“Journalism is a guardian that never sleeps and protects the freedom of the people” – Winston Churchill”
Celebrating the fact that the Mayans apparently got their calculus wrong, elements from the Danish press are preparing to balance the things by putting an end to their loudly praised deontology. Appointed as the watch dog of our society in its highly important role of providing a voice for the public, the mass media is bound by a code of ethics and is accountable for its actions. However, the human element in this equation gives room for all the possible nuances of subjectivity to enter into the apparent search for truth and personal agendas and ulterior motives often dictate the outcome. The idea of an institution which correctly, ethically and objectively informs the people is utopic to say the least.
The level of consciousness of a society dictates the possibilities for ethics and rightfulness to be properly adhered to. And as we all bear witness to on a daily basis, the current level of consciousness is a far cry from the spiritually enlightened consciousness needed for the spontaneous following of ethics and principles. Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy”. However, how can an unenlightened media enlighten its society? If the media would stick to its obligation of providing “mediation” as an “information service” without becoming personally involved then it would correctly fulfill its purpose and serve the role given to it within our democratic society.
I have recently had firsthand experience of dealing with a part of the Danish media which has unfortunately only once again led me to conclude that this institution still has a long way to go before it is truly living up to its professional obligations. For those of you unfamiliar with Danish TV, ‘Danmark ifølge Bubber’ (‘Denmark According to Bubber’) is an ongoing documentary show on TV2. It is hosted by the eponymous Bubber who gained popularity in the Danish media for his career in children’s television.
Now ‘Danmark ifølge Bubber’ is going into its 5th season and according to Bubber it promises to be “even wilder and even better.” He says that “Denmark is incredible in every way possible, both for the worse and better.” So far the show has covered topics such as bestiality, transvestites, swingers clubs, men in women’s clothing, Nazism, porn, prison and prostitution. It makes me wonder – how much wilder can it get?! As wild as Natha Yogacenter? It seems they think we fit into this category. Should we be flattered?
Where Is the Balance Between Rights and Duties?
Maybe we would be if we were not already acquainted with how the media likes to portray us in such an unflattering light. Correlating this piece of information with the fact that Bubber has said that in the new season he moves “into a new area where people lose good judgment,” and that the story has come about because of reports by ex-members of the school, we can be sure of the type of story ‘Danmark ifølge Bubber’ has up their sleeve.
After explaining to Bubber that I am busy for most of December and would probably not be able to do the interview until January, he asked for the interview to take place on the 15th January. However, in his next email he suddenly changed his tune and wrote: “I suggest that I call you/Mihai on Tuesday the 18. or Wednedsday the 19. next week to do the interview (by phone). If I don´t hear anything from you before Tuesday the 18th of December 2012, I must conclude that Mihai Stoian don´t want to participate in the programme and answer my questions.” Which has left me wondering why the sudden change of date and why the urgency to get the interview done now instead of in one month’s time?
I wanted to give the interview, but told Bubber that I would only do it in certain conditions, as I needed a minimum insurance that my words would not be misused or misinterpreted. Having learnt from previous dealings with the media, we drew up a contract stipulating these conditions in which we would agree to do the interview.
“The recorded material with me as a participant may be wholly or partly included in the final version of this production. Eyeworks/TV 2 have no right to use or broadcast publically the material regardless of format and method of presentation without my written approval and accept. Eyeworks/TV 2 is aware that in case they do not obtain my written approval and accept of broadcasting, they submit to paying me a penalty fee of 500.000 dkr. pr. broadcast or released example of a production material including wholly or partly my participation. Due to any concern that my rights could be violated, I can anytime cancel any kind of accept or declaration I have previously given for broadcasting material containing my participation, no matter the circumstances and the consequences Eyeworks/ TV 2 will suffer from this decision.”
Eyeworks however declined, stating that “We are aware that you have asked for the right to choose which part of the interview we afterwards can use. This is unfortunately not a request we can accomodate, as we would then compromise on our constitutional right of the press to collect, treat and pass on information. Also TV2/DK will never accept that these rights to edit the programme are granted to participants, in a programme like this.”Unfortunately this is not just a singular case. The entire mass media is riddled with this kind of hypocritical attitude.
