Every day, the editorial staff at the UK wonders: What are we writing about, why are we writing about it, and how are we writing about it? A weekly look behind the scenes.
Should journalists be open and honest about any and all extracurricular activities (either paid or unpaid), political leanings, or sympathies for particular organisations?
It is a common discussion in the profession. The media is quick to lambaste MPs, directors, supervisors, etc., when it comes to even the smallest impression of a conflict of interest, but are not as keen to scrutinise themselves in the same way.
That is something some journalists have paid for. One example is the ‘whippersnapper affair’ around Dutch television presenter Fons de Poel several years ago. On television, De Poel called GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver (who back then was ‘merely’ an MP) a ‘whippersnapper’ for having criticised the ABN AMRO bank.
Shortly thereafter, it was revealed that Fons de Poel had once presided over a meeting held by that same bank. This meant the presenter was soon being accused of defending the bank, which had richly compensated him for his day’s work.
De Poel was forced to leave KRO-NCRV, and the network devised stricter rules for extracurricular activities and work. The Haagsche Courant once came up with the idea for a list where editors could register their extracurricular activities and memberships (although this wasn’t mandatory).
The question here at the UK is as follows: how pious should we be when it comes to extracurricular activities? Is the situation black and white (never ever allowed) or is it a grey area?
The matter came up because one of our freelance student writers is a supporter of the new political student party DAG. He is also on the list of candidates – albeit not extremely high. Will he still be able to independently do his work as a freelancer for the UK?
After a long talk, we decided he would. But we did agree that he wouldn’t be writing anything about DAG, the University Council, RUG politics, or anything else that could threaten editorial independence. That is because we will always believe in the concept (stolen from the Volkskrant): ‘Anyone who monitors power cannot serve it’.
But the UK is not in need of the kind of register the Haagsche Courant suggested. However, for transparency’s sake, this is what my entry would look like:
I’ve never been a member of a political party, I have a (paid) job as instructor with the journalism master at the RUG, I support Greenpeace, I’m on the jury for the Groninger Persprijs (for which I’m not paid), I’ve delivered lecturers (both for free and for a fee), I voted D66, and I do not buy cheap meat but I do love steak (preferably organic).
Rob Siebelink, editor-in-chief