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Whose poll is it – the politicians’, or the peoples’? Ethical implications for the media Southern Africa Election Reporting Seminar. Sandton, Convened.

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Presentation on theme: "Whose poll is it – the politicians’, or the peoples’? Ethical implications for the media Southern Africa Election Reporting Seminar. Sandton, Convened."— Presentation transcript:

1 Whose poll is it – the politicians’, or the peoples’? Ethical implications for the media Southern Africa Election Reporting Seminar. Sandton, Convened by Media Institute of Southern Africa, Johannesburg, 29 – 31 Oct 03 Guy Berger

2 On the agenda: 1.Players 2.Elections 3.Ethics 4.Codes 5.Policy & strategy

3 1.Players 2.Elections 3.Ethics 4.Codes 5.Policy & strategy

4 THE ACTORS: the media the public the politicians POLL

5 Specific players: media: broadcast-print-web, public-govt-private- community, premier outlets, media stars  public: general public, civil society groups incl NGOs, business, global forces, individuals.  politicians: the parties, the govt, the civil service.  Qtn: who dances with whom in an election?

6 3 models of poor practice Politicians  Public = limited Politicians  Media = futile Media  Public = misses point A threesome is better than a couple! Need the triangle of politicians-media-public –But which of the three leads the dance?

7 Four models of how the relationship works: 1.Politician-driven 2.Media-centred 3.People pushing 4.Integrated model

8 1. Politician-driven model MEDIA COVERAGE POLITICIANS PUBLIC + OPINION i.e. politicians set the pace, media passive: ETHICS: what “forum” access is given to different parties? 1 2 3

9 2. Media-centred model POLITICIANS MEDIA COVERAGE PUBLIC + OPINION i.e. Media is active agent. “Impartiality does not require editorial staff to be unquestioning” ABC ETHICS: Watchdog on process, Balanced platform, Educator & guide 1 2 3

10 3. Public pushing MEDIA COVERAGE PUBLIC + OPINION POLITICIANS i.e. The public is the driving force ETHICS: Parties respond to public, not vice versa 1 2 3

11 4. Integrated model MEDIA COVERAGE PUBLIC + OPINION POLITICIANS i.e. dynamic interaction ETHICS: Be sensitive to the full triangle   

12 1.Players 2.Elections 3.Ethics 4.Codes 5.Policy & strategy

13 Take 4 th estate label seriously: Recognise role in democratic governance. Different to other estates, but complimentary and part of the whole. Media also a check & balance, esp in age of globalisation and international spotlight. SPECIAL ROLE: make a vibrant public sphere where matters of common significance (esp. Power) are contested in the court of public opinion. Media & democracy

14 POLITICAL SUPERMARKET MODEL: Choose from the offerings of names, faces and rhetoric of politicians. May get coverage of policy commodities on offer from the salesmen. Maybe even comparison of the wares. Perhaps analysis of process of political marketing, and how the parties promote their products. ROLE: help consumers make informed choice So what is an election?

15 ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP MODEL: Active agents not those in the “beauty contest”, but those judging it. Focus not on consumer/spectator, but citizen actor. Image is of an agenda-setting public. Poll = a time when people can hold politicians accountable for performance to date. Party promises for tomorrow are contextualised against this background. ROLE: support & mobilise civil society So what is an election?

16 Whose poll: politicians or people? Different views on elections result in different kinds of coverage. Supermarket view: election news is about staged events and party campaigns; Citizenship view: publicise public participation and what people see as the popular issues + politician reaction. In short, is poll painted as being primarily about politicians - or about “the people”?

17 Process Balancing the benefits of elections: Supermarket view: short-term is important - who wins, and how legitimately, is indeed a critical issue. It can also poison the longer-term too. Citizenship view: longer-term view: important to build a public culture of participatory democracy, accountability, political tolerance, and viability of peaceful conflict resolution through voting.

