Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nov. 2: The ethics of jourmalism

The first requirement of a news medium is to poduce honest and  unbiased reports on events.

The second requirement is to help its audience understand the meaning of those events.- usually through columnists. (It should also provide a range of opinion in those columns - though very few news media do that.)

It also has to sell ads; and it does so largely through entertainment - thus the space given to horoscopes, sports pages, gossip, advice columns... But that's a matter of business, not of ethic. It becomes a question of ethics whan a paper uses its news stories as ads-in-disguise. (See the wine expo story on p. A1.)

Ethics is not a strong point at the TandT. It did, admittedly, publish a story about the US  cutting off its contribution to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (It did, though, rather downplay the story by focussing on Canada's decision to contine the present level of funding, but not to increase it.) Anyway, the news story alone tells us very little - and offers no understanding. So let's take a closer look at it - as a good newspaper would.

Palestine had requested permission to join  UNESCO. It was a small step to gaining recognition as a nation. Normally, it would be a routine matter. But a national status for Palestine is unacceptable to Israel. Thus the US vote against Palestine joining UNESCO.

The general vote, though, was enthusiastically in favour of Palestine - a two-thirds majority in favour, with many abstentions and only a few nos. Most interestingly, it split the vote of NATO countries. France voted for the Palestinians. Britain, though it normally follows the US lead, abstained from voting. Taken in all, it was a stunning rejection of US influence in the UN. This was particularly so because the US had laid on strong pressure to all countries to vote against Palestine.

Now, the US has retaliated by withdrawing its contribution to the major  organization to, among other things, help the poorest children in the world. (Even Canada is simply freezing the level of its contribution - and Israel has yet to announce any decision at all.)

This is a major disaster for the US. The cost to its credibility all over the world has been the greatest since the founding of the UN.

The cost to the credibility of and sympathy for Israel  will be as heavy.

The US has made it clear that it has no respect for international institutions and international law. It will recognize them only when it is convenient. That effectively puts an end to both the UN and international law. Those who don't care might pause to remember that this is how the League of Nations died.

Obama has blundered - and probably with disastrous consequences. What he should have done was to lean on Israel to support the Palesinian request. Minimally, he should have played the honest broker to work out a deal between the two countries.

Instead, he will use the veto to cancel the vote of the General Assembly, thereby punishing the world's poorest children, showing contempt for the United Nations, and spreading hatred of the US even further.. And that will result in isolating the US and Israel even more from the rest of the world, extending distrust well through its western allies. And that will significantly weaken the US militarily.

Within the US,  he has aligned himself with the nuttiest elements of the Republican party, thus destroying whatever was left of his voter base; and almost guaranteeing that he will go down as the worst president in American history.

This is probably the story of the year. But you certainly will not get that impression from coverage in the Moncton Times and Transcript.  Its big story - for the best part of a week - has been the wine expo.

Norbert Cunningham has a column on the New Brunswick economy - a subject which could be better handled by most of the students who write for the Saturday edition. He is hopelessly uninformed about the economic role of government in an economy, so uninformed that all the measures he proposes would actually cost us more money and more unemployment.

He's smart on one point, though. He doesn't mention the name Irving. He might not know anything about economics. But he knows how to keep his job.

Alec Bruce contributes the best column I have seen on the appointment of Michael Freguson as Canada's Auditor-General. Of all those I've read, this is the one that changed my mind. Bruce makes an excellent case for Ferguson.

The rest of the paper is just trivial.

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