Earlier this morning, we received word via email that Claude Jean Bertrand, professor emeritus at the University of Paris II, died on September 21. As the message noted, "He promoted the concept of Media Ethics, Accountably Systems and Deontology in foundations of democracy, the world over."
Bertrand was a pioneer in devising the concept of a "Media Accountability System."
According to a definition he provided to the editor of this site, a MAS is a "non-governmental means of inducing media and journalists to respect the ethical rules set by the profession. They are extremely diverse but all aim at improving news media, using evaluation, monitoring, education, feedback and communication."
Bertrand cataloged well over 100 MAS in use by individuals, groups and media outlets. Examples of MAS include an in-house ombudsman, an external fact checking organization, or the letters to the editor page. Bertrand showed that there were many ways to provide media accountability. His work was important for its advocacy of accountability, and for highlighting the role that those inside and outside the press can play in helping achieve it.
In January of this year, he replied to some email questions about corrections as a MAS. His thoughts didn't make it into the Regret the Error book, but we provide them here. We offer our condolences to his family.
As a MAS, how effective do you think corrections are?
As you can see from my list of about 120 MAS, many aim at correcting errors. It is basic, both by the rectification itself and by the pressure it puts on media and on journalists to be more careful.
As I see it, the problem [with] the worst media is what they don't do, if only by covering only the visible part of reality (what I call "iceberg journalism"). So correcting errors is basic but not enough by far, unless corrections cover omissions too. Would you consider that Project Censored (admittedly terribly ideological since Carl Jensen left it) corrects errors?
Do you have suggestions as to how to make them better?
Not only [should] there should be far more correctors (blogs, journalism reviews, media columns, in-house critics, ombudsmen and their columns, etc) at local, regional and national levels, but their corrections should be better known. Most people do not surf the media-oriented blogs. And yet salvation can only come from the public, in cooperation with professionals: not much can be expected from owners and politicians. How [can we] get at least an activist minority of enlightened citizens to become protagonists in social communication?
Journalists should know more about MAS and do more to create as many of them as possible. That would gradually increase the general interest in media and widen the public exposure to corrections. Alas, a major obstacle to media improvement is the hostility of journalists to many MAS in the name of freedom. Another is their pathological individualism which forbids them from using professional solidarity as a force for progress.
The one efficient way to achieve better public awareness of errors and corrections is probably to get media themselves to post their errors with corrections, as the British Guardian does every day. Cyber-correctors [such as blogs] must acquire a reputation as sensible, knowledgeable, reliable, unbiased. And journalists must (through their unions and associations) convince their employer that credibility (hence long-term profitability) is based on accuracy, and [that] admitting mistakes increases credibility.
Do you consider error prevention to be a form of MAS?
Prevention is something else again. That implies fact-checking before publication, which I am told is done less and less for financial reasons. It also implies greater expertise on the part of reporters, obtained by specialized education, continuous training and professional experience -- but from what I know, again to save money (even in the US where news media profits are more than double the European average), old journalists are let go to be replaced by greenhorns, while the Stanford Knight Fellowships kind of mid-career improvement has not multiplied over the last 30 years.
Editor's Note: This post was reformatted post-publication to make it easier to read.