Pugliese vs. Granatstein: Conflict of Interest in Journalism Awards

Can journalists be bought?

The entire publicity industry is based on the idea that you can use money to get publicity. Journalists are sometimes complicit in this practice, though most try to apply a critical or alternative take on the straight-forward messaging of publicity firms. Sometimes, things get more complicated than a press release.

The Ross Munro Media Award, endowed by the Conference of Defence Assocations (CDA) and the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (DFAI). The CDA, according to Dave Pugliese at the Ottawa Citizen, has been “cozy” with the Department of National Defence. So, what does a media award tied to Canada’s defence establishment mean?

The Ross Munro Award is supposed to be for outstanding journalism. Pugliese sees it as a conflict of interest and has written that he withdrew himself from consideration by the awards committee because he felt being recognized by the CDA and CDFAI was a possible conflict of interest.

– Some journalists who have accepted the Ross Munro Award in the past have regularly quoted analysts from both the CDA or the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. Is this right, particularly considering that DND’s funding deal with the CDA requires a specific number of mentions of the organization [emphasis mine, referring Globe-and-Mail-reported contract stipulations the CDA has to get itself a 29 press mentions]. What type of message does this send to the reading/listening/viewing public?

This is a serious question for journalists. In a profession that is constantly trying to reaffirm its legitimacy, and as media practicioners try to shore up their audience, does being recognized present a possible conflict of interest?

Now, the particular “best practices” and policies of the CDA and the Ross Munro Awards are beyond my field of knowledge. I think Pugliese has raised an interesting point. If the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers endowed an award for Northern Alberta’s best journalist on the Northern Alberta beat, would that present a conflict of interest? Or would the award be considered of little worth because it simply represents a story that is onside with the award sponsor’s interests? At the same time, what if neurosurgeons awarded a best-scientific journalism award? Does it represent an accolade from experts in the field which is being reported on that a reporter has fairly represented the challenges in that field? Does it matter who it is? Cancer patients? Katrina-survivors?

A commenter with the handle “J.L. Granatstein,” who may or may not be the Canadian military historian par excellence and professor emeritus at York University, weighed in in Dave Pugliese’s comment section. He argued the award comes down to who has done great work, full-stop.

Of course, Newell D. [another commenter], the perception of conflict can exist–obviously you see one. But as someone who has participated in the selection process (for several years), I have seen no such conflict in the assessment of applications. The only test the committee followed was the quality of the work, period. You won’t believe me, I know, but it’s true. The journalists who won the award–a creme de la creme of the profession–also seem not to have been worried, rightly in my view.

As for this year’s Ross Munro Media Award recipient, according to Pugliese, Murray Brewster is accepting the award and donating the $2,500 to the Michelle Lang fellowship, the Military Families Fund, and the Soldier On Fund.

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