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Press Freedom and Cartoons in Slovakia

Daryl Cagle compares and contrasts the ethical rules regarding staff cartoonists in the US vs in Slovakia:

Shooty is certainly no fan of Fico, a former communist who clings to his totalitarian roots. In the last election Shooty made a plea for donations on his Facebook page and raised over 60,000 euros for a billboard campaign against Fico, renting space for his anti-Fico cartoons on close to 200 billboards throughout the country. Fico’s coalition lost the election by the narrowest margin – narrow enough that Shooty can be credited with tipping the election away from the knuckle-dragging past to a more progressive parliament. Many see Shooty as one of the most important voices in Slovakia.

This got me thinking about msnbc’s Keith Olbermann. I’m the editorial cartoonist for msnbc.com and I work under the same ethical rules as Olbermann, who was famously booted off the air for a short time because he made modest donations to three Democratic candidates in the last election, without msnbc’s prior approval, in violation of msnbc’s ethical rules. Media organizations in America often have rules that restrict the political activities of their journalists. Shooty is held up as a hero for activities that likely wouldn’t be allowed if he were working as a newspaper editorial cartoonist in the USA. I’m struck by the irony.

Community Comments

#1 Clay Bennett
December/26/2010
@ 10:15 am

Your comparing apples and oranges.

There’s a big difference between contributing ‘to’ a candidate (what Olbermann did) and campaigning ‘against’ one (what Shooty did).

For a writer, cartoonist, or broadcast journalist covering politics, making personal campaign contributions are a clear violation of the code of ethics promoted by the Society of Professional Journalists. The code states- “shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.” Olbermann made contributions to political candidates (as did many news personalities of FOX News, as well) while continuing to cover their campaigns on his show. A financial relationship had been established, which was bad enough, alone. His failure to disclosed that conflict to either his network or his viewers, only made matters worse.

What Shooty did was completely aboveboard. The billboards he erected to undermine the Fico campaign were financed by the cartoonist himself. There was no duplicity or deception. In fact, I see plastering cartoons on a billboard as being no different than publishing them on newsprint. And it’s definitely more dignified than printing them on t-shirts, mousepads and mugs.

Now, if Shooty allowed an opposition candidate or his campaign to use his cartoons on billboards across the country, or if the source of the funds he raised to finance the project was the opposition party, then that would be a breach of ethics.

Minus those mitigating factors, however, I see no problem with Shooty’s actions. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Keith Olbermann.

#2 Mike Peterson
December/26/2010
@ 12:21 pm

Can’t see it, Clay. It’s still “political involvement” and it’s still partisan involvement beyond the employer, which is the no-no. Had his publication made the effort to finance the billboards, that would be different. This is an editorial commentator getting involved in direct partisan political action.

Most mainstream publications in the US would have a real problem with that, Note that I’m not judging how things work in Slovakia, but Daryl is correct that it wouldn’t have flown here.

‘Cept maybe at Comedy Central, but, last I looked, they weren’t setting the bar for mainstream journalists.

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