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Code Words: SPJ’s Ethics Committee Blog
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Ethics Committee
This committee's purpose is to encourage the use of the Society's Code of Ethics, which promotes the highest professional standards for journalists of all disciplines. Public concerns are often answered by this committee. It also acts as a spotter for reporting trends in the nation, accumulating case studies of jobs well done under trying circumstances.

Ethics Committee chair

Andrew Seaman
Bio (click to expand) Andrew is a medical journalist for Reuters Health in New York. Before coming to Reuters Health, he was a Kaiser Media Fellow at Reuters’s Washington, D.C. bureau, where he covered the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

In 2011, Andrew graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied investigative journalism as a Stabile Fellow and was named “Student of the Year.” Andrew also graduated with his B.A. from Wilkes University in 2011.

He’s won numerous awards throughout his short career, including being named a 2010 Tom Bigler Scholar for ethical standards in journalism, the 2009 Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award, the 2009 and the Arthur H. Barlow National Student Journalist of the Year Award.

Monica Guzman, co-vice chair
Bio (click to expand) Monica is a Sunday columnist for The Seattle Times and a weekly columnist for GeekWire, covering issues in digital life. She was a juror for the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes, serves on the National Advisory Board for the Poynter Institute and contributed the closing chapter, “Community As an End,” to the 2013 Poynter book “The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century.” From 2007 to 2010, Monica launched and ran the innovative Big Blog at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and, complementing news and culture coverage with weekly reader meetups. From 2010 to 2012 she developed user communities for Seattle startups like Intersect, Trover and Glympse before kicking off her Times column.

A member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community, Monica emcees the popular quarterly community speaker series Ignite Seattle and is assisting the American Press Institute with a newsroom innovation project. Monica served on the ethics code revision task force and is an active member of the Western Washington Pro chapter of SPJ. She is currently serving as chapter president.

Fred Brown, co-vice chair
2862 S. Oakland Ct.
Aurora, Colo., 80014
Bio (click to expand) picture Fred Brown is a former national president of SPJ (1997-98) and is very active on its ethics committee. He writes a column on ethics for Quill magazine and served on the committee that wrote the Society’s 1996 code of ethics.

Brown officially retired from The Denver Post in early 2002, but continues to write a Sunday editorial page column for the newspaper. He also does analysis for Denver’s NBC television station, teaches communication ethics at the University of Denver, and is a principal in Hartman & Brown, LLP, a media training and consulting firm. He has won several awards for writing and community service, including a Sigma Delta Chi Award for editorial writing in 1988. He is an Honor Alumnus of Colorado State University, a member of the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame, and serves on the boards of directors of Colorado Public Radio, the Colorado Freedom of Information Council and the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.

SPJ Ethics
Committee Members

Lauren Bartlett
Bio (click to expand) picture Lauren Bartlett is currently a Director at Large for the Society of Professional Journalists, chairs the national Communications Committee and is a member of the Ethics Committee and the Finance Committee.
Lauren was a three-time president of SPJ’s Greater Los Angeles chapter. Lauren works in media relations at Southern California Edison and previously worked in media relations at UCLA, her alma mater.

Before joining UCLA in 2000, Lauren was a reporter in Los Angeles for 12 years, the last 10 of which were at the Los Angeles Daily Journal, the country’s largest daily legal affairs newspaper.

Lauren’s professional career began when she was a junior in high school and wrote a weekly column for the Contra Costa Sun. In her senior year of high school she reported for the Contra Costa Times. While attending UCLA she interned at the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Copley News Service.

Upon graduation Lauren worked at the Los Angeles bureau of The Associated Press and City News Service, a regional wire service, before joining the Daily Journal.

Lauren was honored in 2011 with a President’s Award for distinguished service to the Society. In 2001, she was honored with the Howard S. Dubin Outstanding Pro Member Award for her contributions to the SPJ Greater Los Angeles chapter and Region 11. She has been a member of the SPJ/LA Board of Directors since 1996.

David Cohn

Elizabeth Donald
Bio (click to expand) picture Elizabeth Donald has been a reporter with the News-Democrat for over a decade. She is a mobile reporter covering Madison County, with an emphasis on city government, education and the environment. She is the News-Democrat's liaison to the Latino Roundtable of Southwestern Illinois, author of several fiction novels and writes CultureGeek, the News-Democrat's pop-culture blog.

A graduate of the University of Tennessee, Donald is a frequent guest lecturer at local universities on the practical applications of journalism ethics and the changing nature of newspapers in the 21st century. She has won multiple awards and currently serves as vice president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists.

