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Saturday, May 24, 2008
 
Sports Media Ethics (or lack thereof)

Bonjour from France. I am teaching an international sports law course in France, so my blogging will be limited during the next several weeks.

But I wanted to mention the panel on sports media ethics that I moderated last week in San Francisco at the Sports Lawyers Association annual conference. The panelists included members of the sports media, Lester Munson (ESPN) and Jon Wertheim (Sports Illustrated), Jane Kirtley (media ethics professor and expert) and Michael Huyghue (commissioner of the newly formed United Football League and former agent of Pacman Jones).

Media ethics codes have been established (in writing) by a variety of news outlets, parent news companies, and trade associations working in different media. These codes provide guidelines for journalists "to seek and report the truth" and "to minimize harm". For example, with respect to accurate reporting, the ethics code established by the Society of Professional Journalists provides that journalists should:
  • Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
  • Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
  • Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
  • Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
  • Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
It also provides that journalists should:
  • Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage.
  • Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
  • Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
  • Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
  • Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
  • Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
  • Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.
Sports journalists seem to routinely get away with reporting inaccuracies (e.g. falsely reporting that the Grimsley affidavit contained the names of certain high profile players connected to steroid use) as well as intruding into the private lives of sports participants including players, coaches and front office personnel. I questioned the panelists why there is a more "relaxed" code of media ethics with respect to news reporting in the sports industry as compared with other industries. On the privacy issue, the response was essentially that professional athletes seek attention (e.g. by endorsing products) and thereby "assume the risk" that their private lives will be exposed by the media. I never understood that rationale (legally or otherwise), so when I challenged that proposition, I was told that I was "beyond my years" in a google/myspace era.

In my view, the problem is that the media determines what is "newsworthy," combined with the fact that (1) there is no external mechanism or independent body to enforce their ethics codes (like the state bar enforces ethics codes in the legal profession) and (2) the First Amendment trumps state tort laws in the courts. While the media plays an important role in reporting news, media sources are essentially product and service providers that compete with each other in a free market. The sports media "needs" sports participants in order to provide a quality product -- it needs access to sports participants; it needs cooperation from the participants; and it needs to interview the participants and highlight their views, perspectives and commentary. To put it simply, despite the enforcement and First Amendment hurdles, the participants are not powerless with respect to the media.

I suggest the players unions and the leagues find creative ways to "deal" with the media on terms that are mutually beneficial to both the participants and the media -- in other words, cooperation and access in exchange for accuracy and privacy.





13 Comments:

Have fun in France! looking forward to some interesting posts when you get back.

Blogger Jimmy H -- 5/24/2008 5:50 PM  


Traditional sports media reporting was based solely on the desires of the owners. (Think how Steve Garvey's image, for instance, changed after he retired and Dodger management wasn't protecting him.)

What you note is a continuation of that mindset.

I'll start taking "sports journalists" seriously when they stop claiming, for instance, that the five or six new stadia in the NY/NJ area (Yankees, Mets, and Jets with large outdoors; Devils and Nets with arenas, and I forget if the Giants are getting something new as well) are a major cost to the taxpayer and benefit no one except the owners.

Reporters don't make up names in an affidavit; they get them from "sources," in the same manner as the reporters who published lies about the "need" to invade Iraq.

And we've all seen how effective those "media ethics codes" have been for general reporters, where matters really are of life and death.

Why would you delude yourself that an unenforced ethics code for sports writers would do any good?

Rick Reilly would still have lied about the players's reactions to Barry Bonds hitting a home run, the von Steingrabber clan will still make up stories about players, and Willie Randolph will still be persecuted for telling Bob Klapisch the truth about the Mets organization.

Note that that first example is seven years and about 350 Bonds home runs ago. What has been the result? Rick Reilly is pointed to as a paragon, not the pariah he should be.

Blogger Ken Houghton -- 5/25/2008 10:48 AM  


A bit off topic, but I can't let this go unchallenged.

"I'll start taking "sports journalists" seriously when they stop claiming, for instance, that the five or six new stadia in the NY/NJ area (Yankees, Mets, and Jets with large outdoors; Devils and Nets with arenas, and I forget if the Giants are getting something new as well) are a major cost to the taxpayer and benefit no one except the owners."

