FCC head calls for stronger broadcasting code of ethics
NEW YORK–The broadcast news business is in need of a “richly developed” code of ethics similar to that of print journalism, outgoing FCC chairman Reed Hundt said in an early-June speech at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City.
Saying he wanted TV news to be a “little more like print news — detailed, rich, informative,” Hundt proposed that a better developed set of industry-established principles along with stronger First Amendment protection could help to achieve this goal.
Pointing to the “extraordinary importance and influence of television news,” Hundt said he not only wants the American public to hold it to the same ethical standards as print journalism, but also thinks it should be protected to “the full extent . . . that the First Amendment can afford.”
In comments released in response to Hundt’s speech, Radio- Television News Director Association (RTNDA) president Barbara Cochran said she welcomed the proposed improvements in First Amendment protection, but questioned why after complimenting the broadcast industry, Hundt implied that television news is a “second-class form of journalism.”
Cochran said that the RTNDA has a code of ethics, most recently revised in 1987, that is subscribed to by its 3,400 members. She also noted that other broadcast news organizations have developed standards to deal with ethical matters.
Cochran said that “contrary to your unsupported suggestions, it would seem the American public finds electronic journalism to be superior rather than inferior to print journalism.”
In his speech, Hundt said that stronger shield laws, protecting journalists from having to answer every subpoena, would allow newsgatherers to be more aggressive and pursue confidential sources of information.
“To be vital and active, journalists must be free to conduct responsible investigations of newsworthy stories, with meaningful protection,” said Hundt.
In addition to increased governmental protection, Hundt suggested that increased industry self-regulation is necessary.
“Television is the single source for news on which most Americans rely. We should expect the best from TV journalists, and make it possible for them to give us the best,” said Hundt.