Irwin L. Gratz, President, (207)874-6570 or
Gary Hill, Ethics Committee Chairman, (651)642-4437 or
Fred Brown, Ethics Committee Co-Chairman, (303)755-0395 or firstname.lastname@example.org
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists today expressed it support for Jon Leiberman for having the courage to stand up to his employer’s questionable ethics. Leiberman, Washington Bureau Chief for Sinclair Broadcasting, questioned a company-wide order to broadcast a report highly critical of John Kerry just days before the presidential election. He was fired after his comments were printed in The Baltimore Sun without prior approval.
Leiberman was responding to reports Sinclair Broadcasting Group planned to require 60 of its 62 stations across the nation to carry “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal.” The documentary is highly critical of Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry. The company Tuesday backed away from that plan, saying it would air a one-hour program on the use of documentaries to influence political campaigns on only 40 of its stations.
Sinclair’s entire approach to this broadcast has been in question since word of it leaked out a couple of weeks ago. Multiple news media reports indicated the initial decision to air the broadcast was made by ownership rather than by news personnel even though ownership decided to label it as a news broadcast. Sinclair ownership has contributed heavily and lopsidedly to Republican causes in recent years. The decision also is certain to renew calls for restrictions against the concentration of media ownership. Sinclair’s ownership cuts across network affiliate lines and has the potential of reaching about one fourth of the American public.
Leiberman had worked for Sinclair for almost five years. The Los Angeles Times reported that he wasn’t protesting Sinclair’s decision to air the program - just its plan to label it as news.
“I would have preferred that they did it in the context of an editorial or a commentary or a programming special, but to call this news and to put this under the guise of a news program, in my opinion, is wrong,” he said.
Leiberman was right to blow the whistle. The SPJ Code of Ethics calls on journalists to:
* Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
* Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media. Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
* Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
Jon Leiberman may have lost his job, but he has gained the respect of ethical journalists everywhere who understand the importance of their independence and their responsibility to put the public first.