Media scripts and avoiding the spin cycle
Is it time for Australian media powers to draw up a code of conduct to deal with spin doctor demands?
Championing the media and their moguls may not be fashionable right now given the UK’s phone hacking scandal, and Labor and the Greens calling for their own inquiry off the back of it.
Nevertheless public relations spin is endemic and enduring.
A piece in Britain’s The Times on Thursday last week addressed the pain journos sometimes suffer when they interview a movie star and their publicists sit in the same room vetoing questions.
The story revealed how some reporters had to sign documents promising they would not ask subjects about taboo issues, such as drug habits or celebrity flings. Such censorship leaves reporters to write clichés about how actors ad lib and live to “serve” scripts.
In Australia politicians have dressed up in tutus just so they reach households. But they will also try dictating who and what joins them in photos, how journalists talk to other talent, and what information runs beforehand.
Some journalists who are young, over-worked, and facing crazy deadlines see no choice but to comply. So could those who run our media join to empower scribes from local rags to national mastheads?
Let them enshrine a journalist’s right to address public figures on any issue, and to report fairly with an industry-wide agreement.
Perhaps this is misplaced idealism, and impossible to enforce, but media consumers are crying out for substantial news. What stops groups such as News Limited and Fairfax uniting to help reduce the problem?
Maybe it’s because a code would be demeaning to good journalists who already skirt PR bullies with skill and courage. Laurie Oakes did report a whole budget once before it reached parliament. However, media-controlled environments will exist for some time so something must be done.
It could be an industry-wide code, or continuing newsroom-led analysis, training, and solutions to PR trends. Hopefully some answers are found, have been found, or are being found.
That’s not too much to ask.
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