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A timely note of idealism. (From The Editors' Desk).

The press and the political class have an uneasy relationship, in Britain at least. A good thing too. The Fourth Estate is ideally positioned to act as watchdog and bay when our political masters overstep the limits of propriety and decency.

But it can go too far. When a newspaper appears to be taking an obsessive interest in the personal foibles of an elected politician's wife, or in the minor functionaries of a royal palace, public interest (which undoubtedly exists) can be the rationale for a destructiveness which is definitely not in the public interest.

Higher standards in public life would, of course, be a good first step in raising the level of political coverage--and might even cause the mass media to review their own standards. So it was encouraging recently to read a statement by a Liberal Democrat Member of the UK Parliament, Lembit Opik. In October he sent a message to party members in Wales setting out some proposed `steps'. These included:

* `If we see the chance of a cheap shot, an easy press release, to gain a point, we should NOT take it if we honestly think we couldn't have done better ourselves. And we shouldn't take it if the error has been committed in good faith.'

* `Admit where we're wrong. Mistakes are made by everyone. We need to say, yup, could have done that better, thanks for the feedback, and move on. It's refreshing when politicians apologize and, frankly, it's good for the soul....'

* `If we fall below these standards I want our competitors and the public to tell us. Then we can put it right.'

How refreshing! What would be a similar set of steps for the media?

* We will report the truth robustly but admit where we get it wrong.

* We will expose evil and wrong-doing but not wagehate campaigns against the `great and the good' even if they turn out to have feet of clay.

* We will aim for balance, devoting a proportionate amount of space to people's achievements as to their perceived shortcomings.

* We will not scaremonger at the cost of vulnerable and minority groups.

* If we see the chance of a cheap shot to gain a point, we should NOT take it if we honestly think we couldn't have done better ourselves.
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Title Annotation:time for standards in journalism and politics
Author:Noble, Kenneth
Publication:For A Change
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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