On one hand they speak of their rights, and on the other they do not care about their obligations to protect the fundamental rights of the people, such as the right of their own image, the property of their words. The right of publicity, often called personality rights, is the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity.
The contract Eyeworks asked me to sign states:
“I accept that recorded material with me as a participant may be wholly or partly included in the final version of this production. I also accept that Eyeworks/TV 2 have indefinite and unlimited exclusive right to use the material all over the world, regardless of format and method of presentation. I have no rights to the material and can never raise claims based on my participation.”Through our correspondence Bubber is twisting his obligation to allow the right of reply.
The spirit of the law is that we have the right to reply and he has to give it to us. All that we have asked is that we can make sure that our reply will be put as we intended it, without it being manipulated through editing by them. As he has total freedom in most of the program to say whatever he wants, for giving a fair right of reply we should have the same freedom in the short segment that he gives us a right to reply. Otherwise, what is the point of giving a reply if it is cut out of context or even important parts of it are omitted?
It became glaringly obvious in this communication that he is not allowing us the proper right for reply which is free from his own interests of displaying Natha in a critical way. As he wrote to me: “I have to say that this is not an offer of cooperation. It is an offer to Mihai Stoian/Natha Yoga to answer to critique that will be raised in my program”. He also stated: “The program will be broadcasted on TV2 whether he participates or not, which is why this is to be regarded as an offer and I´m afraid the above terms are not open for discussion.”
The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics states that “The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.”The intentions of Bubber and his program are obviously not in accordance with this code of ethical conduct and it is for this reason that I will not participate in a potential immoral attempt to vilify and degrade my person and the school of which I am a part.
Here is an excerpt from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Resolution 1003 on the Ethics of Journalism, which I think speaks for itself.
The right to information as a fundamental human right – Publishers, proprietors and journalists
7. The media’s work is one of “mediation”, providing an information service, and the rights which they own in connection with freedom of information depends on its addressees, that is the citizens.
8. Information is a fundamental right which has been highlighted by the case-law of the European Commission and Court of Human Rights relating to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and recognized under Article 9 of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television, as well as in all democratic constitutions. The owner of the right is the citizen, who also has the related right to demand that the information supplied by journalists be conveyed truthfully, in the case of news, and honestly, in the case of opinions, without outside interference by either the public authorities or the private sector.
9. The public authorities must not consider that they own information.
The representativeness of such authorities provides the legal basis for efforts to guarantee and extend pluralism in the media and to ensure that the necessary conditions are created for exercising freedom of expression and the right to information and precluding censorship. Moreover, the Committee of Ministers is aware of this fact, as demonstrated by its Declaration on the Freedom of Expression and Information adopted on 29 April 1982.
If there is nothing to hide Mr Bubber, then why do you not allow such an agreement that is only aiming to secure our side of the story? I didn’t ask for full disclosure of the sources or even of the content of all the other filmed material before talking, I have only asked for my rights to present my point of view in the way I consider fits into this context to be respected.
Refusing to accede to this simple agreement clearly shows another interest behind the stage. Why should one be afraid of the story that one is telling since he is free to ask other opinions also? Unless of course he wants a certain result, and not the truth…
As a conclusion, what kind of search for the Truth is that where you are not interested to protect all the opinions in an equal manner? If this is the way one is searching for the Truth, can we call that person honest?
The coming days will tell if these are only some theoretical ideas or the reality will prove them to be right. I dare to anticipate, however, that I will get more lessons from these guys about their constitutional rights, but nothing about their constitutional duties (for which they are paid anyway), and in the end they will anyway tell only the story they were intending to tell from the very beginning. But this is nothing new. When it is an order from … one has to comply with it … and there is no place for negotiation with the victim. So much for professional journalism.
I can foresee that they will not stop here because their orders are aiming to create more trouble. Therefore they will start to question more about our school, trying to take all the old ghosts out of the closet in order to ensure their story has more consistency. … In this way they will prove that it is not the truth they are after but their truth suggested by the hand that feeds them…