Monday, November 24, 2008

A National Code of Conduct for Journalists?

Richard Moon's report on the Canadian Human Rights commission was released today. In one of it's more controversial points it recommended that hate speech not be covered by the Human Rights act:
"My principle recommendation, in the end, has been for the repeal of Section 13," Moon told CBC News on Monday. "That does not mean that we no longer have hate speech regulation. What it means is that the Criminal Code of Canada, which has a ban on the wilful promotion of hatred, would be the recourse."

In his report, which was made public Monday, Moon also suggests that the application of the Criminal Code provision should also be limited. He says it should only be applied in cases where the speech "explicitly or implicitly threatens, justifies or advocates violence against the members of an identifiable group."
I certainly do not agree with Moon's conclusion. I do not see any excuse for hate speech on any level and do not believe it is over prosecuted even now. However there is something else in the report that I do like. From j-source:
""Newspapers and news magazines should seek to revitalize the provincial/regional press councils and ensure that identifiable groups are able to pursue complaints if they feel they have been unfairly represented in mainstream media," declares an independent report about online hate speech, released by the Canadian Human Rights Commission."

In the absence of press councils, report author Richard Moon called for "the statutory creation of a national press council with compulsory membership. This national press council would have the authority to determine whether a newspaper or magazine has breached professional standards and order the publication of the press council’s decision.
I think this idea could accomplish a number of things. I am not a journalist and don't claim to be, but the only thing separating me from the title is saying that I am. Currently there is nothing that necessarily defines a journalist. You can go to journalism school and not be a journalist, you can write for a national newspaper without going to journalism school - if the publisher is willing you don't even need any training or experience. While all publications and media outlets have a code of standards and practices this is done at the discretion of the media outlet.

A set of standards that applied to anyone wishing to claim the title journalist and enforced by a national board would protect the title. It would tell the public that there is a difference between a journalist and a blogger - not because of training or who they work for, but because they agree to abide by a certain set of standards. Apart from journalist/blogger issues it would prevent what has happened to US media.

I've said frequently over the last eight or so years that the most credible source in the U.S. for domestic news is Comedian John Steward. Virtually all of the others (excepting a few newspapers) have to one extent or another sold their souls for ratings. 'If it Bleeds it Leads' has become a journalistic rule, staged 'heroism' in places like New Orleans is applauded rather than condemned, journalists becoming part of the story is generally encouraged and long winded stories that are big on speculation, scandal and titillation but short on substance fill much of the news day.

A set of nationally applied standards and licensed peer reviewed 'journalism' would help prevent this. In the same way that it takes alot for an attorney to risk disbarment - few journalists would risk that title to grab a quick ratings bump and a 'news' organization that didn't employ 'journalists' would have a hard time continuing to call themselves a 'news organization'.

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