Helping the public understand why ‘responsible journalism’ matters

July 28, 2017 06:30

A recent YouGov/Economist poll showed that a significant number of Americans say they’re willing to allow the courts to punish news organizations for inaccurate or biased reporting.
 
In the survey, conducted July 23-25, about one-third of those questioned said they did not think it would be a violation of the First Amendment for courts to fine news organizations for inaccurate or biased reporting. About a quarter of the participants believed it would be constitutional for courts to shut down news organizations. The percentages were even higher among respondents who identified as Republicans.
 

“This poll underscores the need for RTDNA and our industry to help the public better understand the role of responsible journalism in our society, and why it is essential to their daily lives,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Incoming Executive Director, who spearheads RTDNA’s Voice of the First Amendment Task Force.
 
In mid-July, the task force commended a number of local news organizations for committing what it called “flagrant acts of ‘responsible journalism’.” Additionally, since 1971, RTDNA has highlighted news outlets whose work exemplifies the highest standards of journalism through its annual Edward R. Murrow Awards.
 
“Every day across America, thousands of broadcast and digital reporters and photojournalists report on stories that call attention to problems and often serve as catalysts for positive change in their communities,” Shelley said.
 
To Shelley’s point, take for example these four 2017 national Murrow-winning reports:
 
  • In the large market television division, NBC-owned KXAS-TV in Dallas uncovered a scandal in which about ten percent of the Dallas Independent School District’s bus drivers had been suspended, and more than a dozen fired, for endangering children by running red lights and violating other traffic laws.
  • In the small market television division, Gray Television’s KWCH-TV in Wichita, Kansas, revealed to its viewers how easy it was for local law enforcement officers who’d been fired, or allowed to resign while under investigation, to trade badges and get jobs with other, neighboring police and sheriffs’ departments.
  • In the large market radio division, a reporter’s curiosity about something she saw in small print at the bottom of her water bill prompted San Francisco public station KQED to produce a report that disclosed the prevalence of a cancer-causing chemical, TCP, in water supplies throughout California.
  • In the small market radio division, public station WVTF in Charlottesville, Virginia, did an in-depth five-part series linking the state’s prison overcrowding problem to the state parole board’s reluctance to grant parole to inmates who qualify.
“We can’t help but believe that many of those who said in the YouGov/Economist poll that they are agreeable with the notion of penalizing responsible news organizations have been influenced by the growing number, and growing viciousness, of attacks on the news media by elected and other public officials,” Shelley added.
 
The 2017 RTDNA Edward R. Murrow Awards Gala will be held Monday, October 9, at the historic Gotham Hall in New York City.
 
RTDNA formed the Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to bridge the divide between responsible journalists and those who don’t like, or don’t understand, the news media. People wishing to support RTDNA’s efforts may reach out to the task force by emailing pressfreedom@rtdna.org.