It’s official. Journalists must conduct themselves like funeral directors. Or solicitors in Victorian novels. That’s the wash-up from the Caroline Overington case.
“It gives me no pleasure to say this, but there is no excuse for her behaviour,” Margaret Simons wrote in Crikey yesterday. “It is so obviously out of line, and unethical, that it is barely necessary to point it out.”
Really? It struck me as absolutely normal.
Miranda Devine tackles the topic in the Sydney Morning Herald today. “Perhaps four consecutive election victories by John Howard have killed the left’s sense of humour,” she wrote.
Left and right, I dunno – but humour was absolutely at the centre of it all. The humour all but the most humourless or self-important of us deploy to ease awkward situations.
Journalists find themselves in difficult positions and hostile relationships all the time, but to do their jobs they’ve got to stay in those positions and maintain those relationships. So they use humour. The tension in these relationships is high because this awkward fact is at the centre of them all: “I will f-ck you over to do my job, but it’s not personal.”
So you joke. You flirt. You carry on in an exaggerated way.
It mightn’t be professional, but it often makes it easier to carry on a professional relationship. Indeed, it can be hard to do business with people who won’t indulge in carry on. They look like prigs.
What you normally don’t do is put it all in writing. That’s the only mistake Overington made. In 2007, most of us think before we fire off an email. Or an SMS. We’ve learned that they are pretty permanent. They can come back and bite us. The nuance can be hard to explain.
But an ethical crisis? Come off it! There are only two lessons for the profession of journalism from all this: journalists are human, too – and Media Watch needs a radical revamp. ASAP.