does not serve the public well; moreover, it encourages politicians (and others) to simply lie their way out of any situation because they know that no journalist is going to call them on their falsehoods. They'll simply report what he said and then they'll report that someone else disagreed with him, but there'll be no attempt to sort out fact from fiction.

Now, NPR is saying they are going to end all that. They are going to try to sort fact from fiction and give their listeners the truth. I say, it is about bloody time! But better late than never. Let's hope this new idea - truthtelling - will catch on.

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