Category Archives: Canadian Journalist

Blog for the discussion of the craft and business of journalism and reporting in Canada

Journalism matters: conflicts of interest

Journalists paid by industry or a partisan outfit are no longer “journalists.” They are practicing professional public relations. So where does that leave Canada’s Rex Murphy vis a vis his freelance jobs with Canada’s public broadcaster, as a commentator on the flagship National TV newscast, and as host of the radio call-in show Cross Country Checkup?

Murphy, who has spent a lifetime in journalism, has had his role with the country’s public broadcaster questioned recently because of paid speaking gigs in the oil industry, where he’s known for pro-industry commentary and his record as a skeptic of climate-change science.

Journalist Andrew Mitrovica wrote a scathing opinion piece for iPolitics, Rex Murphy, the oilsands and the cone of silence, calling out the CBC on conflict-of-interest and lack of transparency: “The CBC is engaged in a corrosive, myopic effort to circle the proverbial wagons in order to protect its battered “brand” and a popular performer – at the expense of honesty, openness, transparency and … journalistic responsibility.”

Ouch.

Mitrovica is not the only critic; there have been items in numerous journalism and other outlets including, earlier this month, on Pressprogress, a web site dedicated to “progressive solutions” that is a project of the Canadian  Broadbent Institute, founded by a former New Democratic party leader. PressProgress posted a factual and much-linked piece with a title that sums up the controversy: “Rex Murphy and Big Oil: friends with benefits?

The CBC does nothing to help itself. Editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire responded that Murphy is a National show commentator — and “taking a provocative stand is what we pay him to do.” Fair enough: there is a distinct line (which most in the media fail to explain to our audience) between opinion and reporting. But what of his radio hosting job? Calling him a “freelancer,” which McGuire also does, doesn’t cut it. Murphy may be technically a freelance independent, but other freelancers for the CBC, as for all world-class quality journalism outfits, are held to strict ethical standards. Even Murphy’s own agency for independent speaking gigs sells him on the basis of his relationship with the CBC, as “a trusted face and voice across Canada on CBC TV and CBC Radio One … ” And it’s at best disingenuous of the CBC to downplay its relationship with Murphy when its very own, and badly outdated, page about Murphy  touts his many and diverse roles:

He has worked extensively with CBC and from Newfoundland he has contributed many items on current affairs issues. For The National he has done a number of documentaries, including the highly acclaimed “Unpeopled Shores,” as well as interviews with immensely popular authors, the late Frank McCourt of Angela’s Ashes, among them.

Journalism matters — and the value of opinion in journalism is rooted in factual credibility plus, at the very least, a declaration of conflicts of interest.

— Deborah Jones

Disclosure: I’m an avid supporter of the CBC, and believe in a strong, respected and ethical public broadcaster. Excepting a handful of radio docs and paid TV and radio appearances many years ago, I have no financial stake in the CBC.

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The Newfoundland Mummers

The Mummers Parade by Greg Locke

As the year ends and winter gets a grip in the Northern latitudes, many cultures mark the passing of another year and the coming of winter with annual religious and folk festivals and events. In the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the remote and isolated coastal fishing villages long held on to traditions brought from England and Ireland. A mix of ancient Celtic, Pagan and Anglo-Saxon rituals merged with Christianity and the celebration of Christmas. One of those traditions, Mummering, has enjoyed a cultural revival in urban areas in recent years. Check out Greg Locke’s slide/sound presentation, Mummers The Word, from this year’s annual Mummers Parade in St. John’s, Newfoundland. (Subscriber-only content.)

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“Regret the error, we do” – once we stop laughing

With a nod to our own house of  glass, I’m laughing out loud at the list of best and worst media errors and corrections of 2013, by Craig Silverman at the Poynter Institute.

The outrageous ones will give you a giggle: the British outlet that apologized and paid damages for an “exclusive” interview with Roger Moore that was completely made up; an American consumer magazine that admitted wrongly labeling someone a journalist when “in fact she is a practitioner of vibrational energy medicine.”

