Just Gimme Some ‘TRUTH’!?

Friday is a suitable day for penance and thinking about the idea of truth. Good for the soul. I spent all day last Friday with hackademics at the ICE (Institute of Communication Ethics) Conference on Journalism, PR and the problem of truth telling (http://www.communicationethics.net/news/index.php?nav=blogs&pg=/?p=134)in London.

Fascinating it was too.

Some starters for ten. Is truth a noun or a verb? Is it upper case or lower case? Just what is the truth and whose is it? As Trevor Morris, one of Britain’s two Professors of PR, put it ‘PR is not a branch of moral philosophy!’Some speakers, however, thought it should be. Writes John Mair…

Most amusing and thought provoking was Chris Atkins the director of the feature documentarty ‘Starsuckers’ (www.starsuckersmovie.com/) who showed how he had conned the tabloid press in both an amusing way with a fake story on Amy Winehouse setting fire to her barnet in, well, Barnet and in a serious way offering and getting offers from papers for the illegal private medical records of celebs based on a fake Harley Street plastic surgery practice. Plus more recently and closer to home spoofing BBC London News (and the quality papers) into believing there was an urban fox hunting group based in Victoria Park Shoreditch (The ‘fox’ was dog with a fake theatrical fur coat…). Laughter but hollow laughter at these hoaxes. (You can see Atkins in action at a recent Cojo event www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/blog/2010/10/video-false-news.shtml -).

News may be entertainment in the tabloids but is there no truth at the base

Atkins, like Morris, argued that a new by line should appear in stories to acknowledge the increasing input of PR to them(Up to 90% in some publications according to Morris’s figures).At the end of the piece, an addendum ‘THIS STORY BASED ON PR’. Go figure that!

Truth is always the first casualty of war as Florian Zollman and Tim Crook showed in their papers on the reporting of the US assault on Fallujah in 2004 and the similarities between the 1930’s and now in the reporting of the forces of war and of appeasement. The US and the British media did not come out of both smelling of roses.

Even on the internet, there’s no permanency  to truth as Murray Dick ,latterly of the Centre for Investigative Journalism at City University, alerted us to the concept of ‘unpublishing’ where stories on newspaper websites are altered or even removed ex post facto when found to be wrong or dangerous legally. How long does truth last? It withers on the cyberspace vine.

All of us hacks and hackettes (real and manqué) aspire to tell ‘the truth’ but do we really know what is and how to get to it? Do we actually need lessons in moral philosophy? Should Cojo have a tab on this web-site called ‘Truth-telling’ to help us?

Discuss. We did

 Many Thanks to BBC College of Journalism

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