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SPJ applauds ABC for new checkbook journalism policy


For Immediate Release:

Hagit Limor, SPJ President, (513) 852-4012,
Kevin Smith, SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman, (304) 365-4864,

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists applauds ABC’s decision to effectively ban checkbook journalism and the backdoor practice of paying “licensing fees” for newsmaker interviews and encourages all news outlets to do the same.

After paying for interviews and photos, most notably the $215,000 paid to multiple sources in the Casey Anthony murder trial, ABC says it will end the practice of checkbook journalism. However, the network notes that there may arise an “extraordinary circumstance” that would call for “approval at the highest levels” of the use of licensing fees.

The Society’s Code of Ethics clearly rejects the exchange of information for money in any form, under any name. Should the network approve such an exception in the future, the code calls for full disclosure to viewers.

“This is the right first step by ABC, and they deserve credit for recognizing the error of their ways and taking corrective action,” said SPJ President Hagit Limor. “But the fight isn’t over yet. All news outlets should take the same step – and ABC should make sure they don’t descend back into such bad habits.”

SPJ has spoken out several times on the ethics of checkbook journalism, stating unequivocally that paying sources for information undermines the integrity of the journalist and the source. The SPJ Code of Ethics states that journalists should both “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived,” and “be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.”

ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider explained the network’s decision to The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz, saying: “These licensing deals had become a crutch, and an unnecessary one.” Moreover, the knowledge that ABC has paid some of its sources calls into question the validity of all other interviews and exclusive information.

SPJ reached out to ABC and Schneider, who confirmed the practice of “checkbook journalism” was effectively ended. Schneider said the new policy had been communicated from top to bottom at all levels of the news division.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.


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