Wednesday, The Halifax Examiner pointed out that Chronicle Herald business columnist Peter Moreira has a financial interest in promoting the companies he writes about in this column. Specifically, five government economic development agencies that fund the companies also pay Moreira for work related to promotion of those companies.
While Moreira has every right to pursue whatever business he can find, we argued that the Chronicle Herald has an ethical responsibility to “clearly and explicitly tell its readers that Moreira benefits financially by promoting the companies he is writing about.”
Today, Chronicle Herald associate publisher Ian Thompson says he agrees. In an email to the Examiner, he writes:
We like Peter`s columns. The start-ups he writes about would otherwise receive little or no attention. That said, you raise a legitimate point. As of today, we`ve added a new line to the end of the columns provided by Entrevestor:
“Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support start-up companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies are featured in this column nor do they have the right to review columns before they are published.”
When a newspaper knowingly, willingly, and for gain (circulation, insider favor, etc.) produces information that contains a blatant conflict of interest, it has abandoned ethical journalism and any claim to respect and credibility.
The column in question may not have wide appeal and application, but what of a story that touches directly upon public safety, for example? What if a Herald journo were to learn of a pattern of rapes, but is prevented from writing about it because police and/or his/her editor says, “No, it might inflame or panic the public.” ? Or, “It’ll have racial overtones; we don’t need the hassle.” Didn’t something similar happen when swarming was occurring? Timely Info was withheld?
Or another example: several reports of illness are suffered after diners frequent one specific restaurant but the owner has direct connection with editorial staff at the Herald, or is a large, frequent and lucrative advertising client?
If a newspaper has proven, corrupt journalistic ethics in one instance — this one — how can readers be certain of anything they report?
This is one known “isolated” incident with huge implications. The fact it’s being treated so cavalierly by the Herald publisher is indicative of insular, egregious arrogance and contempt for, and underestimation of, its readers’ expectations and tolerance.