EUSJA/ISWA-session at Doha: The Ethical Compass

From June 26. to June 30., the World Conference of Science Journalists takes place in Doha, Qatar. On June 28., 11.30 AM – 12.45 PM, a whole session is dedicated to the construction of  an »Ehical Compass« of science journalism. The background is sinister: In 2007, the German Assoc. of Science Writers, TELI, investigated its history. It found its members guilty to have promoted the Nazi ideology, WW II, construction of mass destruction weapons, the holocaust.

At ESOF 2008, Germany, Russia and the United States reported on deficits in science journalistic ethics. Hans Christian Förster, Berlin/TELI, reported the desastrous TELI findings. Viola Egikova, Moscow/EUSJA, reviewed the communist past. Many scientists were outlawed, science journalism was pure propaganda. Only in the 1980’s she could write, still censored, about genetics. Jim Cornell, Phoenix/ISWA claimed that the Bush administration manipulated scientific data on the evidence of climate change, journalists were uncritical about NASA and did not report on space shuttle problems, big business and PR are running science journalism.

This panel will explore the many ethical issues facing science reporters today, including not only those problems unique to the South and to the North, but, in increasingly interconnected news environment, challenges that cross national and regional boundaries. The goal is to produce the basis for post-conference action on the topic. Organized by the International Science Writers Association ISWA and European Union of Science Journalists Associations EUSJA. Wolfgang Goede (Germany) and James Cornell (USA), Producers, Kathryn O’Hara, Moderator.

  1. What is the history?: Examples of how science journalism has been co-opted in the past by governments and special interest groups– Nazi Germany’s perversion of science and technology for nationalistic aims; the Soviet Union’s marginalization of innovative and outspoken scientists, the USA tobacco industry’s use of “objectivity and fairness” to cloud and confuse health issues, etc. Brief overview (Speaker: Wolfgang Goede, Germany)
  2. What is the current status?: Examples of how economic conditions and the decline of traditional media in the North are allowing industries and research organizations to assume control of science and research news; how governments of countries with rapidly expanding economies manipulate media to advance national goals; and how journalists in the less prosperous nations of the South may be vulnerable to pressure—both physical and financial—from powerful industrial and political factions. Case studies and testimonials. (Speaker: Pallava Bagla, India)
  3. What is being done?: The Columbia Journalism Review’s on-line “Observatory” column examines breaches of ethics and standards in the United States and Canada. The Knight Science Tracker, although not specifically intended to deal with ethical issues, often brings attention to lapses simply through its reporting; and its service has been extended to media in Germany and Latin America, and may soon also monitor media in Africa and China. In addition, many individual journalists have taken to posting comments on ethical issues through personal blogs or the websites of national and international associations. (Speaker: Cristine Russell , USA)
  4. What is the goal?: Suggestions for post-conference actions, that might include creation of an independent international group, affiliated with journalistic organizations, universities, and NGOs to monitor and publicize unethical procedures; or, creation of a WFSJ standing committee, elected by the General Assembly and authorized to maintain an official website where complaints could be received, evaluated, and posted for comments on a global level. Discussants: David Dickson (UK) and Jean-Marc Fleury (Canada) , Istvan Palugyai (Hungary)