These days, I seem to be seeing similarities between the channel and world politics everywhere. As I was having an imaginary conversation about volume and value with Mr Howard last week, the Bush administration got embroiled in the fight with the American TV network CBS — over a right of reply. Aha, I thought! Here is something that I have to deal with on a daily basis! Luckily for me, though, none of you guys are in possession of any B52s.
Anyway, the point of contention was the issue of ‘equal time’, which, according to the White House, CBS failed to give to the administration prior to airing the first US interview with Saddam in the last 13 years. But, as The Guardian reported, CBS thought the issue of equal time “was a little curious, because the truth is that the American people see the president and his administration virtually every day”. According to CBS, it was Saddam who was effectively given a right of reply.
Democracy, politics and media professionalism aside, the problem is really a bit of a chicken and the egg variety. More importantly, at its core lays one of the more important tenets of business (and political) savvy — the communication know-how.
As a journalist, I am in the business of communication. As EIC of ARN, I am responsible for making this publication a preferred forum of communication, source of news, information and education for our readers in the channel. It appears, however, that the role of a news medium and a journalist is still — and often — widely misunderstood in the world of business, just like in the world of politics.
Never does that become more apparent than in situations when a story we publish portrays a company, a product or a situation in a negative light. Of course, it is our professional duty to investigate, hear and report all aspects of a story. What many seem to forget, however, is that our job is — first and foremost — to report a story, not to seek anybody’s permission to do so, or to do it in a particular way — for instance, by singing to a company’s official tune.
A journalist’s job is to ‘unspin the spin’, as somebody once said, and the job of a channel journalist is to report channel-relevant news to the best of our ability. Yes, this does involve the right of reply. And, yes, this does involve our resolve to respect our sources, as well as keeping in mind every other consideration of ethical journalism.
However, what many in the industry, just like the Bush administration, seem not to understand is that a news medium is not an extension of a company’s internal communication mechanisms, but a forum where these are to be used. We are not here to publish what a company’s ‘communication specialists’ want us to publish, but what we deem to be of relevance and interest to our readers, based on our professional judgment, our research and our reader’s feedback.
So, if a company’s management, marketing or public relations strategists cannot get their act together in understanding and managing this communication process, so be it. This is not going to stop us from publishing a story — as long as it is newsworthy, accurate and timely. Conversely, this is not going to make us publish a story — if its fundamental ingredients are missing.
Of course, there is always a magic bag of tricks containing some of Mr Bush’s favourite media stand-over tactics. But you would have to have an airfield or two full of threatening-looking iron birds on stand by for them to be useful. Then again, CBS doesn’t think so, so why should we?