Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Unfortunately, the 2004 USA Election has been a victory of FUD over Facts.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts"- Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

The mainstream forth estate news organizations, on both sides, have utterly failed to hold either Democrats or Republicans accountable for claims that diverge widely from the known facts. In cases where journalists have made a consistent argument, the news organization has allowed that position to be "shouted down" by political camp followers repeating the same lies over and over again though the same outlet. In those same replies, there was very rarely comments by the news organization when known facts obviously contradicted the opinion. Many news organizations seem unwilling to publicly chastise either party for continuing to avoid addressing serious questions when the facts do not concur. The result has been an outright failure of the concept of journalistic ethics.

Some alternative sources, be they partisan or bipartisan organizations, individuals, websites, documentaries, forums or the blogosphere, have done a better job at holding both sides accountable. Sadly, even the most popular alternative source reaches a small fraction of the audience covered by the mainstream media. However, to even that small fraction, those same sources have utterly failed to present an overall palatable, concise and coherent position to the opposing or undecided viewers.

The resulting output from both mainstream and alternative sources has only polarized each sides opinion of each other, further dividing the nation.

Democracy is effective only when a large majority of voters are capable of making an informed choice. In my opinion, the majority of voters, despite who they voted for, were badly served by those organizations who claim they are responsible for keeping the public informed. It's not as if the same could not be said for past elections in any country, but this election cycle the "Whopper" mud slinging has been so much worse than any election since the introduction of television.

What does this mean for the tech industry?

In a lot of ways, both sides campaigns are mirrored by Microsoft's unabated campaign of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt ( commonly referred to in the information technology sector by the acronym FUD ). Microsoft's advocates probably consider the use of the same strategy by both Democrats and Republicans a green light to continue to spread FUD, despite the evidence which contradicts the claims, including Microsoft's own internal research. Any forum attached to an article that even hints at Linux being used on the desktop results in a similar barrage of FUD that is familiar in form to that spouted by the political camp followers. Microsoft's advocates claim the same thing happens whenever Microsoft's record of security is mentioned.

Whether choosing a political or consumer platform, it is possible to make an informed choice when the mainstream political or technical media performs its role to certain ethical standards.

From the International Federation of Journalists:

DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES ON THE CONDUCT OF JOURNALISTS


Adopted by the Second World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists at Bordeaux on 25-28 April 1954 and amended by the 18th IFJ World Congress in Helsingör on 2-6 June 1986.

This international Declaration is proclaimed as a standard of professional conduct for journalists engaged in gathering, transmitting, disseminating and commenting on news and information and in describing events.

  1. Respect for truth and for the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalist.

  2. In pursuance of this duty, the journalist shall at all times defend the principles of freedom in the honest collection and publication of news, and of the right of fair comment and criticism.

  3. The journalist shall report only in accordance with facts of which he/ she knows the origin. The journalist shall not suppress essential information or falsify documents.

  4. The journalist shall use only fair methods to obtain news, photographs and documents.

  5. The journalist shall do the utmost to rectify any published information which is found to be harmfully inaccurate.

  6. The journalist shall observe professional secrecy regarding the source of information obtained in confidence.

  7. The journalist shall be aware of the danger of discrimination being furthered by the media, and shall do the utmost to avoid facilitating such discrimination based on, among other things, race, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinions, and national or social origins.

  8. The journalist shall regard as grave professional offences the following:

      - plagiarism - malicious misrepresentation - calumny, slander, libel, unfounded accusations - the acceptance of a bribe in any form in consideration of either publication or suppression.

  9. Journalists worthy of that name shall deem in their duty to observe faithfully the principles stated above. Within the general law of each country the journalist shall recognize in professional matters the jurisdiction of colleagues only, to the exclusion of every kind of interference by governments or others.


Consider the above and the current state of the mainstream and alternative news media. Both the mainstream political and technical news media are failing to follow the ethical standards necessary for people to make informed choices. When articles and content do not concur with known facts, or the journalist fails to seek and give enough time for an opinion from an opposing party in reply, it's not enough to claim that people are free to search for and consult other sources that have differing opinions. Such lack of action on the part of journalists is responsible for adding to the Confusion, Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Journalist and news media organizations are not performing their job and society and the consumer suffers as a result.