SPJ Says Media Should Carefully Weigh Government Request regarding Coverage of War on Terrorism
INDIANAPOLIS - Government officials should avoid asking news organizations to revise their news practices, and media outlets should be careful about giving in to government pressure at a time of national distress, the Society of Professional Journalists said Oct. 12.
The Society's statement was prompted by six television networks' joint decision not to air unedited tape of Osama bin Laden, after National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told them such tapes might contain coded messages. The White House now says it plans to extend the request to newspapers and other electronic news media.
While SPJ rendered no organizational opinion about the television networks' decision, it urged all news media to be guided by their independent news judgment and reject overly broad attempts to influence the information they disseminate to the public.
"Government officials have a right to express their concern about such matters, but they should be very careful about using the weight of the White House, especially on federally regulated broadcasters," said SPJ President Al Cross. "The networks' decision to more carefully handle such material is defensible, but it should not create an expectation on the part of the government that further efforts to control content will be successful. Government officials should also be wary of crying wolf."
The statement follows earlier warnings to the profession and the government about the dangers of government pressure. Delegates to the 2001 SPJ National Convention said in a resolution passed without dissent, "It is especially important during times of national crisis for journalists to hold those in power accountable, without acceding to pressure from government officials to withhold information from the people."
Neither the press nor the public is served by a quick capitulation to government pressure. …