Accuracy, independence and impartiality – Kellie Riordan #jeraa2014 live blog



Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Kellie Riordan reported to the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia’s conference in Sydney on her recent report on how legacy media and digital natives approach ethical standards in the digital age.

ABC's Kellie Riordan addressing the JERAA conference on her research into digital and legacy media ethics

ABC’s Kellie Riordan addressing the JERAA conference on her research into digital and legacy media ethics

She recently served as a fellow at the Oxford Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism where she looked at three traditional and three new media providers and their ethical standards and approaches.

Riordan noted a shift in the notion of accuracy.

“Now we are equally looking to journalists to tell us what is not true, and the best example is the BBC’s User Generated Content Hub,” she said.

It was set up to debunk myths, and originated with the myth that there was a power surge in the London Underground when in fact the London bombings had occurred.

She also identified corrections were now being issued that were much more open and honest and developed brand trust. These were done particularly well by digital media.

“Traditionally newsrooms have been closed organisations and we haven’t let the public in on how we came to decisions,” she said.

She showed an example from the digital outlet Grantland which gave an extensive debriefing on how they came to an editorial decision when they got something wrong.

Riordan profiled The Quartz site which does not subscribe to impartiality as a standard but boast about their transparency and honesty with their audience.

On the issue of independence, she gave several examples of advertorials in some outlets that were not necessarily flagged as paid content on search engines.

She cited Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith arguing that audiences were already quite literate about different types of sponsored content on the Internet, whereas others felt the journalism brand required the disclosure of advertising.

She found a range of views across new media on the issue of impartiality and that Quartz advocated an ‘evidence driven, facts based’ style of journalism.

User generated content, interaction with audiences and more extensive use of hyperlinks for attribution were important developments to improve accountability and transparency, she said.

Riordan concluded by calling for greater transparency, more open forms of journalism, and ‘a voice that is of the web driven by reporters rather than news brands’.

She suggested digital tools like hyperlinks, context for corrections, more voices and transparency would add to accountability.

© Mark Pearson 2014

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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Journalism privileges and accountability in the digital age – Denis Muller #jeraa2014 live blog



The digital age has increased both possibilities and risks for journalism, according to media ethicist Dr Denis Muller from the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne.

Denis Muller addresses the JERAA conference on the legitimacy of journalism

Denis Muller addresses the JERAA conference on the legitimacy of journalism

Muller was addressing the privileges, legitimacy and accountability of journalism at the annual conference of the Journalism Education and Research Association in Sydney.

He said the types of privilege offered to journalism were access to powerful people, places to observe events, and certain legal protections, however the digital revolution had made the privileges for those from big media inadequate for others like bloggers.

“This is a narrow and increasingly irrelevant basis for conferring legitimacy,” he said.

“Legitimacy of the journalistic function has more important bases than this.”

He said legitimacy of journalism as a function in a democracy is grounded in a combination of rights and socio-political necessity.

Journalism had a contrctual relationship with the community based on factual and constextual reliability, impartiality, separation of fact from comment and provision of a “bedrock of trustworthy information”.

The legitimacy of the journalistic function rests on the indispensability of its function, its capacity to animate free speech and the keeping of its promises,” Dr Muller said.

He highlighted privileges at law under the Commonwealth Privacy Act and State Shield laws – contingent on media organisations being signed up to an accountability mechanism.

Others not contingent on such accountability were the privileges under the Australian Consumer Law and the Commonwealth shield laws.

The latter protected anyone providing news to the public, seemingly including bloggers and others reporting news.

He reviewed the regulatory recommendations of the Finkelstein Review, the Convergence Review and the Leveson Inquiry and explained there was no accountability mechanism for journalists outside of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance sanctions for its members breaching its Code of Ethics.

He said he had worked with colleague Dr Judith Townend from City University London’s Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism comparing the suggested accountability mechanisms for the Australian news media.

