Sunday, September 16, 2007

Marti Moonlighter speaks out about ethics

Helen Aguirre Ferré, the editor of Miami's second largest Spanish language daily, Diario las Americas, has joined the blogging ranks. Her first two posts are a defense of herself with regards the Marti Moonlighters scandal of a year ago (in English and Spanish). The last paragraph reveals that the text of her post may have been given as speech at a conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) in August. The name of the panel discussion which Aguirre Ferré moderated was “Of Propaganda, Patriotism and Patronage: The Legal, Ethical and Practical Implications of Journalists Working with Government Agencies”. Joining her on the panel was syndicated columnist and fellow Martí Moonlighter Carlos Alberto Montaner as well as Clark Hoyt, the man who was brought in by McClatchy to investigate the scandal as a one-time-only ombudsman.

In the speech/post she poses many of the questions and addresses many of the issues that have been raised here at Herald Watch. Still there are some important thoughts I thought I'd highlight:

A study published in 1999 by the American Society of Newspaper Editors analyzed the codes of ethics of 33 different newspapers. Many of the codes were standard fare: it is inappropriate to accept gifts, travel junkets, or money for a story, for example. However, many did not include subjects such as correcting errors, privacy issues, deception, and plagiarism. Only 1/5th addressed the difficult but important division between the newsroom and the advertising department.

Certainly, many if not all of the news organizations analyzed have updated their codes. What we learn from this, however, is that each news organization has their independent ethical guidelines unique to their news organizations.

Therefore, it came as an enormous surprise to a number of prominent south Florida journalists who were targeted for violating a supposed code of ethics of The Miami Herald forbidding their journalists from receiving compensation from the U.S. government news agency like Radio and TV Marti, although it was not prohibited by the companies non-Herald journalists worked for.

Of the eleven journalists sited [sic], only 2 were employed by the Spanish language El Nuevo Herald full-time, one was a free lance employee. The other journalists cited in the article who work in either in television, radio or print, were employed by companies who do not agree that there is a conflict of interest. [...]

Why then target the other journalists in this story, which was hardly a news story, it was well know [sic] that each and every one had a participation in Radio and TV Marti? Was this not in reality a personnel problem The Miami Herald needed to deal with privately with their employees instead of making it the first five-column news story on the front page of the newspaper?[...]

When The Miami Herald reporter, Oscar Corral, called me to inform me of the story he was doing and its imminent publication, I asked him if he had analyzed the content of my work, and he said no. How then can a journalist question the ethics of my work if he or she has never seen it?[...]

That this perception exists, when the news content or work has never been scrutinized by those who accuse the organization of being propagandistic is unjust and disheartening. [...]

Certainly, this is not the same perception held toward Voice of America, for example. There services are held in the highest esteem for reasons as yet unclear to me, although I have no reason to doubt that. In fact, the Washington bureau chief for the Hartford Courant worked for nearly a decade for Voice of America, with a similar stipend that the some of the journalist for Radio and TV Marti received. Yet when that story was disclosed, I do not recall reading one news story that accused that distinguished journalist of being a propagandist for the U.S. government. [...]

The community understood that this was “gotcha” journalism at its worse and it was no longer going to tolerate the lack of respect and defamation for anyone who is identified with taking a position against the communist government of Cuba. [...]

Fairness and accuracy are two key components of serious journalism. Both were sadly missing in the story TMH did on the journalists who work for Radio and TV Marti. They impugned the reputations of distinguished colleagues without regard to the harm that could have resulted to them personally or their professional reputations, the most important resource a journalist has in dealing with the public. [...]

One issue still remains unresolved, at least in the minds of many in the news gathering community, how is it that the Cuban government, announced the disclosure of this Herald story a few weeks in advance? It was aired on the government’s roundtable [sic] discussion program La Mesa Redonda and is on tape. How could the Cuban government know of the The Miami Herald’s investigative piece before hand? Your guess would be just as valid as mine would.


Anonymous said...

On top of everything else in this affair, which is plenty, it would seem the Herald's "code of ethics" does not include (or forbids) admitting to significant fault and at least apologizing for it (even if insincerely and just for the sake of appearances), assuming its hand isn't forced. Why they bothered with Hoyt is beyond me, though maybe they thought he'd be less critical. As it turned out, it would have been better if they hadn't gone through the motions, since they only wound up brazenly blowing off Hoyt's report, which only added insult to injury.

More recently, it simply defies belief that, if someone like Armando Perez-Roura had been caught with a prostitute EXACTLY like Oscar Corral was, the Herald would have been anywhere near as circumspect, terse, "tactful" and "considerate." I don't know about other people, but to me that speaks volumes.

If I could get the Herald delivered daily for free, I honestly wouldn't want it. I really don't understand why more than a few Cuban-Americans remain willing to spend a single penny on it, considering how shabbily it has repeatedly treated our community and keeps doing. I find such indolence disappointing and embarrassing. If we don't respect ourselves, who will?

Anonymous said...

As for the infamous Corral story being scooped by Havana, that still smells like putrid fish, and it's still being ignored (as it will continue to be). Imagine that.

Henry Gomez said...

For the record, I think the way Havana found out about the story was because Oscar Corral probably went around getting reactions from people like Max Lesnik or Max Lesnik gave him the story in the first place.

Anonymous said...

You could be right, Henry, but if that's what happened, why hasn't the Herald said so? It would be simple enough, and it would help dissipate the persistent and very legitimate suspicions of some Havana mole(s) at the Herald.

The Herald has to know there are lots of people who want this matter cleared up. If the answer is so relatively straightforward, why not come out with it to put the question to rest?