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The NZ Herald on Cactus Kate and Priorities in Journalism Ethics

November 17th, 2009 by Madeleine

There is an interesting story unfolding in the blogosphere. Cactus Kate published extracts of APN News and Media’s guidelines for publication on her blog in, APN Chicken Out, and inserted her own commentary and spin on them based on email correspondence from staff members working for APN’s publications. Where it gets really interesting is that the New Zealand Herald ran this piece Herald tells blogger: You’re Wrong. Anyone familiar with Cactus Kate (and probably bloggers generally) will not be surprised to hear that Cactus has published a cutting response, with the rather brilliant title, Herald Clucks On Spin Cycle.

The whole thing is worth a read for two reasons. One it demonstrates the rise of the blog, the increasing position of the blog as a source of information and as a force to not be ignored (which is a phenomena, as a blogger, that I find very interesting). The second reason is that some aspects of the guidelines for publication that Cactus cites are alarming.

While the Herald takes issues with some of the points in Cactus’ initial blog post, it calls them a “heavily truncated mish-mash” (I think that’s journo speak for cut and pasted extracts) and says they have been in play for a long time “Nothing secret about them and nothing new”, it does not deny that these guidelines are, in fact, in play.

“[The guidelines] are not new (same general thoughts have been included in the training document for years) … the basic points are entirely matter-of-fact for anyone seeking to get things right and avoid legal pitfalls the media have encountered before.

There is no new ‘conservative’ approach, no recent guidelines discussed, received or implemented, no change.”

So the Herald says they are not new, Cactus’ sources say they are but that is not why I called your attention to them. It is that the content of the guidelines are what is revealing. Now I don’t share every aspect of Cactus’ take on what precisely is wrong with the guidelines but I do agree she is right when she says some of them are pretty awful. For example, consider this guideline:

d. There are categories of people who are more inclined to sue if they are the subject of adverse publications, so particular care should be taken in reporting allegations of misconduct against lawyers, doctors, judges, other professionals, politicians, critics and wealthy businessmen/women.

Cactus takes issue with this and describes it as “the worst affront to investigative journalism” contained in the document.  I too think that it is the most concerning of all of them but not as an affront to investigative journalism. My issue with clause d is the suggestion that publications only bother to take care in reporting damning allegations against people who are likely to sue them – so don’t bother being as careful writing damning allegations about people who are not likely to sue?

I’m sorry, but I thought that the reason one should take care to not publish false, private and damning allegations about people (you tend to not be able to succeed in legal action if what is written is true and in the public interest) was something vaguely to do with respect for truth, morality, ethics, integrity, respect for other people, a desire to not misinform the public and so on. When I think of the reasons why I try to not publish anything false, damning and private on our blog, the odds of my success in the courtroom do not figure very high. I’m more concerned that I get it right simply for the sake of getting it right because that is important to me.

Nice to have what we all thought about journalism ethics set out in black and white I guess.

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8 responses so far ↓

  • Thanks for your article.

    It is sad if writers are thinking more about avoiding being sued, than they are about actual integrity and respect for the individual that they are writing about. It is interesting how priorities and reasons become skewed, and people forget the original intention/purpose of anti-defamatory etc legislation.

  • I guess this state of affairs shows us the need for defamation law.

    I agree that it is very sad that the last resort in the legal protection of one’s reputation becomes the first resort consideration in their guideline.

  • That’s an interesting perspective I hadn’t thought of. That is demeans people who are not in those categories on the basis that they cannot afford to sue.

    Of course now it reads even worse doesn’t it?

  • Mainstream media is a big industry, money rules integrity, what do ya expect?

  • MSM is also traditionally full of pinkos and herein lies the rub. Pinkos who wish to out big business and rich people for fun. Now they are being told more than ever that they can’t have this fun due to the possibility someone may sue the publisher.

    I will use a religious example on this blog.

    It’s kind of like being a Priest and told by the Church you cannot be in the company of little boys because you might get sued by their rich parents, not for committing an offence but looking like you might offend. But it’s fine to be in the company of little boys with poor parents and doing what you wish as they cannot afford to sue you.

  • Precisely Kate.

    As for Anon’s comment, “Mainstream media is a big industry, money rules integrity, what do ya expect?”

    I expect integrity.

    If standards slip it does not follow that we should simply drop our expectations.
    .-= My last blog-post ..The NZ Herald on Cactus Kate and Priorities in Journalism Ethics =-.

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