Don’t let your high dudgeon over the “error of the year” — bungled reporting by American news program 60 Minutes on an attack on American diplomats in Libya — make you overlook the delicious Star Wars-inspired “correction of the year.”

The list is a funny romp underpinned, as we’d expect of Poynter, by its founder’s mission: to nurture and hold to account the kind of independent journalism that helps “maintain the integrity, the stability, the progress of self-government.”

— Deborah Jones                                  

 Further reading:
The best and worst media errors and corrections in 2013, by Craig Silverman at the Poynter Institute
The Poynter Institute mission

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Canadian reticence makes journalism “brutally difficult”

“This is a really weird country to work in,” Adrienne Arsenault said of being a journalist in Canada.

It’s “brutally difficult” working in Canada compared to being a journalist abroad, said the foreign correspondent for The National, the flagship TV news program of CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster. “People are very closed… this is no whistler-blowing culture,” she told a journalism panel. “We’re a really weird group of people.”

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Newfoundland fishery 20 years after cod moratorium

Gerald Cooper of Trinity Bay, Newfoundland bring home the only thing he caught, a lone mackerel, on his last day of fishing before retiring. Photo by Greg Locke © 1999.

Twenty years after the Canadian government shut down the 500 year old Newfoundland cod fishery there are few signs of recovery of the near-extinct legendary fish stocks on the Grand Banks and north west Atlantic ocean. The fishery has changed but it is still possible for an ecologically viable and sustainable fishing activity … if the assorted governments, unions and fish companies would look for a better way and take responsibility for their actions. Check out  Two decades of disaster: Newfoundland’s fishery. for my look back on 20 years since the moratorium.

 

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Celebrity “Click Bait” vs Journalism

An opinion poll suggests a large majority of Canadians blame sensationalized celebrity reports on media outlets that run them “to get as many people as possible to go to their digital media site to earn ad revenue,” said a report today by polling firm Ipsos Reid.

Some 68 per cent blame infotainment on media, while the remainder say the “news” is driven by celebrities and their publicists.

The company did the poll on behalf of the Canadian Journalism Foundation. It interviewed 1,108 Canadians from Ipsos’ Canadian online panel online, between November 11th to 16th. The company said the poll is accurate to within +/- 3.4 percentage points — “had all Canadian adults been polled.”

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Charles Mandel

F&O is happy to welcome aboard Canadian journalist Charles Mandel as our newest regular contributor.

Mandel, who has worked throughout the continent, is now based on the east coast in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He will contribute book reviews, “Think” features and Dispatches reporting, and arts writing to Facts and Opinions. You can read his bio here, and see his work in Ex Libris, Dispatches and F&O’s Loose Leaf column.

 

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Locke: a malaria moon

Nyarama1

Copyright Greg Locke © 2013

For nearly a decade Greg Locke traveled through rural east and central Africa, from his home base in Nairobi to destinations including the some of the world’s largest refugee camps in Dadaab South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Lake Kivu, the eastern Congo and Burundi.

Locke, F&O managing partner – visual, has produced a gallery exhibit of some of the notes and photographic records of the conflict, humanitarian crisis and daily life he captured on news assignments and for a book, with Elliot Layton, about Médecins Sans Frontières.

Log in to see Under a malaria moon, available to F&O subscribers or for a $1 day pass to the site.

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Photojournalist wins $1.2M in copyright lawsuit

Haitian photographer Daniel Morel has been awarded $1.2 Million by a US judge in a nasty copyright infringement lawsuit against Getty Images and Agence France-Presse. This decision is not only a major win for Morel and serious damage to the reputations of the two international news agencies for what the judge called, willful copyright infringement, it will also be a precedent setting ruling that defines the use and distribution of copyrighted images on the internet and social media websites with their Term of Use agreements that lays claims to photos that people post to their accounts. The case is one of the first to address how images that individuals make available to the public through social media can be used by third parties for commercial purposes and suggests that such “Terms of Use Agreements” cannot override federal and international copyright laws.

