Control over Journalists’ Wallets: Credibility vs. Civic Engagement

05Nov12

The POLITCO article “Journalists open wallets for Obama and Romney” touches upon the issue of journalists’ financial contributions to the presidential campaigns. Various media organizations such as Associated Press, WSJ, and the New York Times have policies that refrain journalists from disclosing their contributions to the public and prohibit them from donating to political organizations or political campaigns. However, these policies do not serve as a strong enough deterrent for some journalists who have explicitly shared their donations, arguing that it is within their rights of free speech.

Kevin Z. Smith, the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics committee chairman, argues journalists should take into account the potential public perception and ask themselves “whether they are serving the political candidate’s interest over the public’s interest.” He considers that it may lead the journalist to lose credibility. Credibility is mentioned by Deuze (p. 162) as one of the main concepts of journalism’s ideology, along with providing a public service, being impartial, objective, and also having a sense of ethics.

These concepts of ethics, objectivity and credibility may be argued to justify these prohibitions against journalists’ political advocacy or donations, but I do not agree with this approach. The appearance of objectivity may be important for the journalism profession, but at the same time subjectivity should also be understood as inherent to journalists’ work, much as institutional, organization, and societal/cultural biases also exist. Deuze (p. 142) discusses the view that journalism helps to build democratic governance and “maintain social order.” Moreover, the social responsibility of public service requires them to play a role in “informing citizens in a way that enables them to act as citizens” (Costera Meijer 2001: 13, quoted in Deuze). Can we expect journalists to do these things without allowing them to voice public support for political candidates? I would argue that journalists’ disclosure of their own participation could serve as means to promote civic engagement and political participation, which is a form of civic activism that should not be stopped by an institution under any label.

The original article can be found at: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1112/83250.html.

-Muge Fazlioglu

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