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Home > SPJ News > 2004 SPJ Convention Resolutions

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2004 SPJ Convention Resolutions

SPJ News
10/1/2004


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Delegates to 2004 Society of Professional Journalists National Convention passed the following resolutions on Sept. 11, during a convention business session.

Resolutions


Adopted Sept 11, 2004, by SPJ National Convention delegates


Sources: The distinctions between ethics and law


WHEREAS, the practice of professional journalism in the public interest is threatened on occasion by journalists’ over-dependence on confidential sources, and increasingly by intrusions of the legal system into the editorial process, to the point that an unprecedented number of American journalists are facing the possibility of legal compulsion to reveal their sources;
THEREFORE, be it resolved that as matter of professional ethics, the Society urges journalists to curtail their over-reliance on inadequately described, anonymous sources who often feed the press self-serving and even false information under the cloak of anonymity; and
Be it further resolved that the Society deplores the threat to the constitutionally protected freedom of the press posed by judges who reach into the confidential editorial processes of the newsroom in speculative searches for information that might turn out to help one party to a lawsuit or assist prosecutors in rounding up information they fail to obtain by m2004 SPJ Convention Resolutionsore direct means.
Submitted by Northern California Pro Chapter


Reaffirming SPJ’s calls for freedom of information


WHEREAS, in a time of genuine national peril, governments in the United States have impaired the ability of journalists to report on that peril and governments’ response to it; and
Whereas, restrictions imposed in the name of increased security inhibit journalists’ ability to otherwise inform the public, even to the extent of jeopardizing that security through lack of public knowledge; and
Whereas, American journalists face increasing obstacles, even to the extent of unlawful detention, arbitrary use of credentialing and security zones, confiscation of journalists’ tools, such as tape recorders and cameras; and other forms of harassment and intimidation;
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists rejects the assumption that secrecy makes us more secure, and reaffirms its earlier calls for freedom of information, at a time when the public has even more need to be informed.
Submitted by the Freedom of Information Committee


Records of private university police


WHEREAS, many private universities employ sworn, certified police officers who have the same powers as any other officer of the law; and
Whereas, federal law requires all campus security forces to maintain a daily, public crime log with minimal information on incidents that occur on campus; and
Whereas, most state open-records laws require police agencies to release more details, such as the identities of complainants and alleged perpetrators; and
Whereas, private university police are clearly serving a public function delegated to them by the state, and local police would have to perform those functions if the school did not; and
Whereas, a Georgia judge has ruled that the public-records law in that state applies to the police at Mercer University, a private school in Macon; and
Whereas, a Massachusetts judge has nevertheless ruled that the Bay State’s open-records law does not apply to police at Harvard University, a private institution; and
Whereas, legislation is being introduced in the Massachusetts legislature to clarify that the law covers such institutions;
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists supports the efforts of plaintiff Amanda Farahany as she fights efforts by Mercer University to maintain secrecy of police records; and
Be it further resolved that SPJ strongly urges the Massachusetts legislature to ensure the openness of police records produced and maintained by any institution exercising law-enforcement powers; and
Be it finally resolved that the Society urges SPJ members and chapters to identify and challenge all privately employed police forces that are not complying with state open-records laws.
Submitted by Carolyn Carlson, Atlanta Pro Chapter


Law-enforcement leaks about suspects


WHEREAS, it has become common practice for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement agencies to leak incriminating information and innuendo about uncharged suspects for the apparent purpose of putting pressure on them to confess; and
Whereas, this practice has caused significant harm to the lives and careers of innocent people, including Richard Jewell and Brandon Mayfield, who were both exonerated of wrongdoing by the same FBI that named them as “prime suspect” and “person of interest,” respectively, and of Stephen Hatfill, who is still called “a person of interest” in the anthrax investigation after three years though no charges have been filed against him; and
Whereas, it has always been the duty of a free press to protect the weak and defenseless against governmental abuses, and in a free society the news media should not function as an arm of law enforcement; and
Whereas, media speculation on the guilt of an uncharged suspect violates the hallowed legal principle of presumption of innocence; and
Whereas, “Minimize harm” is one of the four principal tenets of the SPJ Code of Ethics, and includes the admonitions “Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges” and “Balance a criminal suspect’s fair-trial rights with the public’s right to be informed;”
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists condemns law enforcement agencies’ selective release to the media of false or incomplete information about named but uncharged individuals; and
Be it further resolved that SPJ implores journalists to show greater skepticism toward “gift horses” from law enforcement agencies, to question the motives of agencies that leak information about uncharged suspects, and to refrain from publishing or broadcasting a “scoop” that may damage the reputation of an innocent person.
Submitted by the Ethics Committee


