Home Moral guidelines DeSantis visit coverage rules pose ethical dilemma, experts say

DeSantis visit coverage rules pose ethical dilemma, experts say


Ordinarily, political journalists wouldn’t hesitate to cover the planned visit next Friday to Pittsburgh by the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis. He is, after all, a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2024, and he will be at a downtown hotel on behalf of Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano — a candidate who rarely speaks to reporters.

But a media policy imposed by the event’s sponsor, conservative activist group Turning Point Action, can present ethical challenges for those who wish to cover it.

The requirements are included in a form that journalists must complete to obtain credentials for the event. Many rules are not surprising, such as the requirement to “follow the rules and regulations of the place”.

Others are more problematic, such as a provision that grants Turning Point and its suppliers “the right to have access to images for archival and promotional purposes, upon request, and to know how the images will be used”. The policy also prohibits audio or visual recording of anything displayed on screens during the event, or filming anyone at the event – ​​including speakers – who does not wish to be filmed.

Turning Point says reporters seeking to speak with attendees – “some of whom are underage” – must first obtain the group’s approval. And reporters “must comply with all directions, instructions and requests” from a Turning Point representative who “will have the final say on all matters.”

Compliance with these conditions could pose a challenge to journalistic ethics. For example, NPR’s Ethics Handbook, which guides WESA reporters in their work, states that journalists must maintain their independence. Among its tenets are “Don’t let sources dictate our coverage. We don’t allow sources to dictate how a story will be covered, or what other voices or ideas will be included in the stories we do.”

Maggie Patterson, a Duquesne University professor who teaches media ethics, called the policy’s provisions “shocking”. This is not what one expects to see in a developed democracy. The provision that jumped out at me was that your material could be picked up by the sponsoring organization to be used for their own promotional purposes. I don’t think they have any ethical rights to your material.

Patterson said that if her students were faced with such an ethical dilemma, she would advise them, “Your first loyalty is to citizens and your commitment is to truth. So if that’s compromised – and I’d say it’s compromised in this case by these requests – I think your answer is that you’re not attending.”

It’s unclear how local or other media will react to the policy, which is also being applied to DeSantis’ speeches in Ohio and Arizona next week. Out-of-state outlets contacted by WESA declined to comment publicly, though one said it was reviewing ground rules ethics.

Turning Point did not respond to calls or questions submitted online by WESA. But the press accreditation request form says the policies “have been put in place to ensure that our media partners (you!) are able to get great content, while protecting our attendees’ experience” .

As a private entity, the group is allowed to set whatever ground rules it wishes. And by inviting the media to attend, the event is arguably more welcoming to journalists than Mastriano himself was.

His campaign held a series of events this week in southwestern Pennsylvania, but news outlets (including WESA) unsuccessfully asked for credentials, and reporters who showed up anyway been kept away from the candidate. Mastriano does not generally respond to requests for comment from journalists and has granted interviews only to conservative media.

DeSantis also had a difficult relationship with the press. Last year, for example, he banned non-Fox outlets from covering up a bill signature. And more generally, distrust of mainstream media has become increasingly common among conservative politicians. Earlier this month, NPR reported that nationally, “many Republican candidates are showing they don’t want — or need — to get their messages across through traditional media.”

In fact, at least in conservative circles, there may be more benefit to cultivating media contempt than approval. And an increasingly robust conservative media ecosystem means that if mainstream journalism outlets “don’t go to this event, [conservative audiences] find another place to hear what happened,” said Trusting News founder Joy Mayer.

The organization, a project of two leading journalism advocacy groups, seeks to build trust between the press and the public. But in a “hyperpartisan political environment,” Mayer said, conservatives “have been told over time not to trust the news.” While much of this cynicism focuses on national news, local journalists also face growing mistrust, as even local journalism “become nationalized and politicized.”

Still, Mayer said journalists themselves bear at least some blame for the outage. Conservative audiences, she said, “feel the news isn’t made for or by people like them, and they’re not wrong.” Journalists often have more in common with each other than with whole swaths of the communities they serve, she said. And newsrooms generally don’t do a good job of explaining how they make their coverage decisions.

The Turning Point policy, she said, is an example of how an internal debate over ground rules will result in a decision on how or whether to cover an event — a decision that may invite even more accusations of bias.

“It’s a great example of the urgency for journalists to figure out how to explain what they’re doing because all the decisions we make in private are invisible unless we bring them to light,” he said. she stated.

Helen Fallon, president of the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania, said the Turning Point rules “create a real dilemma for journalists.

“You absolutely want to cover the event, and for an impression [journalist]you can avoid most of these problems,” said Fallon, who is also professor emeritus and former chair of Point Park University’s journalism and mass communication department. “But what about broadcasting?

Fallon said she had never seen such rules before. She said she was circulating the policy among Press Club leaders to see if they were concerned and if the organization needed to craft a response.

But given the current environment, she says, going forward “I think publishers and producers are going to have some tough choices.”