Corporate Interests and Their Impact on News Coverage
There is no denying that news media is big business. The complete coverage of stories and investigative reports are certainly at risk with the rise of media as a business, rather than strictly a service to the public. Over the past few years, there have been a number of cases where television stations or news publications have killed news stories or forced reporters to slant stories due to pressure from advertisers or those in power at the news. This paper will attempt to examine the relationship between social responsibility and news editors, and apply ethical theories to explain what should and can be done. Should editors have the power to kill or slant stories, depending on their own interests or those of their advertisers?
A number of books and articles investigated the relationship between corporate and advertising interests and news coverage. In the May/June 2000 issue of Columbia Journalism Review, Lowell Bergman wrote an article entitled, "Network television news: With fear and favor." Bergman sums up his findings by saying, "Executives of the network news divisions say that they will report any story of public interest and import without fear or favor, without considering its potential commercial consequences. They say that, but they do not believe it" (p. 50).
Karl Idsvoog's journal article, "TV sitting on stories to improve ratings," claims that "the decision on when (or if) to run a piece is no longer determined just by asking is the report concise, clear, and well produced; is it fair, thorough and accurate? There are now more critical questions. What's the lead-in? Where do we place the promotion? Will it deliver better numbers on Monday or Wednesday?" (Idsvoog, p. 38). However, he adds that "in the long run, adhering to a higher standard of ethics delivers a higher standard of performance" (p. 39).
Carol Guensburg examines the ethical dilemmas of news reporting that involve the media agency's owner in the December 1998 issue of American Journalism Review (p. 10). In "When the story is about the owner," she determines that it is up to the individual journalists and news operations to continue reporting important stories, regardless of the impact they may have on corporate or advertising interests (Guensburg, p. 11).
American Journalism Review's October 1998 article by Jane Kirtley, "Second-guessing news judgment," looks at the issue of FCC regulations of news coverage (p. 86). She notes that having the governmental agency get involved in news coverage would likely lead to the consequence that "broadcasters will be discouraged from covering controversial issues at all" (Kirtley, p. 86).
In addition to these and many other articles referencing corporate interests in the media, an organization called Project Censored does annual research to "explore and publicize stories of national importance on issues that have been...