Press Access in California


WHEREAS, the California State Legislature has passed for the fourth time a bill (this one, SB 1164) to restore the ability of the press to conduct effective interviews with state prisoners; and
Whereas, two previous governors have vetoed similar legislation, but the new governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, won office by promising to attack government secrecy; and
Whereas, the California prison system has been wracked by scandals and cover-ups, costly budget overruns, lawsuits and ineffective past leadership, to such an extent that court oversight appears imminent; and
Whereas, the current press restrictions were unilaterally instituted in 1995 by the Department of Corrections, overriding a system of interviews that had worked with no problems for decades; and
Whereas, the most effective way for the government and the public to make independent judgments on the administration of the prisons and institute effective reforms is to have impartial information on their operation from all quarters;
THEREFORE, the Society of Professional Journalists urges Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign SB 1164 as a way to begin the process of restoring public confidence in the operation of the California prison system, and directs SPJ staff to send a copy of this resolution to Gov. Schwarzenegger.
Submitted by Northern California Pro Chapter


Annual Recognition for Journalists Killed in Action


WHEREAS, each day journalists around the world put themselves in danger in order to perform their jobs; and
Whereas, the Committee to Protect Journalists says 346 of our colleagues were killed between 1994 and 2003, and at last report 33 have been killed this year, and
Whereas, many of those journalists died not as a result of military action but as a result of reporting on crime, corruption or government malfeasance;
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists extends its sympathies to the families of our fallen comrades, and our professional respect for all who have the courage to engage in such reporting; and
Be it further resolved that the SPJ Board of Directors devise a method of highlighting and honoring, at each convention of the Society of Professional Journalists, the ultimate sacrifice made by our comrades killed as a result of their work in this nation or abroad.
Submitted by the International Journalism Committee


International journalists’ visas


WHEREAS, the United States is a major object of news coverage by journalists from other nations, including those who visit the U.S. and those who are stationed here on a semi-permanent basis; and
Whereas, the State Department has imposed onerous and time-consuming visa restrictions on foreign nationals wishing to practice journalism in the United States, such as the requirement to leave the U.S. in order to renew their visas; and
Whereas, new limits on foreign journalists operating in the U.S. invite reciprocal actions against American journalists operating abroad;
THEREFORE be it resolved that SPJ urges the State Department to reform the visa provisions to make it easier for foreign media representatives to practice their craft within our borders.
Submitted by the International Journalism Committee


Support for a Free Media in the Dominican Republic


WHEREAS, the Dominican Republic is a democracy and has enjoyed a free and lively media for several decades; and
Whereas, the Dominican government in prosecuting a major banking corruption case seized the assets of that bank, including the newspaper Listin Diario; and
Whereas, a number of international journalism organizations, including the InterAmerican Press Association, have called for the speedy release of Listin Diario from government receivership;
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists join with other journalists’ organizations in this hemisphere in calling for the government of the Dominican Republic to rapidly divest itself of its control of Listin Diario; and
Be it further resolved that SPJ sends its support and encouragement to the journalists of Listin Diario and the rest of the Dominican Republic media in their quest for independence and professional integrity; and
Be it finally resolved that a copy of this resolution be sent to the InterAmerican Press Association and other regional journalism organizations as seen fit by the SPJ leadership, to the embassy of the Dominican Republic and to the U.S. State Department.
Submitted by the International Journalism Committee


