Monday, June 21, 2010

Can a guest put a TV host in a conflict of interest?

Is it my imagination, or do members of the media give fellow members a greater degree of privacy than they do when reporting on politicians and others in the media spotlight? Why is this? Is their right to privacy more precious than that of non-media players?

As I understand the tradition, private lives of politicians are protected unless events normally considered private somehow overlap or interfere with their public lives. I suppose that’s a reasonable convention, and I assume the same rules apply to journalists, news readers and political commentators.

Think, though, of the invasion of privacy Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, endures relating to his love life. When’s the last time you read about specifics of the love lives of popular, nationally-known, political commentators?

What happens, then, when a politician and a political commentator become romantically involved? Is there not some sort of conflict of interest when that politician appears time and again on a show hosted by the same political commentator, and neither declare their involvement in an, otherwise private, relationship?

I believe their is an obligation, at least, on the part of the political commentator to declare a conflict of interest. Listen to professionals like Steve Paikin of TVO’s Agenda, who scrupulously declares his or his wife’s interest in topics discussed on his show.

I believe it is shameful for one to sit as a television host with, for example, a girl-friend who is an elected politician and verbally flog her political adversaries without divulging to the audience that the host and she are romantically involved. This is especially egregious when the television show is specifically about politics.

So, why am I worked up about this? Well, in part, because rumours persist that Tom Clark, host of CTV’s Power Play has a personal relationship with Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay, a frequent quest on his show. If true, does this not put Clark in a conflict of interest as a political commentator on a national network?

I don’t know whether or not to believe what may very well be idle speculation or unfounded gossip, but I do think that when professional relationships become personal, as some inevitably will, all appearance of objectivity and fairness go out the window.

Just wondering…


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