Journalist educators have much in common with Caesar’s wife. They not only have to be above reproach but be seen to be above reproach. Anything less and these pillars of journalistic propriety can crumble in an instant, exposed in the eyes of their students and the wider community as emperors with no clothes. They need to live up to the high standards they preach themselves about journalistic ethics lest they be accused of pharisaic hypocrisy.
Rule Number One: Thou shalt declare any benefit – financial or otherwise –received for services rendered to a commercial entity and especially using the name of a publicly-funded institution that employs you. Rule Number Two : Thou shalt avoid any conflict of interest, or appearance thereof, in the conduct of one’s duties on behalf of a publicly funded institution that employs you.
Pretty straightforward, you’d think. Which is why Dr Marc Edge, the head of journalism at the University of the South Pacific, needs to explain an article in the Fiji Times earlier this year in which he spruiked the benefits of a Suva apartment complex in which he lives.
Dr Edge has been much in the news in Fiji lately talking about journalistic standards. First, he flayed PINA, the umbrella organisation for the Pacific media, for allegedly “keeping a lid on dissention” about media freedom in Fiji at its recent 2012 summit. Then he flayed the former editor of the Fiji Post, Thakur Ranjit Singh, for what he alleged was an “insulting” article questioning Dr Edge’s own notion of media freedom in the Fiji context. Now he’s being flayed back by his opposite number at Auckland’s University of Technology, Professor David Robie, who’s accused Dr Edge of casting a slur on the integrity of the AUT in awarding Mr Singh a masters degree. As we said, Dr Edge is much in the news.
But what is his idea of news? In an article in the Fiji Times at the weekend, Dr Edge made a impassioned plea for journalists in Fiji to press for as much media freedom as possible. He specifically called for the rejection what he portrayed as an attempt to impose a Singapore model on Fiji in which the media is tightly controlled. All well and good except for the fact that in one glaring instance, Dr Edge has been party to an exercise in “journalism” that would make even the most authoritarian Singaporean cringe.
Here’s what appeared in the venerable Fiji Times – the oldest newspaper in Fiji – just over three months ago:
IT’S THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN TOWN
Friday, January 27, 2012
Professor Marc Edge the head of Journalism at USP’s School of Language, Arts and Media just moved in a week ago and couldn’t be happier with the locality as well as the standard of the Suva Point Apartments he now calls home.
He stayed at the USP Marine Lodge and noticed the complex was under construction and later enquired about it last year.
Mr Edge then managed to get in touch with the landlord Sheren Kumar through a golfing buddy. Sheren gave Mr Edge a tour of the apartments which he absolutely fell in love with and was determined to reside in.
He returned home to Canada for holidays though and when Rup Investments Ltd had their open home on Sunday he was the first tenant that signed up and the rest is history. Mr Edge says the apartments are very nice, spacious and modern with all facilities needed for a modern person.
“I looked at many places but this by far is the best I have seen,” he happily told The Fiji Times in an interview this week. “It’s equivalent to where I come from everything is first class.
“I highly recommend this place for any new staff at USP. “It’s only 15 minutes walk to upper campus and closer to lower campus,” he said. Appliances are modern, everything you could dream of in a modern world, Mr Edge said of the Suva Point Apartments. He feels it’s the best accommodation in town.
Oh really? By any reasonable appraisal, this is not a news story but an advertorial, a clear promotion of the Suva Point Apartments with a view to getting more tenants based on Dr Edge “falling in love” with it himself. Why did the Fiji Times run it as a news story? That is a question for its editor, Fred Wesley. But as head of journalism at the University of the South Pacific, Dr Edge needs to answer a few questions of his own.
1/ Why did he agree to be interviewed for this blatant advertisement masquerading as a news story?
2/ What benefit, if any, did he derive from the owners or managers of the Suva Point Apartments – or the Fiji Times reporter, for that matter – for this glowing endorsement?
3/ Does he regard this as a genuine news story of a kind that the students under his tutelage ought to pursue when they enter the workforce?
4/ If not, what steps did Dr Edge take to protest about or distance himself from this blatant advertorial?
In Grubsheet’s view, these are questions that go to the heart of Dr Edge’s credibility to teach the craft of journalism to a new generation of media practitioners charged with the task of informing the populations of Fiji and the other island states represented at USP. If he was duped into this blatant exercise in commercial promotion, he needs to say so. If he wasn’t, then he needs to explain why he lectures others about media standards when he condones the very lowest of standards – dressing up a blatant commercial plug as news. A journalist educator in a glass house throwing stones.