Post-truth ethical pressures

THE NUJ is already surveying members about whether pressure was put on them during the EU referendum to report on issues around it in a particular way. (An NUJ event reporting back on this is expected in early 2017.) The concept of "balance", which has long driven broadcast journalism, took a particular beating. What happens to "balance" when practically everything said by at least one side in the debate was such obvious fibs?

Sadly, just because the vote's happened, it seems the phenomenon of journalists being leant on to put a particular spin on Brexit hasn't gone away. A much more complex phenomenon is the pull from both directions to report that everything is - or will be - hunky-dory in the economy post-Brexit (or not).

I encountered this rather chillingly myself at a business-to-business niche market industry newspaper. Shortly after the referendum, a long-term advertiser in a regional centre of our industry called, telling us how terrible we were for suggesting that there was alarm and uncertainty post-Brexit. The advertiser proceeded to engage me in a long discussion about what he thought my job was. (It wasn't much of a discussion really, it was mostly me politely saying: no.)

Older hands working with the paper, who'd known the caller for over 40 years, were quickly able to call him back and bring him to his senses. Since then, not a day has passed without a major headline appearing along the lines of "Economy doing better than ever post-Brexit", followed by "We're screwed, we told you so!" schadenfreudig Brexit catastrophe predictions. "It's still too early to tell" headlines are notable by their absence.

What happens to the ethics of journalism in such an atmosphere? What should journalists do, and what can be done to support them in making the right ethical choices? We hope to cover the ethics of Brexit reporting (Brexethics?) in LFB's March meeting. Speakers will include Professor Chris Frost, expert on journalistic ethics and witness before Leveson (see "What's going on with UK press regulation?").