Mike Farrell
Bio (click to expand) picture Mike Farrell serves as director of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center at the University of Kentucky and as an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications. He began teaching as an adjunct in 1980 at Northern Kentucky University, continued as a graduate teaching assistant at UK in 1996, and has been a full-time faculty member there since 2000. He won the college teaching award in 2006.

He teaches reporting, media ethics, media law, journalism history, editing, media law, covering religion news and column writing.

He was a reporter, city editor and managing editor during a 20-year career at The Kentucky Post.

A native of Northern Kentucky, he earned his undergraduate degree at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago. He earned his master's and doctoral degrees at UK, where he focused on media law. He is a member of the Bluegrass Chapter and co-adviser of the UK student chapter of SPJ.

Carole Feldman

Paul Fletcher
Publisher & Editor-in-Chief
Virginia Lawyers Media
Bio (click to expand) Paul Fletcher has been publisher and editor-in-chief at Virginia Lawyers Weekly in Richmond, Virginia, since 1989. He joined the newspaper the previous year as news editor, after practicing law in Southwest Virginia for three years.

A graduate of the Washington & Lee University law school, he earned his undergraduate degree at the College of William & Mary and an M.A. in English from Emory University.

Fletcher has been a member of SPJ since 1992 and serves on the SPJ Ethics Committee. He is the immediate past president of the Virginia Pro chapter.

He has won a number of state and national journalism awards, including honors for editorial, feature and column writing.

Irwin Gratz
Bio (click to expand) picture Irwin Gratz has been in radio news for nearly 30 years. He worked as a reporter, anchor and News Director for the number-one rated commercial station in Portland, Maine before going to work for public radio in 1992 as local anchor of “Morning Edition.”

A native of New York City, Irwin holds a Masters Degree in journalism from New York University. He has taught a college course on media ethics and has been a guest lecturer on journalism ethics and broadcast news writing.

Irwin has been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists since 1983 and has held positions as a state chapter president, a member of its national board and was the Society’s national President in 2004 and 2005.

Irwin lives outside of Portland, Maine with his wife and young son.

Hagit Limor
Investigative Reporter
Bio (click to expand) picture Hagit Limor’s experience with SPJ includes stints as National President; National President-Elect; National Secretary-Treasurer; National Membership Committee; National Finance Committee Chair; current National Legal Defense Fund Committee chair; National Chair of Executive Director Search Committee; Board Member of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation; and Greater Cincinnati Pro Chapter President, membership chairman and current chapter treasurer.

Outside of SPJ, she serves in dual roles as a professor at the University of Cincinnati's Electronic Media Department and as WXIX-TV's Emmy and national award-winning investigative reporter. Her abilities as a writer and reporter have garnered Hagit more than 100 national, state and local awards, including ten Emmy awards, a National Headliner Award, three national Sigma Delta Chi Awards and as a national finalist with the Investigative Reporters and Editors Association. Hagit received bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University.

Chris Roberts

Lynn Walsh
Bio (click to expand) picture Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has been working in investigative journalism at the national level as well as locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. Currently she leads the KNSD investigative team at the NBC TV station in San Diego, California, where she is the Investigative Executive Producer.

Most recently, she was working as data producer and investigative reporter for the E.W. Scripps National Desk producing stories for the 30+ Scripps news organizations across the country. Before moving to the national desk, she worked as the Investigative Producer at WPTV, NewsChannel 5, the Scripps owned TV station in West Palm Beach, Florida. She has won state and local awards as well as multiple Emmy’s for her stories. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information.

Her passion lies in telling multimedia stories that deliver hard hitting facts across multiple platforms. She describes herself as a "data-viz nerd" who is obsessed with new online tools to share information on the web and mobile applications.

She is a contributor to the Radio Television Digital News Association blog and serves as Secretary-Treasurer for SPJ and is a member of SPJ’s FOI, Generation J and Ethics committees.

Lynn is always interested in new projects surrounding FOI, public information access, mobile reporting tools, social media and interactive journalism. She is a proud Bobcat Alumna and graduated from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

Home > Ethics > Ethics Answers > Is “Public Affairs” a Euphemism for Propaganda?

Ethics Answers
Is “Public Affairs” a Euphemism for Propaganda?

Each week, the Society of Professional Journalists’ National Ethics Committee receives dozens of requests for counsel and information concerning the Society’s Journalism Ethics Code.

