What price the news?

By Reuters Staff
October 22, 2009


Ethics in journalism are always under growing scrutiny but perhaps never as close as today. Thomson Reuters is hosting a debate at its London offices to address current questions including the following:

–When is a potential story so important to the public interest that it’s ethical for a journalist to pay for information?

–Has fact-checking and editing become less of a priority in an age of cost-cutting and “personal” journalism? What are the consequences for news organisations’ commitment to accuracy and freedom from bias?

-Are Western standards of news ethics and standards necessarily correct? Should there be a global standard for what constitutes proper journalism ethics?

–Which is more ethically challenged: Journalism practised by state-run news organisations or that practised by news organisations owned by large corporations?

Ray Snoddy will be chairing the event and the evening will be introduced by Dean Wright, Reuters Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation & News Standards. And on the panel will be: Anne McElvoy – London Evening Standard; Joe Lelyveld – Pulitzer Prize winner and ex-NYT editor; Marwan Bishara – Al Jazeera; Sean Maguire – Global Editor, Politics and General news, Reuters.

Click here to view the full live blog


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Which is more more ethically challenged, State or corporate run news agencies? You have got to be kidding. Get rid of both. Corporate news agencies in the U.S. are conglomerates. Why not bring back the rule of sevens. No entity can own more than seven tv, radio and publishing companies. No holding companies. All television, radio and publishing companies must be held independently and or publicly. As the system exists now tens of thousands of publishers and broadcasters are owned by Westinghouse, GE, Viacom (Military contractors) and Clear Channel, Tribune, Fox (considerable Republican National Committee contributors). Why do you think the rest of the world calls U.S. news corporate media?

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Without even watching this video blog IMHO journalism and ethics is an oxymoron. This is not because there aren’t any ethical and dedicated journalist that often risk life, limb and liberty in pursuit of exposing the nefarious elements at work in the global village, but that media consolidation and corporate cronyism has practically obliterated professional journalism acting in the legitimate interest of the public need to know to therefore make informed decisions.
Much like the U.S. government, although there are maybe a handful of politicians that act in the best interest of their constituents from time to time, most of them are corporate whores or outright owned by a conglomerate corporation. As the documentary ‘The Corporation’ pointed out the structure of uber-powerful, ultra-elite corporations ultimately become to behave like faceless sociopaths, enabled with constitutional rights, with the ‘news’ media and government shills acting as their zombi-fied foot soldiers ramming their corporate agenda up the ass of everyone within reach-around limit.

Posted by J | Report as abusive

[...] – Global Editor, Politics and General news, Reuters. Click here to view the full live blog The Great Debate

To my way of reading things, the news seems to be less probing now than it was 20 or so years ago and appear to be more likely to regurgitate info supplied to them. But that could just be a symptom of society generally, for example the political left and right seem to be fighting over some mythical “middle ground”, which might be a symptom of the same naval gazing inclinations and narrowing of focus from societies I keep an eye on (which include Aus, NZ, UK, the US from afar… I’ve never been there [other than the airports, although I fly via middle/far east nowadays as it's more pleasant] but you can’t miss their impact).
I’m going to be gutted if newspapers start charging for online content and I won’t be able to surf the worlds papers for differing… or identical… reports on topics I find interesting. It’s the readers responsibility to determine for themselves what’s what, although time can be a limiting factor. How far should you trust someone you don’t?

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

There is no such thing as ethical journalism in this country any more. News agencies are owned by corporations. They shouldn’t be owned by ANY company or state agency. Journalists do their reporting on a leash. And if their masters don’t like the story the leash gets yanked and the reporter or the news agency pulls the story.

The interests of the individual citizen are not represented with the energy and vitality that state or corporate issues are. Citizens don’t own the press. So citizens concerns go unaddressed. This is one reason there are so many “reporters” popping up on the internet. You get better news there. Things are talked about that main stream media won’t touch because their masters wouldn’t like it.

[...] part in the ‘What Price The News?’ debate on the ethics of modern journalism hosted by Thomson Reuters, the Evening Standard’s Anne [...]

Everything the media tells you is 100% true. The things we report on are the only important issues in the world that you should care about or even think about. Thinking freely is hard and unproductive. Do not do it. Now please listen to an advertisement from our sponsors.

