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Case study: Using sources with ill will?

According to the latest Barometer of Public Opinion (BPO) in Moldova, presented in April 2014, the Internet is second in the rating of sources of information after television. The virtual space is daily accessed by 42% of respondents, which is 4% more than according to the BPO in November 2013. It shows that the Internet has been gaining ground over traditional mass media in Moldova. For 20% of respondents the Internet is the most important source of information. For this reason, materials posted online are subject to the same rules of journalism, ethics and deontology.
Below, we propose an analysis of a multimedia material produced by the team of the information portal First, we shall mention that the portal introduces its team as a young and promising one, which seriously and professionally approaches journalistic work. “In its daily news productions, the TSN team of journalists covers events objectively and operatively,” the portal’s presentation says.
For analysis, we chose the report of 16 April 2014 about school optimization in Moldova.
Headline: “Report: School optimization sending teachers to the street” (РЕПОРТАЖ: ОПТИМИЗАЦИЯ ШКОЛ ОСТАВЛЯЕТ УЧИТЕЛЕЙ НА УЛИЦЕ)
According to the Guidelines on Style containing Ethical Norms, edited by the Association of Independent Press, a headline “should present the information briefly, clearly, to the point, neutrally and without nuances. The essence of the problem should be grasped in several well-chosen words… Headlines should contain no ambiguities… and present information without exaggerations.”
The headline used by TSN reporters demonstrates the journalists’ bias, as in the report itself journalists failed to provide at least statistics proving that school optimization truly leaves teachers without jobs. Therefore, the headline does not correspond to the reality covered in the material.
The reporter exaggerates not only in the headline, but also in the lead, claiming that “school optimization has become a real tragedy for many teachers,” while the material presents only the story of one teacher from Chisinau.
Balance of sources/pluralism of opinions
The Guidelines of good practices for online media call for journalists to always look for two sources to confirm every fact. “Accuracy is the cornerstone of a newsroom’s value system. All information presented to the public must be correct, honest, and transparent, and formulated clearly and precisely, without unfounded speculation. To provide correct information, journalists must always check it before publication, to make sure that it is true. Journalists must obtain confirmation from at least two independent sources, and each source must be viewed objectively and critically,” the Guidelines say.
The TSN team produced its material by using two sources, but they are not independent, but representing the same side of the barricades. In the first part of the report, the reporter discusses with teacher Elena Maksimchuk, who lost her job in 2012 after the reorganization of the school she worked in. The second source used by the reporter is the teacher’s lawyer, Oleg Manchevski, who only completes the accusations of Ms. Maksimchuk. It proves the fact that the reporter failed to approach the material critically.
Impartiality/objectiveness; Separation of facts from opinions
Information without a credible and unverified source can lead to groundless assumptions. TSN journalists failed to make necessary efforts to check the accusations voiced by teacher Maksimchuk, which indicates to serious violations in the observance of the principles and rules of professional ethics.
In the report, Elena Maksimchuk accuses the administration of the school she worked in of “lying shamelessly.” She also complains that she had written to the Labor Inspection, Human Rights Committee and trade unions and that all these institutions “impertinently abandoned” her.
Despite accusations against several institutions, the reporter made no efforts to contact the representatives of the Labor Inspection or trade unions to confirm or contradict the teacher’s claims. Because of this “omission”, news consumers cannot obtain the full view of the problem, so as to make their own judgments about the statements of the people involved.
Language used
In the context of the subject covered, from headline to the last phrase, the journalist uses a language that emphasizes certain negative situations. The headline has no support in facts, and neither has the entire text, which makes it clear that the reporter is trying to influence the viewers’ opinion.
Also, although the report “School optimization sending teachers to the street” is allegedly covering a very important issue for society, such as school reorganization, the reporter fails to provide the necessary explanations: when reorganization started, why the school where Elena Maksimchuk worked had to be reorganized, how many institutions had been reorganized by the time of publication, etc.
Conclusion: The journalist failed to ensure that the material reflects all points of view or that it includes relevant voices, so that all opinions reach the public. Finally, the published material proved to be a manipulation, and such an approach is in contradiction with professional rules and principles of objective and balanced media coverage.
The case study has been produced within the project “Promoting media literacy among Moldovan citizens”, implemented by the IJC with financial support of the U.S. Embassy in Moldova. The study does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the funder