SPJ does not enforce the code in the sense of sanctioning journalists and news organizations that violate it. However, the Society’s National Ethics Committee does not hesitate to identify ethical lapses in journalism and to disagree with those who have misinterpreted the code.

Committee members frequently investigate allegations of code violations and report their findings. Committee member Jerry Dunklee recently investigated a complaint lodged by a citizen who questioned the ethics of a television news segment about the Iraq War. The complaint and Dunklee’s findings are summarized here. Personally identifiable information has been removed.

The Original Complaint

Dear SPJ,

I would like to inform you about a television news segment ...

The story was the first of a two-part "Back from Iraq" sequence ... It featured a photographer for (the TV station), who was sent to Iraq as a member of the National Guard, and whose job with the Army is also as a journalist. His specific job, according to the piece, is as a "member of the mobile public affairs detachment.”

My concern is that "public affairs" is a euphemism for propaganda, and that by essentially allowing (the photographer) to use (the TV station) as an extension of his Army job, (the station) is passing on propaganda as if it were news, similar to the "fake news" or "VNRs" which have caused so much controversy.

I believe this news segment certainly violates the intent, if not the letter of the Hinchey amendment to the Transportation, Treasury, HUD Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2006, which prohibits the federal government from entering into any contracts with writers and broadcasters or public relations experts to secretly create fake news that serves as government propaganda.

According to Congressman Hinchey, "A properly functioning democracy depends on a news media that is free of any conflicts-of-interest, especially with the government that it is supposed to be holding accountable."

(The photographer featured in the segment) is introduced as "a soldier who is also a reporter.” If that is not a conflict of interest, I don't know what is.

It also violates The SPJ Code of Ethics, which clearly states: "Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know." It also states: "Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived." Being paid to promote a point of view in news stories or columns is never acceptable for ethical journalists.

The report itself is standard Bush administration propaganda, attempting to portray those who dissent with Bush policies as unpatriotic or even traitorous.

(The reporter of the segment): "Morale dips in ranks when the soldiers hear about antiwar protests back at home." (The photographer): "We are having a hard time winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people; we shouldn't have to win the hearts and minds of the American people." Both statements are voiceovers to images of local antiwar demonstrations.

I ask that you look into this matter and work with (the TV station) to improve their standards. I would hope that some corrective actions would include giving equal time to an alternative point of view ...

Dunklee’s Assessment

I have read the complaint from a viewer concerning ethics issues about a story ... I asked the viewer for a copy of the news story he felt was unethical. He sent the video to me, and I have viewed it several times.

I spoke on the phone and via e-mail with the television station’s news director. I sent a her a copy of the complaint (without the name of the viewer at the viewer’s request) and asked for her response.

The viewer said he felt the story violated the SPJ Ethics Code in two ways. He writes:

“It also violates The SPJ Code of Ethics, which clearly states: "Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know." It also states: "Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived." Being paid to promote a point of view in news stories or columns is never acceptable for ethical journalists.”

The next portion of the code states: “ Disclose unavoidable conflicts.”

It is my view that (the TV station) clearly disclosed that the subject of the story was an employee on leave from the station. The anchors said that. The reporter did as well. It is clear that the subject of the story, (a station photographer), is a soldier working as a reporter in Iraq for the Army and not reporting for (the station). (This story is one part of a two-part series on local people who are serving or have served in Iraq.)

The viewer charges that (the station) is permitting “propaganda” to be “passed off as news.” It is clear that (the photographer) has a point of view. He’s entitled to one, of course. And the reporter says in a voice over that (the photographer’s) “perspective may be colored by his job.” (The reporter) also reports that (the photographer) said “there are no simple solutions” in Iraq.

It is my view that the report did not violate the SPJ ethics code because (the station) clearly disclosed the subject’s connection to the station and pointed out that his views were his own. I don’t think the average viewer would have been confused about these issues.

The viewer asserts that the report was also a violation of law in relation to the federal government producing “fake news” or Video News Releases with tax dollars. SPJ has taken a strong position in opposition to government producing such material or news operations airing it without clear labeling. This story does not appear to be a violation of our position on government-produced news. But SPJ is not in the business of law enforcement, and alleged violations of law should be forwarded to the proper authorities.

The viewer’s complaint is articulate, and I applaud (the viewer) for following through on these concerns. The war is controversial, and a good news operation should attempt to cover all sides. I am not in a position to know if (the station) has followed this basic tenet of good journalism throughout the war. But this story does not rise to the level of a violation of the SPJ Ethics Code.

For more information about SPJ’s Code of Ethics, write to

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