Support for journalists in Hong Kong


WHEREAS, international and bilateral treaties and Article 27 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law require the Chinese and Hong Kong governments to guarantee a free and unfettered media; and
Whereas, in January 2004 the former head of Radio-Television Hong Kong, Cheung Man-yee, said she was under intense pressure from the Hong Kong government to end or tone down reports and commentary that were critical of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, and
Whereas, Ms. Cheung was relieved of her position in 1999 after 13 years as a reporter, producer and later head of the government-owned news organization, following a campaign by pro-Beijing business and political elements to make Radio-Television Hong Kong less aggressive; and
Whereas, reports continue to surface of pressure on other Hong Kong media – especially those in the Chinese language – to tone down or ignore stories critical of China and the Hong Kong government, and
Whereas, there have been additional reports that Hong Kong media outlets practice self-censorship regarding stories about China;
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists unequivocally reaffirms its support for the principle of a free media in Hong Kong, and strongly condemns actions to undermine the editorial independence of RTHK, and
Be it further resolved, SPJ sends a message of support to the journalists of Hong Kong who face increased pressure to tone down or ignore vital stories; and
Be it further resolved, SPJ will continue to monitor the situation in Hong Kong, and
Be it finally resolved that copies of this resolution be sent to the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the Hong Kong government, the Chinese embassy in Washington, D. C., the U.S. State Department, and any other organization deemed appropriate.
Submitted by the International Journalism Committee


Situation in China


WHEREAS, accurate and unbiased news accounts from China are more vital to the rest of the world as that nation becomes a greater factor in the global economy, and
Whereas, the Chinese government, despite some relatively small media reforms, still seeks to maintain control over news content, contributing to the 2003 global panic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and
Whereas, the government still fires, transfers and jails journalists who seek to take advantage of the government’s limited reforms, and
Whereas, the Chinese government has intimidated, isolated and arrested reporters from other jurisdictions, including those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, who have sought or disseminated news the government wished to be kept hidden from its people and the world,
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists repeats its strong condemnation of the arrest, detention, dismissal, transfer and other persecution of hard-working journalists in China; and
Be it further resolved, SPJ stands firmly behind the journalists in China whose only crime is to provide fair and responsible reporting of issues vital to the people of China and the world, and
Be it further resolved, we applaud the support that some editors give to reporters’ initiatives against the controls of Chinese censors, and we send our encouragement in the hope that that their efforts will lead to freer and more independent media in China, and
Be it further resolved that SPJ continue to monitor the situation in China and work with other journalism organizations around the world to publicize the repressive actions taken by the government and to promote a free and open media in China, and
Be it finally resolved that copies of this resolution be sent to the Chinese embassy in Washington, D. C., the U.S. State Department and any other organizations deemed appropriate.
Submitted by the International Journalism Committee


New name for essay contest


WHEREAS, the Society of Professional Journalists sponsors an annual essay contest for American high school students titled, “Why a Free Media is Important to America,” and
Whereas the International Journalism Committee of SPJ has invited nearly 1,000 international schools to participate in the essay contest, and the importance of a free media is not limited to the United States alone
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the title of the annual essay contest is hereby changed to “Why Free News Media are Important,” and
Be it finally resolved that International Journalism Committee of SPJ continue its efforts to recruit more participation in the essay contest from the international schools.
Submitted by the International Journalism Committee


Voice of America


WHEREAS, the Voice of America has editorial independence protected by law and executive order, and
Whereas, VOA journalists have received numerous awards for excellence in journalism, including several from the Society of Professional Journalists, and
Whereas, the U.S. government has attempted since 2001 to curtail VOA’s reporting, including an exclusive interview with the head of the Taliban, and
Whereas, the independent Broadcasting Board of Governors scuttled a plan in 2002 to shut down all but two VOA bureaus after journalism and human-rights organizations stepped forward to criticize the action;
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists supports the journalists of VOA who seek to report without bias stories of importance and interest to the world community, and
Be it further resolved that SPJ opposes any actions by the U.S. government to diminish VOA’s news-gathering capability or the integrity; and that copies of this resolution be sent to VOA and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Submitted by the International Journalism Committee


Chapters and international affairs


WHEREAS,
foreign correspondents regularly visit the United States as part of their work, especially in presidential election years such as this one; and
Whereas, these journalists can provide a fresh perspective in election coverage, including how the United States is viewed around the world;
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists encourages local chapters and members to develop programs involving foreign correspondents to help these visitors better know their American counterparts and vice versa.
Submitted by the International Journalism Committee