Posted by your nightly news anchor | Report as abusive

Benny, I think you might find that there has never been a newspaper, or media-outlet which isn’t aligned, owned or operated by specific interests (and that goes right back throughout recorded history – and perhaps beyond that).
Utopian purity is probably never going to arrive… at least not anytime soon. “Truth” is subjective as are “Ethics” are you proposing to use a puritans ethic… or a hedonists ethic or perhaps a nice wishy-washy, mumbling, meaningless “middle-ground” ethic/truth? or perhaps MY ethic?

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive


There was a time when Journalism was a real skill. It’s purpose was not only to inform the public on general news events. They were also the eyes and ears of the citizen. They were the ones that watched government and reported on the events that affected us.

These days journalists are tied to the corporate interests of their owners. News agencies are supposed to be independent so that they can report the facts free of bias. Corporate ownership of news agencies produces that very bias.

If you are incapable of understanding this because of your own complacency, that’s your problem not mine.

Truth is NOT subjective. Perceptions are. Truth is the reconciliation of all fact. Understanding the relationships between various facts that lead to experience yield the truth of experience.

Fact. If you are a reporter and your news agency is owned by another company, then that other company can forbid you from reporting things that are damaging to it. This is because it would ultimately cost you your position if the business goes under or if they get bad press.

Journalism is NOT A JOB. It’s a calling. And those that value that call are sick of being gagged when the truth of things is glaringly obvious.

Just because “that’s how it is” doesn’t mean it’s not to be changed. If I want entertainment I can watch WWE. When I want news I expect integrity and unbiased reporting. As it is maybe Vince McMahon, should own a news agency too. At least I know it’s bullshit from the start. But wait!! We already have the Daily Show.

So hows about some real news.

Truth is subjective. Facts are not.

What you think is true, is true. But facts can either be hidden or shown, they can’t be changed.

All media is controlled by some form of interest. From the government friendly public broadcasting, to the republican hack press. And the democrat hack press, trying to pretend it is somehow different.

Even the independent reporter who reports will only do so because he disagrees with the ‘truth’ provided by the major outlets. And so he decides to provide his version of ‘truth’, which is different because he KNOWS his truth is the true truth.

I suppose we could go for the dragnet journalism approach: “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

But the reality is that all media, from Reuters to FOX, cheerfully omit the facts in their quest to present truth. Or at least present the commercially or politically viable version of the truth they want to convey.

Each side of the political spectrum come up with their own versions of truth. Independent media have their say. Viral and social media can provide facts on the ground.

It is for the viewer to take in as many facts as possible, and come to a conclusion. And to keep in mind that they should be ready to change this conclusion if further facts arise.

If you are going to mindlessly accept (insert news provider)’s word for everything, then you can’t rightly complain if you end up getting led by the nose.

Nor will any good come from complaining that journalism should be a public service. Since the Victorian era, journalism has always been a business. The only real mistake here is that people easily forget this is the case.

To quote another euphemism: “Trust, but verify”.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

Journalism as it is practiced now is no less a skill than it was before. The perception of truth is subjective, and always has been. The big difference between corporate ownership now and say 20 years ago is there are less media corporates who own more titles/outlets, hence less competition, hence more control over direction and content. Statements such as “If you are a reporter and your news agency is owned by another company, then that other company can forbid you from reporting things…” are illogical.

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

So basically Anon and Peter, the two of you are more relativists?

Well, maybe not Peter. He did say the “perception” of truth is relative.

Perception is not fact. The facts that are known about something can be refined so that we know even more about those facts. They don’t fall apart under scrutiny. Truth is broad and deep, but NEVER subjective. What IS, IS. That’s truth. Facts are just smaller parts of WHAT IS.

Truth by its nature is incorruptible. The truth of existence is that you ARE. In terms of facts, what it means to BE is vast.

The truth about a situation becomes apparent when the desires and actions (facts), concerning the participants in a situation are known. Reconciling these facts we understand the true nature (truth) of the events examined.

Perceptions are the only thing we have to guide us towards any kind of understanding about anything. Perceptions can be altered with ease. And when perceptions become distorted “facts” become distorted. Thus the need for objectivity when searching for truth in the world.

Truth in the inner world is purely subjective. You feel what you feel because you want to feel it, or because you don’t know how to feel any other way. And when feeling meets perception you get either illusion. Or you get fact. And the way to tell the difference is to examine them carefully and see what stands up to scrutiny and what doesn’t.