They argued for

  • access to incentives in the form of privileges,
  • contingent on signing up to accountability mechanism,
  • and that this mechanism be open to all who practise journalism.

The first step was the creation of a consensual set of ethical standards – professional norms and standards, they argued.

“News organisations should take a ‘get in’ rather than a ‘get you’ approach,” he said.



© Mark Pearson 2014

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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On the Crisis in Journalism – Barbie Zelizer #jeraa2014 live blog



Raymond Williams Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania Dr Barbie Zelizer took issue with the framing of a ‘crisis of journalism’ for her keynote address to the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia conference in Sydney today (November 25).


Professor Barbie Zelizer addresses the 2014 JERAA conference


She said notion of a crisis in journalism was a culturally determined phenomenon anchored in the Enlightenment.

She drew on definitions of crisis as disruption, suddenness, loss, urgency and helplessness.

The label of ‘crisis’ could change murky developments into a manageable phenomenon.

“Crisis is a temporarily defined moment,” she said. “Crisis is identifiable, finite, something that can be grasped, treated and controlled. It gives us a sense of closure.

“By offering us closure, concreteness and coherency, crisis offers us certainty and control.”

“As an institution journalism has always had an affinity with a certain kind of modernity,” she said.

“It was born of a particular time and place.”

She argued the discipline of journalism studies developed because it needed to challenge traditional narratives of journalism.

There was a reliance on a modern Anglo-American mindset and crisis offered a way out of murky, out of control challenges.

The gravitation to ‘crisis’ followed a pattern of how journalism had traditionally talked about itself.

“Across the board we hear that journalism is over. What’s different about today is that durability is no longer assured.”

She asked whether journalism’s mass audience ever as mass as assumed and whether there had ever had been agreement about what journalism is or is for.

Earlier points in time such as the development of radio, the wire photo and television presented challenges and disagreements.

“There is value in both rupture and in continuity,” she said.

These narratives see crisis as resolvable or apocalyptic.

“All of this is a long way of saying today’s journalistic environments are contingent and diverse,” she said.

“Uncertainty rules in institutional settings, generally without us being aware of it.”

She concluded by suggesting:

1. We assume the centrality of crisis but rarely find data to support it;

2. We identify various nodes supporting the technological determination of the crisis frame; and

3. We assume an overturning of value – what was once seen as central (the newspaper, objectivity) is now seen as toxic.

“Uncertainty is ours to live with not to control or eradicate,” she said.

“The question remains whether uncertainty can ever end in a landscape that is institutionally driven.”

She concluded with a quote from T.S. Eliot: “If you aren’t in over your head how do you know how tall you are?”

© Mark Pearson 2014

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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Governor enters the Twittersphere with Who’s Who pics of #G20


Congratulations to Griffith University journalism students on their excellent coverage of the G20 from our South Bank newsroom and to their mentors at the Brisbane Times and 4BC.
This story by Elizabeth Andal about the former chief justice and now Governor of Queensland Paul de Jersey entering the Twittersphere with his photos with G20 dignitaries is just a taste. See the for the full coverage.

Originally posted on The Source News:


Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey has entered the Twittersphere with a series of posts of himself with G20 dignitaries.

His most recent post featured Twit pics of him greeting Russian President Vladimir Putin with a handshake upon his arrival in Brisbane airport last night.

Governor de Jersey also tweeted a picture of himself casually chatting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

On Wednesday the governor proudly posted his first tweet, and staff followed with the official announcement that he had entered the Twittersphere, featuring a photograph of him writing and posting that historic first tweet.

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International studies point to best practice for reporting Islam and stories involving Muslims


Three key international studies counsel journalists to reflect carefully on their practice when they are reporting news and issues involving Islam and people who follow it.

Griffith University colleague Dr Jacqui Ewart and I have been funded to explore the best practice in reporting upon the Islamic religion and Muslim people with a view to developing educational resources and training materials.

The project has involved a literature review of the field, the identification of case studies in the Australian media highlighting different approaches to such coverage, and the analysis of extended interviews we are conducting with journalists, educators, students, media relations personnel and other experts the topic.