Situation in Brazil


WHEREAS, Brazil is the second largest democracy in the Western Hemisphere, with a population of 180 million; and
Whereas, Brazil suffered the loss of its press freedom for 21 years during the military dictatorship of 1964-85; and
Whereas, the current democratic constitution of Brazil guarantees freedom of the press; and
Whereas, a press free of government regulation and free to investigate and criticize government officials is essential for the maintenance of a true democracy; and
Whereas, pending legislation sponsored by President Luiz Inacio da Silva to create a federal regulatory council with the stated purpose to “orient, discipline and monitor” journalists represents a grave threat not just to Brazilian press freedom but to Brazilian democracy as a whole, and represents a sinister throwback to the days of military dictatorship that imposed censorship and jailed Mr. da Silva himself;
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists calls on President da Silva to abandon his plan for a federal council to regulate the independent Brazilian media’ and for him to understand that in a democracy, elected officials are the servants of the people who elected them, not their masters, and that elected officials must accept public criticism, even if it may seem unfair or inaccurate, without resorting to sanctions against those who criticize them.
Submitted by University of Louisiana-Lafayette Campus Chapter


In recognition of Les Brownlee’s retirement


WHEREAS, Lester Brownlee has been an example for other journalists to follow for more than 50 years, and has worked diligently to promote ethnic diversity in newsrooms, to draw public attention to pressing issues in urban affairs and education, and to provide classroom training for journalism students; and
Whereas, Les Brownlee is generally recognized as the first African American member of Sigma Delta Chi, now the Society of Professional Journalists, having joined at Northwestern University in 1947; and
Whereas, Les Brownlee was clearly ahead of his time in working across media, holding positions in several Chicago newsrooms including the Chicago Defender, the Chicago Daily News, WLS-TV, WGN-TV and WBEZ Radio; and
Whereas, Les Brownlee has taught journalism at Northwestern University and Texas Southern University; and
Whereas, Les Brownlee has just retired at the age of 89, at the apex of his professional stature, from a professorship at Columbia College Chicago;
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists, in national convention in New York City in 2004, salutes Les Brownlee for his contributions to journalism and the Society, and pays tribute to him for devoting his career to the improvement and protection of journalism, and declares that every SPJ member is in his debt.
Submitted by Christine Tatum, Denver Pro Chapter


Thanks to President Gordon “Mac” McKerral


WHEREAS, Gordon “Mac” McKerral has set an example for all journalists through his leadership of the Society of Professional Journalists, and
Whereas, he has worked tirelessly as a leader of the Society at both the local and national levels for many years, and
Whereas, he has long been an advocate and a living example of the ethical practice of journalism, and
Whereas, he has worked to assure the Society of Professional Journalists' pre-eminent position among journalism organizations, and
Whereas, he has given selflessly of his time and his talents for the benefit of the Society and its members,
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists commend Mac McKerral for his dedication and sacrifice and express its gratitude for a job well done.
Submitted by the Resolutions Committee


Thanks to Deadline Club, Betsy Ashton and others


WHEREAS, the Deadline Club of New York has the distinction of staging SPJ's 2004 national convention, and
Whereas, a national convention of the nation's largest journalism organization requires extensive planning, and
Whereas, Betsy Ashton, John C. Long, Stephenie Overman and other members of the New York chapter of SPJ have put in years of effort to make this convention a landmark event in the history of the Society, and
Whereas, the convention has indeed been both stellar and memorable,
THEREFORE, be it resolved that these delegates gathered in New York City express their heartfelt appreciation for a job very well done.
Submitted by the Resolutions Committee


Thanks to SPJ Headquarters Staff


WHEREAS, the Society of Professional Journalists' headquarters staff has devoted years of planning to the staging of this annual convention, and
Whereas, the annual effort culminates in packing up and moving virtually the entire headquarters across the country, and
Whereas, managing a convention such as this involves long hours and little sleep, and
Whereas, staff members have carried out their duties with great skill, good cheer and selfless dedication,
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists express its sincere appreciation for the dedication of Executive Director Terry Harper and the SPJ headquarters staff.
Submitted by the Resolutions Committee

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