When feeling gets mixed in (as it always does) you can have an infinite number of possible translations of the “facts”. This is why only people of conscience make the best reporters or the best anythings. Because those people are honest within themselves. Honesty = “What IS, IS”. Thus when a person is internally in agreement with truth, they find it.

When an organization charged with the task of finding out the facts, is owned by another organization with it’s own interests being its top priority, then where is the difficulty in seeing problem? If the owning organization is a self interested, profit seeking entity then clearly as the controlling organization it can stifle information which is damaging to it.

My argument was that in these times one gets the “perception” that this influence is being exerted with zeal in the present day.

I disagree on a global level. The nature of reporting has been influenced by the quantitative and qualitative growth of information in the past 20 years or so. It is easy to do media bashing, but looking at contents of other countries’ media, there has to be a balanced transparency or it is continuously rebalanced by opposing views. Do yourself a favour and have a look at the ‘China’ link below. For what it is worth, they even have blogging and some of the US columnists write or get translated there. As a point of debate, I really enjoy Aljazeera.

Posted by Casper | Report as abusive

On a global level you may be correct. You can see the opposing views of the various controlling parties in different parts of the world. But the views of the average citizens in those parts seem to me to be just as obscured as they are here. But I could certainly be wrong.

Modern people are more informed than in the past though, and I agree with you, things are obscured, but maybe less than in the past. As far as mind control goes, I suppose we are talking about local and foreign propaganda, let’s not forget movies, advertising and the power of religions. What I do find fascinating is how subtle Russia Today and the above Mid Eastern channel present themselves, in stead of raw marketing like some countries. It is always interesting to ‘climb’ into another mindset, and also learn to think in the opponent’s way. Know your customer.

Posted by Casper | Report as abusive

You make a good point on the idea of knowing your customer. I wonder though if we aren’t at a point in history when we should perhaps be looking beyond the point of knowing the customer to knowing the human as a whole.

We are divided only because we choose to do for ourselves before, and to a great extent at the expense, of our fellows. And I don’t mean that in the over simplified way it normally gets taken (sickly sweet bleeding heart Mr Rogers kind of thing). But if that’s your bag then more power to you. :-)

Representing the views of the average citizen with vitality means (to my mind anyway), connecting to human issues on dimensions beyond financial or corporate impact. We don’t discuss the impact of “news” in human terms as much as we do in terms of statistics and policies (unless of course we first commercialize and sensationalize it).

Statistics and policies are only of interest to those who produce them. So when I say “real news” that’s what I’m talking about. And I know that’s a hell of a tall order. But what else is there to aspire to if you’re a journalist?

Peter H, clearly you do not watch documentary television or film. Support staff and journalists working for the Times, Tribune, Washington post and news rooms for the major television networks in the U.S. have made that very claim. Some have resigned or lost their assignments while many more carry on in silent drudgery facing the prospect of economic harm if they were to speak up.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Journalism is now driven by commercial reason rather than anything else. This lead journalists to look for spicy news that can hold the viewers for the maximum time possible. I remember news on “Run-away bride” flashing on major US news channels for couple of days in 2007 where major events happening across the world were simply ignored or covered just for formality sake. This shows the extend to which the quality of news has de-graded these days. It would be intentioal ignorance to accept 100% of what media says as they are surely not driven by facts but something else.

Posted by Rusty | Report as abusive

The top ten things the rest of the world calls the corporate owned media:

10. overpaid clowns
9. actors with no talent
8. 21st century politbureau
7. hackzilla
6. prostitutes; on a moral par with human traffickers
5. anything for a buck, Chuck
4. vicious exploiters of human misery
3. a slickly produced diversion away from corporate crime and malfeasence, as in “they went thataway…”
2. self dealing amoral scum

1. lying publicity whor*s

You are very perceptive Anubis, I don’t watch documentary tv or filsm any more. I do read a wide variety of newspapers on-line, but even more I read history books. My favorite subject of interest being the events that led to WW1… which is still going on after all these years (at least it could be seen that way, although it’s not the orthodox interpretation). I might cut down on the newspapers as a lot of them are crap.

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

Peter H, if you haven’t already you might want to acquire “Wilsons War”by Jim Powell. A very fast and illuminating read.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

[...] been devalued, I heard.It was a meaty accusation, especially as it came in the midst of a debate on ethics in journalism held at the London home of ThomsonReuters, the parent of the Reuters news organisation. The charge [...]