An important part of the literature review has been to identify similar studies conducted internationally on the topic – ably conducted by one of our research assistants, experienced journalist Guy Healy.

We have identified these three reports as offering excellent guidance to journalists and educators working in this space and we would appreciate hearing from those of you willing to engage in dialogue on the topic.


Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 6.36.02 PMRupar, Verica (2012). Getting the facts right: Reporting ethnicity and religion. A study of media coverage of ethnicity and religion in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.[Project Report]. Brussels: International Federation of Journalists. Available at:

This report from Associate Professor Dr Verica Rupar of Cardiff University (now with AUT University, Auckland) aims to improve “…the media’s ability to accurately and fairly report on people, events and issues that touch upon ethnicity and religion.” It draws upon interviews with 117 journalists in nine EU countries and the analysis of almost 200 news stories.

While its scope goes well beyond the reporting of Islam and Muslims, many of its examples and recommendations apply to this religion and its followers.

The study highlights immigration as a topic conflated with Muslims and Islam.

The report suggests the main obstacles to good reporting are the poor financial state of the media, overloading of reporters, lack of time, lack of knowledge, and lack of in-house training.

Overall, it identifies the media’s tasks as:

* Reporting factually and accurately on acts of racism and intolerance

* Being sensitive when writing about tensions between communities

* Avoiding derogatory stereotypical depiction of members of religious groups

* Challenging the assumptions underlying intolerant remarks made by speakers in the course of interviews, reports, and discussion programs.

It calls upon journalists to become more familiar with with anti-discrimination legislation, use broader networks of expert sources, ensure facts are put in context, avoid negative labels, portray people as human beings instead of members of an ethnic or religious group, organize in-house training and adopt internal editorial guidelines.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 6.39.00 PMGreater London Authority (2007). The Search for Common Ground: Muslims, non-Muslims and the UK media. A report commissioned by the Mayor of London. London: Greater London Authority. Available at:

This major study on British media coverage of Islam and Muslims was commissioned by the Greater London Authority in the wake of the London bombings and perceived polarisation of coverage in the media.

It involved opinion poll reviews, studies of recent books and stories, a randomised survey of one week’s news stories, examination of stories about political correctness, interviews with Muslim journalists, and analysis of a television documentary. The researchers were commissioned to inquire into whether the media stimulated informed debate about building a multicultural society, or oversimplified and provided insufficient background that pandered to reader anxieties and prejudices. Other key questions focused on whether stories fostered anxiety, fear and hostility between non-Muslims and Muslims, and whether reportage increased or decreased a sense of common ground, shared belonging and civic responsibility.

Its principal recommendations included (at p. 133):

  • News organisations should review their coverage of issues and events involving Muslims and Islam.
  • They should consider drawing up codes of professional conduct and style guides about use of terminology.
  • News organisations should recruit more journalists of Muslim heritage.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 6.40.35 PMPintak, Lawrence and Franklin, Stephen (eds) (2013). Islam for Journalists; A Primer on Covering Muslim Communities in America. [Digital newsbook]. US Social Science Research Council; Edward R Murrow College of Communication, Washington State University. Available at:

This 343-page e-book was released in 2011 and has since been updated. It contains chapters by several journalists and educators and is presented as an online course in covering stories related to Islam and Muslims. It features a useful glossary of Arabic terms and an extended list of resources.

In his afterward, titled ‘Islam on Main Street’ Lawrence Pintak states that the coverage of Islam is in many ways no different than the coverage of other topics, except that it is potentially inflammatory.

He suggests:

* carefully assess the bona fides of so-called experts, and make sure the audience is provided with the information they need to weigh the credibility of speakers.

* provide background and context when quoting non-academic “experts” and be transparent about their sponsorships and allegiances.

* turn to academics for guidance because many will offer a more researched and balanced perspective on the topic.

We look forward to hearing from others working in this space.


Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2014

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