There is No Ethical Rule for Journalists Not to Help


In the past 48 hours there have been a few examples of journalists helping those impacted by the Haiti earthquake, namely CNN’s Anderson Cooper in the video above and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This has raised questions among OTHER media, especially TV and Internet, of whether getting involved somehow diminishes the reporter’s objectivity and “crosses a line.”

I’m not sure what journalism school the people asking these questions went to - or their editors and producers - because unless I missed that day in ethics class the dilemma never came up.

I went to the Society of Professional Journalists website for clarification on their ethics policy and it makes no mention of taking part in the story like what the CNN personalities did. Here’s the section on journalists being independent:

Act Independently

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.

Journalists should:
—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
— Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
— Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

As you can plainly read the stuff to worry about is a conflict of interest. The closest thing to it is "shun secondary employment" but even that is quantified with "if they compromise journalistic integrity." Saving someone’s life clearly isn't going to do that.

I hate, hate, hate how mainstream media portrays journalism in an improper light. It downright baffles me how my local morning news – NBC5 in Chicago – would even bring it up in such a way.

It saddens me that I’ll have to explain to my son one day that if wants to be a reporter he’s perfectly right in lending a hand when he can. Other dads out there should be able to say the same, without any formal journalism training.