So I went to bed last night, vaguely dissatisfied with the CAJ's latest utterance on the Stevie Cameron case, but wanting to sleep on it before saying anything.
Then Ryerson journalism professor John Miller made a statement on the issue to CAJ-L, and it helped crystallize my thoughts:
John Miller wrote:
> Thanks to John Dickins for providing the link to the proposal
> for a CAJ ethics advisory committee, which I was not aware
> of. Perhaps it would be useful for us to discuss the role of
> such a committee. We should be careful to apply the right
> lessons from the controversy over the denunciation of Stevie,
> and the CAJ board's recent, careful standdown.
Or non-standdown, as the case may be.
> Someone said during the debate that the CAJ should never
> criticize journalists, that its role is to stand up for
> journalists. I do not agree with that. The CAJ should be much
> more than an industry association representing journalists;
> it should be a professional association that holds everyone,
> including journalists, to the highest standards. We have a
> very good CAJ statement of principles and ethical guideline
> that were put together by some of the brightest journalistic
> minds in the country. The CAJ should use those as the
> framework for its statements about journalism and
> journalistic practice. I note that the board's standdown on
> Stevie acknowledges that it fell short of those principles in
> not seeking comment from Stevie and not independently
> investigating the matter.
That standdown was so minimal (and so lawyerly in its writing) as to be laughable.
The only thing the board has to apologize for, in its mind, is that it didn't give her a heads-up before issuing the news release.
It really didn't say anything about the shocking lack of due process. Real professional associations hold hearings into a matter where the person allegedly in the wrong gets to formally hear the case against them and has a right of response *before* judgment is passed. Amateur associations let the accused know how much they've displeased the star chamber by issuing a news release “denouncing” (but not censuring) them.
Notice they didn't apologize for denouncing Ms. Cameron. They regretted the use of the word (given the criticism that it has stirred up, I'll bet they did).
> The CAJ, and its proposed ethics advisory committee, should
> be prepared to censure examples of journalistic
> irresponsibility. If you want an example, think of the
> various instances of plagiarism and fabrication that have
> surfaced in the past year. Has the CAJ taken any public
> position on this? Should it? Or should it remain silent
> because it's not in the business of criticizing journalists,
> even if they do wrong?
It's one thing to denounce plagiarism or fabrication. It's another to attack an individual for allegedly engaging in such journalistic wrong-doing without doing any independent investigation into the charge. And if you're going to attack an individual, you should follow some sort of due process — if for no other reason than to protect your assocation from a possible defamation lawsuit.
Based on the facts it had at the time in the Cameron case, the CAJ could have issued a general statement on why journalists should be as independent as possible from the police while noting that investigative journalism into high-level corruption might require a carefully considered deviation from that general principle.
The CAJ's own investigative guidelines allow for clandestine recording and undercover work, both normally frowned on in day-to-day journalism.
Here's what it says on going undercover:
“Undercover research should be conducted with a strong moral compass, with sensitivity to those being investigated and with openness to readers and audiences.”
Or is the CAJ board saying that the principle of independence it espouses is so sacrosanct that if the only way forward on an investigation into high-level corruption is to deal with the police, it's better to stop the investigation rather than continue with a “strong moral compass” guiding any deviation from that principle?
> I do not want to be a member of an association of journalists
> that is prevented from occasionally criticizing journalism
> and fellow journalists when they fail to measure up.
Funny, I was thinking it would be nice to belong to a journalist's association that, when it does sit in judgment of individual journalists, it does so with some degree of competence and fairness.