The Warping Effect of Economic
Political power and economic strength go hand in hand. Organizations and individuals with economic or political power gain incredible benefits in the society. Politicians use money and power to influence situations that will enable them to gain more money and power. Such forces are dynamic and they affect the field of journalism and public relations. Journalists have the role to gather and report information to the public, and, therefore, to act as agents of change. When journalists are manipulated, the accurate information does not reach the public. Manipulation of journalism becomes easy when money and power are involved. Russell (2011) provides a discussion on “warping effect” of money on journalism. The warping effect is when journalists fail to serve their roles as advocates to the public and follow their personal interests. Ethical codes are broken when individuals or media organizations accept advantageous treatment or payment for them to cover a story (Russell, 2011). It is important to be clear about money, power and interest implications in the works of the journalists as they influence the ethical code of journalism in a mighty way.
Manipulation of Journalists by External Powers
Manipulation of journalism is taking control or having power over the information that journalists gather and present to the public. Circumstances and personal interests may force a journalist to present information that is not true or hide the truth from the public. The media can be a source of manipulation, and the public may never find out about the lack of transparency in the news or a story. It is easy for external forces to manipulate the journalist because they use money and power leaving the journalist with limited options (Russell, 2011). The five types of media manipulation are:
Imposing restrictive conditions on the journalist’s work
Individuals manipulate media by imposing conditions that limit them in their coverage. Another strategy used in this type of manipulation is the use of a selection and accreditation processes, and by doing so those in power may decide to cooperate with a journalist who agrees to their demands. Manipulation strategy also involves restricting access to advertisement revenue or news writing. Advertisements are the primary sources of revenue for media. Those with money and power may restrict a media organization from accessing commercials and create manipulative conditions for them (Russell, 2011).
Limiting Access to Information
Those who are in power may only select key figures to hold interviews with them. They may also limit access to interviews, withhold key information and release only a part of the information. If a person refuses to give information then the public fail to get the truth. As a result, journalists are unable to fulfill their responsibility of enlightening the community. Incomplete information may not be enough to advise the public; it can be misleading and guide the audience to having a wrong perception.
Journalists are also manipulated by limitation of their independence. Journalist independence is restricted by placing them in conflicting situations, for instance, offering them privileges. Powerful people or organizations may offer financial advantages to an individual or media organization to be able to manipulate them. A media organization can also be manipulated through neutralization, where powerful groups assimilate media into a prominent established group. While being in these groups, a media organization may be convinced to adhere to the demands of the group. The media sometimes pursue multiple and conflicted agendas and as a result they are easily manipulated by external groups. A media organization would want to serve the public and at the same time increase its revenue. The two goals may be conflicting when the easiest way for the media organization to make money is to conform to the demands of the external group (Hrynyshyn, 2005).
According to journalists’ code of ethics all journalists are required to provide truthful and honest information. Powerful organizations/individuals may decide to provide false information to a journalist. The strategy involves overwhelming journalists with irrelevant information and keeping the important information. Misinformation is a common strategy, used by those in power when they do not want to tell the truth because it may harm them or their interests (Hrynyshyn, 2005).
This method of manipulation involves inflicting fear on journalists by threatening them with physical harm, lawsuits, or harming their reputation. The strategy is commonly used by policemen when they want to push journalists away from the new crime scene. For instance, policemen may threaten journalist with arrest, they can even use violence to keep them away from reporting the news. A journalist may then be manipulated if he/she fears that his/her career may be ruined. Also, some media organizations may fear that powerful organizations or politician would destroy their reputation if they do not follow their interests (Russell, 2011).
Difference between Manipulation and Censorship
Unlike manipulation, censorship is the use of power to regulate freedom of expression. In contradiction to manipulation that is informal, censorship can be formal where the state censor board may control the media content (Merrill, 1997). Formal censorship is different from manipulation in terms of the strictness involved. Formal censorship is usually initiated by government and is mandatory. Unlike in manipulation where the media has an option of evading manipulation, in formal censorship the media has to obey the rules of censorship. In contradiction to formal censorship, manipulation methods have no laws or rules. Censorship may be done to protect the public from obscene films or programs. For instance, the government may prohibit pornographic program in media to protect young children. Censorship is also aimed at protecting the public from harmful politics or hate speech. On the other hand, manipulation is done for personal interests.
A powerful person may manipulate the media by offering money of privileges to a journalist to make him/her agree to the terms that will only benefit the manipulating person. As for formal censorship, the government or the formalizing institution does not have to give something in return for media organizations to follow censorship rules (Freeman, 2007).
Nature of Conflict of Interest
Conflict of interests can be individual or organizational. An individual conflict of interest arises when a person wants to get privileges and at the same time he/she wants to do his/her work as a journalist. A person gets an employment to earn a living and to get a purpose in life by doing what one likes. A journalist may have the interest to earn money, to grow in terms of career and to serve the public. At times the three interests may conflict with each other especially when a journalist is offered financial benefits if he/she agrees to adhere to the interests of those in power. A journalist may be given free travel to cover a story that is against journalists’ code of ethics. If a journalist is in a situation when he/she does not have any other form of transport, then he/she should contact the management and reimburse the cost of travel.
Another nature of the conflict is when a media organization is covering itself. In such cases, the media may be tempted not to release complete information or accurate information. Conflicts arise when an organization wants to protect its reputation and at the same time it is its duty to keep the public informed (Freeman, 2007).
Conflicts of interests also arise when a journalist is covering a story relating to a family member. A person may not want to ruin the reputation of his/her family, and he/she may end up giving false information. Conflict of interests may also arise in specialty reporters who report sports or artwork. Specialty reporters are likely to take gifts presented to them by the particular sports club. Acceptance of such gifts is against journalist ethics and conflict of interests’ policy (Freeman, 2007).
A good example of conflicted media coverage is a conflict of interest by CBC senior business reporter who accepted money from an insurance company for moderating a couple of their seminars (Houpt, 2015). CBC journalists are currently faced with the same type of issues, and it calls for the management to tighten repercussions of breaking the ethical codes (Houpt, 2015).
Ways of Avoiding Warping Effects
Media organization should be clear on possible consequences of breaching the code of ethics. Media organizations should train their employees on the importance of honesty and integrity in their role of serving the public. In case, a journalist is offered a gift or free travel he/she should not accept such offer and report the matter to the management. Acceptance of gifts may lead to manipulation by powerful people or organizations (Merrill, 1997). Journalists should also test the credibility of the information they get because they can be manipulated through untrue or incomplete information (Merrill, 1997). Journalists should also not be allowed to cover story or report matters that involve their family members. Making a report on issues that involve relatives may create conflicts of interests. It is the responsibility of a journalist to inform their supervisors of possible conflict as a result of covering stories related to their family members. Media organizations should also maintain integrity, honesty and be truthful when covering a story about the corporation.
The media has a different role that may conflict at particular situations. As the media acts as an informant of the public, it is also its objective to make a profit. Media organizations get manipulated in the process of making profits. Manipulation also happens at an individual level when a journalist accepts money, gifts or other privileges from sources of information. It is the duty of both, media organizations and individual to follow journalism code of ethics to avoid manipulation, and solve the problem of conflicting interests.