Tuesday, 27 November 2012

When is a freebie a conflict of interest ?

Around Downtown

On Monday afternoon the local Twittersphere delighted in the fact that Rob Ford was ordered removed from his job as Toronto's mayor for breaking conflict of interest rules. Just a few hours later, a localized debate erupted about a different type of conflict of interest.

It was sparked after Tweets from a number of journos celebrating the fact that they were in the midst of IKEA's invitation-only media shopping night with free "refreshments", 15% off purchases and, according to some bloggers that went along, a swag-bag of free IKEA products at the end of it all. Some Tweets indicated that there were around 100 attendees.

Can, or should, journalists should be taking freebies and discounted goods from what has been, and will continue to be, the subject of a massive amount of media attention ?

I searched online for codes of conduct for some of these outlets but couldn't find any, (though I did find the Free Press employee's most recent union agreement.) In the CBC Manitoba report on the event last night (that didn't make their website) Nelly Gonzales noted in her story that their staff did not participate due to their corporation's policy against accepting free gifts. She later tweeted that "we got escorted out as soon as we asked IKEA questions about the media discounts..."

Do any media outlets in town follow the Canadian Association of Journalism's Ethics Guidelines ? If they do, they'll find that:

"We do not accept the free or reduced-rate use of valuable goods or services offered because of our position.... We do not solicit gifts or favours for personal use, and should promptly return unsolicited gifts of more than nominal value. If it is impractical to return the gift, we will give it to an appropriate charity."

How about media organizations in bigger markets ? From the Reuters Handbook of Journalism:

"The Reuters Code of Conduct reminds journalists that they must not accept any payment, gift, service or benefit (whether in cash or in kind) offered by a news source or contact. A gift of more than nominal value should be declined, using an explanation of our policies. If a gift of some value proves impossible to decline, it should be surrendered to the journalist's manager for donation to a suitable charity. If you cannot decide whether the gift is of greater than nominal value, assume that it is."

Perhaps it was much ado about nothing. Maybe this sort of thing is relegated to larger media organizations or those in larger markets where the opening of a furniture store, even an IKEA, wouldn't be a top news story for a couple of weeks in a row ? Maybe in the age of new media those lines don't matter as much anymore - grab the freebies you can get, (or request cash donations from the people you are reporting on), because life is tough in the news biz these days.

Whenever the "are bloggers / citizen journalists really media ?" debate comes up it is often argued that what will always separate the two is that professional journalists must adhere to a professional code of conduct whereas bloggers / citizen journalists don't, (an argument that in most cases I agree with.)

I can’t wait to watch and read (more of) the Bieber-feveresque media stories that will come as a result of  tonight’s freebie night.

Winnipeg media blasted for taking IKEA freebies CBC
Sun Ikea on Twitter


John Dobbin said...

I didn't get an invite someone told me because I had been reporting about traffic issues and revealing other aspects of the developments before official news was released for many years. :p

Don't know if that is true or not. I won't hold it against anyone. ha

Anonymous said...

"we got escorted out as soon as we asked IKEA questions about the media discounts..."

Ikea has bouncers?

Anonymous said...

The CBC does have a story up as of now: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/story/2012/11/27/mb-ikea-freeloading-jounralists-ethics-winnipeg.html

No other outlet has such a story - perhaps they are all equally guilty?

Didn't Free Press employees receive freebies in the form of frozen from Winnipeg Harvest a few years back?

Anonymous said...

It is stunning that journalists wouldn't immediately spot the issue with getting these kinds of benefits in exchange for coverage. Kind of hard to call out Katz for getting grease from his corporate buddies when you yourself are cashing in on Ikea.

cherenkov said...

In other places it wouldn't be a conflict of interest because it wouldn't be a news story to begin with. I personally don't feel that it's a big deal, as long as the media doesn't fawn over the store and only report it's opening as a matter of fact.

As for bloggers, well I am not objective on that point. I have been influenced by a bag of goodies.

Anonymous said...

The media always laps up freebies, not sure why Ikea is any more of a conflcit of interest than Lawless shoveling in free food at every Jets game.

If you want to read real shameless media groveling, look at the autos section or the travel one.

The only place they seem to be stuanchly arms-length is the restuarant reviews.