18 1.Players 2.Elections 3.Ethics 4.Codes 5.Policy & strategy

19 Ethics: not in a vacuum Contexts to take cognisance of: Media-politician-public dynamics. Consumers vs citizens issue. Laws, regulations, codes. Where you work: –Public or private or community media. –Broadcast vs print vs web. –Timing: run-up to poll, voting day.

20 Ethics: choices you make On quantity and quality of coverage. Make decisions in four-step process: –Conscious (be alert to the ethical issue) –Choices (explore the range of options) –Consult (check it out with colleagues) –Care (think of possible impacts) Make that judgement call!

21 Ethics: who’s biased? IFJ: Media gets blamed for deliberate bias. Conspiracy accusation – omission and commission. We deny slanting, but it is true that: –Political pressure exists, –Private newspapers (at least) have leanings. –And we do select, discard, set agendas.

22 Ethics of beating bias IFJ: Keep real people’s views as your point of reference. Set up a review process. Self-regulate and internal control, eg. use a monitoring group of retired senior journalists. Value of Editorial Statute on ethics.

23 Ethics: basic principles to apply Editorial independence is pertinent: IFJ “opposes the use of information media by governments, state authorities or proprietors for their own political … advantage”. (Manifesto for a democratic media culture). General & common journ ethics of relevance: Accuracy, no personal bias, fact & comment separate, fairness, right-to-reply, no bribery, avoid conflicts of interest, etc. “Newsvalues and newsjudgements will prevail in reaching decisions…” ABC Editorial Charter

24 Ethics: specific principles for polls Not only “news”, but ads and other content too, Pluralism obligation, Defamation needs dealing with, Access and openness to complaint, What is “reasonable” access and “equitable” treatment? Tell your audience what your stand is, How much control when floor given over to parties? Problem of incumbent bias and when govt=party.

25 Ethics: specific principles for polls Problem of incumbent bias and when news about govt plays to advantage of the ruling party. Special care needed in reporting opinion polls. Direct from source reports, not second-hand. Encourage people to speak their minds. Be pro-people. Be pro-marginalised, esp women. Beware inflammatory stuff (eg. “Fight Back, Kill the Boer”). Watch out for, and publicise, dirt being leaked for political reasons.

26 1.Players 2.Elections 3.Ethics 4.Codes 5.Policy & strategy

27 Consider a code: Make it specific and empowering: State your values and policy Set out practical points Define your evaluation for compliance Include review mechanisms and times Consider brokering it with other stakeholders, so that there are quid pro quo’s.

28 1.Players 2.Elections 3.Ethics 4.Codes 5.Policy & strategy

29 Policy for ethical election coverage Ethics and values as your foundation: Free media is a stakeholder in elections, not a disinterested observer. Free media has an interest in electoral participation and a free and fair poll. Free media can use an election to enhance its credibility and democratic value.

30 Ethics policy for poll coverage Accordingly: Don’t play undercover politics. Don’t pander to apathy (1/3 rd SAfns unregistred) –Play a leadership role. Do be careful of unintentional bias –Eg. reporting events staged by rich parties. Do become political experts –Be able to interrogate politicians and public, –Get beyond name-calling or mud-slinging. –Minimise “he said”, “she said” style of journalism.

31 From policy to strategy Ethical coverage will face interference from: Governments Politicians Party supporters Police and security Owners (incl govt owners)

32 Strategy to implement: How to deal with such interference: Establish common & transparent principles. Get them in writing & tell audiences & get allies. If need be, designate complaints or review mechanisms. Learn negotiation – managing your boss. “Staying out of trouble & still getting the story is an important skill” (ZESN)

33 Strategy checklist (ZESN inspired ) Design a list of measurables: So that you educate your newsroom, So that you remember the public, incl gender, So that you can deal with closed access or harassment, So you use all forms of journalism (news, cartoons, graphs, features, investigative), So you have a panel to deal with delicate issues, So you budget, train, plan & stockpile ethical election coverage.

34 In conclusion: 1.Players: triangle, integrated 2.Elections: 4 th estate, citizens 3.Ethics: choices, principles, process 4.Codes: consider & consult 5. Policy & strategy: action


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