Ken, are you an economist? Because if you were you would know that (for once) they are telling the truth about publicly financed stadiums.

Speaking of sources, if you have evidence that taxpayers have ever received positive net benefits from a publicly financed sports facility, please produce it. It would be a first.

And FYI the Jets and Giants will be sharing a new facility, as they do now.

Anonymous Glenn -- 5/26/2008 9:10 AM  


Brain-short in that sentence; my bad, Glenn, and thank you for the correction.

Should have been "when they START ADMITTING...are a major cost to the taxpayer and benefit no one except the owners."

Blogger Ken Houghton -- 5/26/2008 10:08 PM  


FYI

There is a great website out there that details everything and anything about stadiums, they cover all the major sports (past, present, and future) and include ownership, financing and attendance, seating etc.

We used it as a reference when I was I studied Sport management in undergrad. My prof's used it so I assume it is a at least somewhat relaible.

www.ballparks.com

Blogger Jimmy H -- 5/27/2008 9:23 AM  


This is a very interesting and insightful post. If journalists faced serious repurcussions for misdeeds, there would be more accuracy in reporting. Don't forget about the right for newspapers to retract false information within a certain number of days of publication. However, in the era of the Internet, the damage would already be done. On the other hand, if Prof. Karcher wanted some sense of peace on the issue, just know that in the era of the Internet, journalists are being called out now just as well by those in the know..especially in the "reader comments" part found under the article itself. Kind of a self-regulation by READERS not the state.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/27/2008 8:03 PM  


Ken, I hate when that happens!

Jimmy H, the problem with ballparks.com is that it does not offer any independent analysis, better that you try

www.fieldofschemes.com

Anonymous Glenn -- 5/27/2008 9:55 PM  


Thanks Glenn, I'll check out fieldofschemes as well

Blogger Jimmy H -- 5/28/2008 8:11 AM  


Have you ever heard about the First Amendment? We have a free press. Why do you want to regulate it? Do you honestly think regulation would solve the problem?

Reportage is not a commodity like butter that can be regulated. Journalists do not have the same responsibility to the public that lawyers have, which is why there are no state bar equivalents for reporters.

By the way, the tradeoff you propose already happens in every way. Generally, all leagues and players limit access to the liars and sleazeballs who give the hard working rank and file reporters a bad name.

-Amos (a former sports reporter, now a lawyer)

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/28/2008 11:19 AM  


Anon 11:19,

Yes we do have a free press, and I'm pretty sure most of us here have studied the First Amendment.

But as I'm sure you know, the First Amendment freedom of the Press is not an absolute. Restrictions on the freedom the press is hardly a new idea.

Whats important to consider here is that many so-called reporters claim that the First Amendment grant them the right to pretty much print whatever they want, no matter what consequences it will bring as a esult.

Since the press as a whole seem to think that the only ethics that actually matter is to protect the sources leaking classified information to them, the responsibility falls on unions and leagues to regulate what members of the press are allowed access.

there is no protected right to gain access to the workings of a private entity. when the press starts taking ethics seriously, then the leagues can give them more access.

Blogger Jimmy H -- 5/28/2008 12:51 PM  


A lot of the reporters are just looking to find that big story that will make them famous. They have no regard for anyone but themselves. First Amendment right allows them to write whatever they want but their are consequences that follow.

Anonymous jim -- 5/28/2008 1:54 PM  


Consideration of the reality of the nature of the "partnership" between professional male sport and the media can be informed by reading the results of a global survey of what sport the media cover and how they cover it. A 2005survey found that "apart from such differences determined by history and culture, the International Sports Press Survey clearly documents that sports journalism is a global culture - just like sport itself. The priorities in sports journalism are more or less the same and it does not matter whether the newspaper is based in Washington, Bergen, Vienna or Bukarest.

􀂃 Match reports, results and previews dominate: 58 per cent of the articles on the sports pages deal with current events - the match yesterday or the expected line-up this evening.

