I have never been a supporter of chequebook journalism, despite being well and truly entrenched in the media industry. I have never paid to get an exclusive, but I have also never been in a position that that was required of me. I have persuaded people to talk to me, chased them, annoyed them, doggedly persisted until I’ve got what I needed, but never paid. To be fair I was never a police, court or entertainment reporter. The pressure for an exclusive, something “sexy” that sells, didn’t come up that often in the realm of business reporting. Reporters in those juicier fields were under more pressure to drive revenue for their news organisations by getting salacious scoops.
We all play a role in that. All of us who read the newspaper and online media sites, who watch commercial news programs and pick up magazines. We can voice our outrage at chequebook journalism, but we are fuelling the fire.
Chequebook journalism is unethical.
How you can sit there as a journalist and interview someone your employee has paid and think you are being true to your craft perplexes me. You’re not at the top of your game, you have a good team of negotiators and much money at your disposal. I hope when you repeat in your head that you are participating in the charade because it’s in the “public interest”, that it somehow helps you sleep soundly. Reports that a couple of million dollars have allegedly been paid to Schapelle Corby, a convicted drug smuggler, so she can tell “her side of the story” is morally wrong. Whispers that the girlfriend of convicted killer Simon Gittany has allegedly been paid to talk exclusively to a commercial television network is shameful. She has already admitted in court that her father and herself have contributed about $170,000 to his defence.
How is “funding” supporters of convicted killers and drug smugglers in the public interest?
Each time we switch on to watch these “exclusive” stories we validate the network’s behaviour. Even putting the words chequebook and journalism together taints the profession even more than it already is. For it to be real journalism, in the true sense of the word, there would be no money exchanged. The reporter would work ethically and strategically to secure exclusivity. Better still, the reporter wouldn’t touch the likes of Schapelle Corby. They’d spend their time chasing real stories. Stories that matter. Stories that are in the public interest – that expose injustices and corruption. They’d do their job. They’d work within the Code of Ethics.
Then there are the companies who will scramble for advertising spots when the “tell all” interviews are aired. And those that jostle for prime positions to sit alongside print and online stories. And the shareholders of the networks, that expect higher profits and bigger dividends, who will chat about returns, over Family Assorted biscuits and weak tea, at the AGM. You could argue even just by writing in condemnation of the practise I will get more clicks on my website, thus I, in some tiny way, will also “profit” from crime, as too will all the other media outlets voicing their disapproval.
I’d love to say wouldn’t it be brilliant if the media organisations instead donated money to a charity or organisation working with drug affected teens or domestic violence survivors. Instead of lining the pockets of the criminals or their supporters, wouldn’t it be better to give the money to people who need it? Or even better still, the interview subjects themselves donate the money paid to them? In theory, that would be an honourable thing to do, but it’s dirty money. The whole argument forgets something – it forgets the victims and their grieving loved ones. They have been silenced, by those who should not be given a voice.
And if we were truer to ourselves we wouldn’t switch on to watch these people play us. We are but willing pawns in an unscrupulous, amoral news game driven by greed, fifteen minutes of fame, ego and ratings.
In an ideal world, no-one would be paid to talk the media. In an ideal world, no-one would be thrown off balconies or stuff boogie boards with dope.