Editorial: Principles of Cooks journalism

Thursday June 13, 2019 Written by Published in Opinion
CI News Editor Jonathan Milne. CI News Editor Jonathan Milne.

Since taking the editor’s chair at the Cook Islands News last week, I’ve met an enormous number of people in this community, who have been – without exception – tremendously welcoming.

But they also want to know what our plans are for this newspaper, which is owned as much by the people of the Cooks as it is by its shareholders.

I have emphasised that for some time, I intend to simply listen. I won’t make rash, hasty or ill-informed changes to the content of this newspaper, which has matured into its current form over generations.

My experience in journalism means I have practical skills and experience I can share with the team here. But more than that, I am learning from those who have been here for far longer than me, who are born here, whose ancestors were born here.

Our team is drafting a journalism charter that we will share with you, explaining and reinforcing the principles that guide our journalism. Some of those principles are applied the world over: accuracy, fairness, truth. But others are unique to these islands, like our respect for relationships between the three pillars of our society: church, ariki and government.

We will consult our readers and community on these – but there is one change we’ve already made that’s prompted questions. That’s the decision to stop running anonymous letters to the editor.

In our view, we cannot credibly call for transparency in this nation’s leadership, if we do not demonstrate transparency in our own journalism.

Moreover, some of the unattributed letters contain personal attacks – they play the person, not the ball. We believe by putting our names to our opinions, we will raise the tone of debate.

Finally, whistleblowers who need to raise a genuine concern on a matter of public interest, but are worried about jeopardising their professional position, should email, phone or visit me and our reporters. As journalists, we will check what they tell us; if it proves true and important, we will report it.

I myself have been grilled by the New Zealand Parliament’s powerful privileges committee, demanding I disclose the source of an important story that embarrassed politicians. I did not disclose that source then, and our ethical commitment to protecting our sources remains as strong today.

What that does not mean is providing a platform for unattributed personal attacks.

Jonathan Milne

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