There’s a story on ipolitics that in part echoes my own thoughts about media and responsibility. Yet the author draws different conclusions than I believe I would have, were I still in the media.
It’s called “Paul Calandra and the tale of the naked senator” and it’s written by Paul Adams. Worth reading regardless of whether you agree or not.
Adams writes about the quandary many reporters and editors find themselves in: trying to define the boundary between public interest and privacy. It’s an issue that has raised its head many times in the past, but moreso this past year.
This debate must have raged (or at least I hope it raged) in the editorial offices of the Toronto Star in late 2013, when the paper decided to release a video of Mayor Ford - apparently intoxicated and raging – that clearly had nothing to do with Ford’s political office or his abilities. And, since there was no way to identify the context of of Ford’s comments, the viewer had no way to tell who he was ranting about, even if it was a real person rather than a TV show character.
The Star itself admitted:
The target of the mayor’s anger in the video is not in the room and is not known to the Star.
yet it ran the video with a lengthy story to accompany it.
To me, the Star opened a Pandora’s box. If the mayor has no private life outside his office when he is not in the public eye, then should that be true, too, for the Star’s staff? If it is fair to show a video of a private moment (surreptitiously recorded in someone’s home, not a public place), then why would it not be equally (and morally) correct to show videos of TorStar editors and reporters at their worst?
The argument is often made that elected politicians represent their office 24/7, so they have no private persona when in office, just a public face. But is that not also true of police? Of doctors? Pilots? In fact, we associate most people with their jobs and their social positions regardless of the time of day, or their location. They represent their position, their employer 24/7, even when not in the job, just like politicians. Thanks to social media, we have no clear definition of private and public lives.*
If our personal behaviour reflects on our roles and jobs no matter whether we are in our office, in private, on our Facebook page, in a restaurant or on a golf course, so it must be equally true of the media. After all, can a reporter stop being a reporter or representing the paper he/she works for when out of the office any more than a mayor stop being a mayor? I don’t think so. That’s one reason why the Star should have been reluctant to release the video.
But the real reason is discretion. What purpose does such sleaze serve? is there a greater good in ridiculing and embarrassing the mayor over a private matter? All it does is smear the city’s reputation worldwide, make the entire city the butt of ridicule. And discredit the Star.
Adams says the parliamentary press corp has,
“A highly developed prurient interest coupled with a equally powerful culture of discretion about what should be shared with the Canadian people.”
That should be refreshing, but I doubt it’s a sentiment shared among all journalists, as the TorStar video release shows. In fact, I’d suggest that it wasn’t discretion at all, but rather partisan politics that made the media act as it did in Adam’s tale of two events.