ICE blogs

November 27, 2010

Just gimme some ‘truth’!?

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, conferences — news_editor @ 10:18 pm

John Mair, chair of the Institute of Communication Ethics, reflects on ICE’s annual conference in London on 29 October 2010 when a fascinating range of papers dared to ponder the meaning of truth
Friday is a suitable day for penance and thinking about the idea of truth. Good for the soul. I spent the whole day with hackademics at ICE’s conference on ‘Journalism, PR and the problem of truth telling’ (http://www.communicationethics.net/news/index.php?nav=blogs&pg=/?p=134)in London.
Fascinating it was too.
Some starters for ten. Is truth a noun or a verb? Is it upper case or lower case? Just what is the truth and whose is it? As Trevor Morris, one of Britain’s two Professors of PR, put it: ‘PR is not a branch of moral philosophy!’ Some speakers, however, thought it should be.
Most amusing and thought-provoking was Chris Atkins, the director of the feature documentarty Starsuckers (www.starsuckersmovie.com) who showed how he had conned the tabloid press in both an amusing way with a fake story on Amy Winehouse setting fire to her barnet in, well, Barnet and in a serious way offering and getting offers from newspapers for the illegal private medical records of celebs based on a fake Harley Street plastic surgery practice. Plus more recently and closer to home spoofing BBC London News (and the ‘quality’ newspapers) into believing there was an urban fox hunting group based in Victoria Park Shoreditch (the ‘fox’ was a dog with a fake theatrical fur coat…). Laughter but hollow laughter at these hoaxes. (You can see Atkins in action at a recent event www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/blog/2010/10/video-false-news.shtml).
Atkins, like Morris, argued that a new by-line should appear in stories to acknowledge the increasing input of PR to them (up to 90 per cent in some publications, according to Morris’s figures). At the end of the piece, an addendum could be placed: ‘THIS STORY BASED ON PR.’ Go figure that!
Truth is always the first casualty of war as Lincoln University PhD student Florian Zollmann and Tim Crook, senior lecturer at Goldsmiths’ College, London, showed in their papers on the reporting of the US assault on Fallujah in 2004 and the similarities and contrasts in the 1930s’ and the current reporting of the forces of war and appeasement. The US and the British media did not come out of both smelling of roses.
Even on the internet, there’s no permanency to truth as Murray Dick, of Brunel University, alerted us to the concept of ‘unpublishing’ where stories on newspaper websites are altered or even removed ex post facto when found to be wrong or dangerous legally. How long does truth last? It withers on the cyberspace vine.
All of us hacks and hackettes (real and manque) aspire to tell ‘the truth’ but do we really know what is and how to get to it? Do we actually need lessons in moral philosophy?

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