Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The new Fairness Doctrine

Back in 1949 the FCC implemented a rule known as the "Fairness Doctrine." The goal was to insure that stations provided fair and balanced coverage to all issues, especially politics. It was abolished in 1987.

Regardless of the rule, bias has always been present in the media. You can trace it back to the beginning of the printed word. Newspapers have done editorials for years, and now stations and networks do it in a back door manner.

These days viewers often choose their news provider based on the political slant rather than the quality of the product. It's sad that it has come to this, as most journalists try to be objective and fair. In many cases the slant of a network or station is the decision of management, and you have to follow the leader or you're out of a job.

Even though the Doctrine was abolished nearly a quarter century ago, it doesn't mean you as a journalist have to throw the rules of journalism 101 out the window. We're all opinionated, and most news people have strong feelings one way or the other about politics or social issues. But you have to check your opinions at the door and do your best to be fair. And trust me, when you get a reputation as a reporter who is fair, you get the respect that goes with it. Show the world you're biased, and you're killing one half of your audience and almost all of the trust factor.

With that in mind, and with the 2012 elections just around the corner, here are the rules for the new Fairness Doctrine.

-I will never let my opinion be part of any story.

-I will treat all candidates fairly.

-I will not lob softball questions at candidates I like, nor "gotcha" questions at candidates I dislike.

-I will not slant my questions to let the viewer know how I feel. Questions should not begin with, "With all due respect" or "But don't you really think" because those telegraph the fact that I do not agree with the candidate.

-I will not ask questions so totally obscure that I would have to look them up myself. Those are "gotcha" questions.

-I will not commit "bias by omission." That means I will not leave out a part of the story that I do not personally like, that would hurt a candidate I like or help a candidate I don't like.

-I will keep my political and social opinions to myself in the newsroom and out in public.

-I will not shoot video or edit my story in a way that makes a candidate look bad. If I am a producer, I will not use an unflattering still frame of a candidate I do not like. If I am a photographer or one-man-band, I will light and shoot my interviews in a professional manner.

-I will not use sound bites or b-roll of the most extreme followers of a candidate in an effort to show that the entire group is made up of extremists.

-I will not treat female candidates differently than males. I will not use terms like "shrill" to describe a female candidate, nor have any opinion about a female candidate's appearance.

-I will not use opinionated terms to describe a candidate, like "popular" or "embattled."

-I will not view people whose views differ from mine as "ignorant."

-I will not let my facial expressions tell the viewers what I think. I will not roll my eyes during a sound bite about which I disagree, nor nod my head during one I agree with.

-I will not edit in such a way that things are taken out of context, or in a way that the viewer does not get the entire story.

-On election night, I will have a poker face. I will not look like I won the lottery if my candidate won or appear as though someone has run over my dog if my candidate lost.

-I will remember that as a journalist it is my job to tell the viewers what I know, not what I think.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano


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