John Hamer, the executive director of the Washington News Council and a former Seattle Times colleague of mine, says the organization he helped found a decade ago is at a crossroads. At a time when media criticism can be practiced by anyone with a blog, and when media performance is critiqued in real time, what role should WNC play?
Up to now, it has fielded complaints of unfairness and other shortcomings of established news media through a process that could lead to an unofficial hearing and a verdict by a panel of journalists and others:
It's a process that media outlets have to a great degree ignored. The reasons for ignoring a Washington News Council complaint — declining to actively defend yourself in writing or at a hearing — can range from fear of increasing legal exposure or expense in a real court of law to simply copping an attitude: "Who do they think they are?"
I think there's merit to some of the reluctance of media outlets to submit to mediation by WNC, and that's a whole 'nother blog item, but with its latest case the council has rendered such reluctance irrelevant. The Washington News Council has placed the "docket" of its latest case online [PDF] and is inviting the public to vote on a verdict.
The latest case might as well be called State of Washington v. KIRO-TV. Secretary of State Sam Reed alleges that KIRO-TV reporter Chris Halsne, just before the 2008 general election, broadcast two stories "that fell far short of the most basic standards of journalism for accuracy, balance and fairness. This occurred despite our repeated efforts to correct some of his assumptions and methodology and errors before he aired his reports." Halsne is now a two-time Washington News Council defendant. Previously "censured" by the council, he now faces a jury of citizens.
Is he "guilty" this time? Read the complaint, watch the videos, and judge for yourself at the Washington News Council Web site.