10 January 2012

In an interesting commentary about the International Consumer Electronics Show, one of the world’s largest exhibitions, now underway in Las Vegas, a San Francisco journalist has reported on the intended purpose of the “swag” given to accredited media.   This is an ethics issue as much for journalists as it would be for public servants. Last year in what he thought was a bagful of the usual PR material he found a camcorder worth hundreds of dollars.  The story line is that he gave it back!

The article quotes an academic on journalists accepting freebies.  This is liable to influence their perceptions and compromise their independence in the same way as gifts can affect anyone.

 … “For one thing, giveaways mean they cover events they otherwise might have ignored. For another, the act of accepting a gift subtly sways their perception of products, companies and publicists, …. It’s simply harder for human beings to mercilessly slam a smart phone or a dumb CEO after readily accepting the company’s big-bowed gift basket. That, of course, is precisely why companies drop big money on such items…. Taking gifts also risks shaking the audience’s confidence in what’s written: Is the rah-rah tone rooted in fantastic products or free ones?”

The article explores whether there are declining ethics among a newer generation of IT journalists and bloggers who are frequently offered free products, see no harm in accepting them and have absolute confidence in their ability to remain independent.   All of which sounds like officials worldwide who seem blinkered to the commercial purpose behind providing gifts and hospitality to opinion-setters and decision-makers.