The Columbia Jourlism Review, published by the Columbia University Graduate School of Jourlism, has published an open letter to US President-elect Dold Trump against the background of his vituperative response to certain sections of the news media. The epistle, written by Kyle Pope, the editor-in-chief of the Review, lays down eight ground rules on how the Press Corps will cover the presidency. The open letter to the US President acquires great significance because the issues addressed by Pope are not confined solely to the US, but have a bearing on all countries where the media are under attack for not toeing the official line or for daring to criticize the actions of those at the helm of power. Above all, the letter reflects the kind of courage that is associated with upright and fearless jourlists.
What Kyle Pope, editor-in-chief of the Review has sought to emphasize in his letter to the US President is that the relationship between jourlists and the President would be governed by rules set down by jourlists rather than rules framed by the President’s administration, since the President would be endeavouring to influence the airtime and the column-inches of the media. Pope also took the opportunity to remind the President that it is jourlists, not he, who decide how best to serve their readers, listeners and viewers. The letter also addressed the issue of access to information, stating that access was preferable but not critical. Pope said that any decision of the President not to let jourlists have ready access to information would be a mistake. “We are very good at finding altertive ways to get information; indeed, some of the best reporting during the campaign came from news organizations that were banned from your rallies. Telling reporters that they won’t get access to something isn’t what we’d prefer, but it is a challenge we relish,” Pope said in his letter. Pope went on to say that off the record and other ground rules were the preserve of jourlists and not that of the President. “We may agree to speak to some of your officials off the record, or we may not. We may attend background briefings or off-the-record social events, or we may skip them. That’s our choice. If you think reporters who don’t agree to the rules, and are shut out, won’t get the story, see above,” said Pope’s letter.
Among the other ground rules laid down by the Press Corps, one relates to the airtime to be given to the President’s spokespeople and surrogates. Pope’s letter said: “We will strive to get your point of view across, even if you seek to shut us out. But that does not mean we are required to turn our airwaves or column-inches over to people who repeatedly distort or bend the truth. We will call them out when they do, and we reserve the right, in the most egregious cases, to ban them from our outlets.” Pope’s letter also addressed issues like dealing with the objective truth and being obsessed about the details of governce. The letter said: “We believe there is an objective truth, and we will hold you to that. When you or your surrogates say or tweet something that is demonstrably wrong, we will say so, repeatedly. Facts are what we do, and we have no obligation to repeat false assertions; the fact that you or someone on your team said them is newsworthy, but so is the fact that they don’t stand up to scrutiny. Both aspects should receive equal weight.”
What makes Pope’s letter quite outstanding is its commitment to professiol excellence. “We will set higher standards for ourselves than ever before,” the letter says and adds: “We credit you with highlighting serious and widespread distrust in the media across the political spectrum. Your campaign tapped into that, and it was a bracing wake-up call for us. We have to regain that trust. And we’ll do it through accurate, fearless reporting, by acknowledging our errors and abiding by the most stringent ethical standards we set for ourselves.” This is the kind of commitment from the Press Corps of the United States that calls for courage, pride in one’s profession and admirable humility—virtues that must be emulated by jourlists all over the world if jourlism is to remain an honoured profession.