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John Oliver segment is a reminder of failings within journalism


Matthew T. Hall, SPJ National President, 619-987-7786, mhall@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — After John Oliver skewered the recent actions of some local media outlets to pass off ads as actual news on "Last Week Tonight" on Sunday, the Society of Professional Journalists calls upon news organizations to end this practice of “pay to play,” which deceives their audiences.

Oliver showed that TV news stations accept money to air advertising disguised as news. Sometimes, a product is marketed with a dubious, unproven medical claim. Yet, some news operations help promote products, giving them an air of credibility, without doing the slightest bit of journalism — failing their viewers and shirking the pursuit of truth.

“Newsrooms need to end this egregious practice immediately,” said SPJ National President Matthew T. Hall. “Passing off ads as actual news harms the integrity of a news operation and journalism at large.”

Oliver closed out his segment by showing how easy it is to create a fake product, fake website, fake spokesperson and fake claims, pay a fee, and get a concocted story to air on a news program. His staff created a fake product and had no trouble getting its pretend spokesperson on the air in multiple markets, with hosts nodding along.

SPJ has consistently stood against this practice, which undermines our hard-working reporters who seek the truth and bring it to the public. Pay-to-play cheats our audiences and betrays the trust they have placed in our profession.

The SPJ Code of Ethics urges journalists to:
Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.

The code also says journalists should:
Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.

Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund, or give to the SPJ Foundation.


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