Defending News Councils  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Letters
From AJR,   December 2006/January 2007

Defending News Councils   

Thank you for the excellent article, by Bobby Carmichael in your October/November 2006 issue.

It was thorough and accurate, and we appreciate your calling to "fact-check" before the article was published. If more journalists did that, there would be less need for news councils.

However, the assertions by Rowland Thompson, executive director of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, demand rebuttal.

Thompson stated that in other countries "many news councils were set up by their governments, and they're actually official arms of the government used to control their news content." No news council in this country was set up by government. We do not accept public funding and permit no elected officials or their top staff people on our council to avoid any hint of government regulation or control of the media or news content. To suggest that our news council resembles those controlled by foreign governments is ludicrous.

Thompson stated there was "no evidence news councils work," Carmichael wrote. Thompson said he was "hard-pressed to see that they provide satisfaction to anyone who's disgruntled." On the contrary, we have testimonials from many complainants who have come to the Washington News Council when they could get no satisfactory response from media organizations they felt had been inaccurate or unfair. Our complainants are satisfied, which is proof that news councils work.

Finally, Thompson said: "Self-flagellation is a specialty of this business. We're tougher on ourselves than I think a news council could be." Maybe so, but most self-flagellation by journalists is in-house or occurs at media conventions or seminars. News councils let the public in on the conversation. And we don't try to be "tough on" journalism but merely urge journalists to be open and accountable.

Thompson has been an outspoken opponent of the Washington News Council for eight years, but his criticisms have always been misinformed, misguided and mistaken.

John Hamer
Executive director
Washington News Council
Seattle, Washington