􀂃 Stories about money and politics can only be located with a magnifying glass: Approximately one article in 30 includes
political aspects of sport. Only one article in 100 deals with public funding of sport, and only one article in 20 deals with the commercial aspects of sport.

􀂃 The focus on doping is waning: On average 1,5 per cent of the sports articles deal with one of the biggest challenges in recent years to sport: the use of illegal drugs by athletes. Compared to Monday Morning’s analysis of the Scandinavian sports press in 2002 there is a strong indication that the media has become less preoccupied with the fight against doping.

􀂃 Marginal exposure of social aspects of sport:Adding all the data from categories dealing with the social impact of sport - recreational and amateur sports, the importance of sport for children, the elderly and immigrants - the figure barely reaches 2.5 per cent of all sports coverage.

􀂃 Women are invisible: Men are the focus of 86 per cent of all sports coverage. The explanation may be found in recruitment patterns in sports journalism: Only one in 20
sports articles is written by a female journalist. Norway is also in this area the best in the world with women as subjects in one out of five articles and a female byline over one out of eight articles.

􀂃 Journalism without sources: 40per cent of all sports articles
refer to only one source in the text. 20 per cent of the articles do not refer to any sources at all. And only 16 per cent of all articles have three or more sources.

􀂃 The sources come from within the sports world: Athletes,coaches and representatives of clubs dominate completely as sources for sports journalists - and in only one out of 25 articles have journalists included quotes or comments from people outside the sports world such as academics or politicians.

􀂃 Increasing globalisation of
sport:Compared to previous
studies,this survey indicates that sports coverage is becoming less focused on national interests. In several of the continental European countries, stories with an international focus make up more than half of the coverage. The international focus is less pronounced in the British and American sports press where sport events outside the respective countries only take up one fifth of the total coverage." http://www.playthegame.org/upload/sport_press_survey_english.pdf
So in any trade the professional sport should consider just how much relatively uncritical coverage they are getting.

The successful media boycotts of FIFA and IRB World Cups and current boycott of the Indian IPL cricket competition are all signs that the editors and owners of the worlds largest media organisations are taking a less uncritical view of the partnership with sport.

Anonymous david rutherford -- 5/28/2008 5:15 PM  


David,

Great comment, but a few personal observations...

"The successful media boycotts of FIFA and IRB World Cups and current boycott of the Indian IPL cricket competition are all signs that the editors and owners of the worlds largest media organisations are taking a less uncritical view of the partnership with sport.

beeing born and raised in Scandinavia, and spending the last ten years in the US, I feel that I have a pretty good grasp of the differences between how the media operate both in the US and abroad.

I read some of the major US papers as well as some of the national papers from scandinavia on daily or semi-daily basis (well, to be honset, i mostly just check the box scores and sports pages from europe)... I have not seen a decline in FIFA coverage at all in recent years. True, more weight has been put on the different leagues that are FIFA members, but FIFA sponsored tournaments such as the Champions League still dominte the sport pages when the they are in season.


The focus on doping is waning: On average 1,5 per cent of the sports articles deal with one of the biggest challenges in recent years to sport: the use of illegal drugs by athletes. Compared to Monday Morning’s analysis of the Scandinavian sports press in 2002 there is a strong indication that the media has become less preoccupied with the fight against doping.

is your point here that doping was prevalent in scandinavian sports press in 2002? If so, I'm not sure I agree, Doping in scandinavia is bg news for a week or so when it happens, then they move on to the next victim of the press.

One huge difference between prof sports in the US and Scandinavia is that most sports in Scandinavia are controlled by the IOC and/or the country's olympic national body.

Even football (no, not soccer) is part of the Swedish Governing body for sports, an arm of the national olympic governing body. As such, we were subjected to random doping tests at any time. Same is true for the prof soccer and hockey leagues, which is one reason you don't see as much doping news coming out of scandinavia. It is simply not accepted. Any substance that is on the IOC "red list" is a banned substance. This has included supplements that are or were readily available over the counter in the US for many years, such has Ephedra, Andro, and DHEA.

just some personal observations...

Blogger Jimmy H -- 5/28/2008 11:35 PM  


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