Joseph Baio, who represents Morel, said the ruling proves that images taken from Twitter without permission cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Danial Morel's photos of the 2010 Haiti earthquake make the frontpages of newspapers and TV broadcasts around the world. ...click to enlarge.

Danial Morel’s photos of the 2010 Haiti earthquake make the front pages of newspapers and TV broadcasts around the world. …click to enlarge.

This story started when Morel, 62, a well known photographer for his years of work in Haiti posted the first photos of the 2010 Haiti earthquake to his Twitter account for his clients to see. An editor at AFP discovered Morel’s photos through another Twitter user’s account, downloaded them, striped the identifying metadata and gave them to Getty, a partner agency, for distribution. The photos were then widely disseminated to Getty’s clients worldwide. AFP also distributed a number of the images on their network.

When Morel complained about the copyright infringement AFP filed the lawsuit in 2010 against Morel, seeking a declaration that it had not infringed on his copyrights. Morel then filed his own suit.

In the Jan 2013 preliminary hearing AFP had initially argued that Twitter’s terms of service permitted the use of the photos but Judge Alison Nathan found that Twitter’s policies that allowed posting and retweeting of images but did not grant the right to others to use them commercially and that AFP and Getty committed a willful violation of the US Copyright Act and ordered the case go to trail to award damages. The jury also found AFP and Getty guilty of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act: specifically for altering Copyright Management Information and for adding false and misleading CMI. AFP had removed Morel’s identifying metadata and credited the photos to another photographer. For this they awarded Morel a further $20,000.

At trial, AFP lawyer Joshua Kaufman, blamed the infringement on an innocent mistake and said the Twitter user who posted Morel’s photos without attribution bore responsibility for the error. The AFP editor, Kaufman said, believed the pictures were posted for public distribution.

The $1.2 million was the maximum statutory penalty available under the US Copyright Act. AFP had asked for the award to be set at $120,000. Several news outlets that published Morel’s images previously settled with the photographer for undisclosed amounts, including the Washington Post, CBS, ABC and CNN.

Twitter was not a party in the case. “As has always been our policy, Twitter users own their photos,” a Twitter spokesman said.
You can get the blow-by-blow account of the trail at Editorial Photographers UK
Reuters coverage of the Jan 2013 Hearing
Reuters coverage of the November trial.

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Science interpretation for dummies – from lawmakers to journalists

That science is under siege has become a truism. Every conversation I have with a scientist, almost every public issue debate, every story I do about global crises, touches on censorship, religious and ideological beliefs, and a lack of education.

Three scientists aim to address that in a new commentary published in Nature. “There are serious problems in the application of science to policy,” note the authors, but the usual solutions  proposed, to increase political involvement by scientists, or give more scientific advisers more power, are unrealistic. Worse, they say, those fixes ignore what they call the core problem: scientific ignorance among lawmakers.

William J. Sutherland, David Spiegelhalter and Mark A. Burgman offer a sort of crash course in skills to needed to grasp “the imperfect nature of science.” It has 20 tips with examples in “interpretive scientific skills” aimed at public servants, politicians, policy advisers and journalists, to help parse evidence and avoid influence by vested interests.

“The harder part — the social acceptability of different policies — remains in the hands of politicians and the broader political process,” they note.

Their points include:

  • Differences and chance cause variation.
  • No measurement is exact.
  • Bias is rife.
  • Bigger is usually better for sample size.
  • Correlation does not imply causation.
  • Extrapolating beyond the data is risky.
  • Controls are important.
  • Randomization avoids bias.
  • Scientists are human.
  • Data can be dredged or cherry picked.
  • Extreme measurements may mislead.
  • Feelings influence risk perception.

Cliched? Sure, perhaps. But still useful, even as reminders. 

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