NOT LONG ago, the owner of a Phuket restaurant made his attitude plain. Phuketwan had given his restaurant a bad review, so he wasn't interested in advertising on the site.
Of course, what Phuketwan had done was to give his restaurant an honest review, not the usual Phuket deal: a fake promotion in exchange for a free meal.
We had arrived for a late lunch and the service was poor. The restaurant's staff hadn't been trained to act professionally at all times.
Yet as every street vendor knows, customers demand consistent quality when their stomachs rumble, not when a restaurant want to serve them.
There was the editor, too, who took a balanced article on Malaysia, designed to mark the country's 50th birthday, and removed all the negatives, so that the published result was totally positive, and a complete fabrication. Malaysian tourism was one of that publication's advertisers.
To some, truth is less important than money.
There are many people on Phuket who prefer to see only the sunny aspects of life on the island because it suits them, emotionally and financially. They ignore the negatives, at their peril.
Phuketwan is sometimes criticised for finding too much at fault with Phuket. Yet we report the positives when we find them, too. The world needs balance and objectivity.
As journalists, we are obliged to ignore self-interest. If, say, we faced the threat of having the water turned off for writing a story about our landlord, we would feel obliged to write that story.
Some readers misjudge us, though, and imagine we are able to right every injustice, sometimes overnight. We are not vigilantes, nor can we be effective substitutes for local authorities or the police. Our hope is to improve the system, not target individual wrong-doers.
All things considered, Phuket is reasonably well served by its English-language media. The choice these days is much greater, which is good, yet there's a downside to that. Readers need to be able to sort the journalism from the promotions.
What any reader should always look for is the source of the material, and honest disclosures of vested interest by the author.
If an article contains no byline or no mention of the source, you can assume it's propaganda. Don't waste your time reading it.
If the restaurant review has nothing to say that is even the slightest bit negative, you can assume that it's based on the free meal deal: you pay, we publicise.
Some people who call themselves journalists believe they are strong-minded enough to accept gifts yet not be influenced by that generosity. We don't believe that's possible, and deep down, we don't believe they do, either. They simply prefer to pretend to be honest.
Phuketwan has looked at journalists' codes of ethics in several countries and decided to adopt the Australian code, if only because it perhaps expresses the ideals better than some other models.
We don't believe that Phuketwan will always be perfect. But we do have a reasonably accurate understanding of the tenets of journalism, and if we do have a conflict of interest, we intend to continue to always declare it.
If our meal comes free, we'll tell you.
CODE OF ETHICS
Respect for truth and the public's right to information are fundamental principles of journalism. Journalists describe society to itself. They convey information, ideas and opinions, a privileged role. They search, disclose, record, question, entertain, suggest and remember. They inform citizens and animate democracy. They give a practical form to freedom of expression. Many journalists work in private enterprise, but all have these public responsibilities. They scrutinise power, but also exercise it, and should be accountable. Accountability engenders trust. Without trust, journalists do not fulfil their public responsibilities. Members engaged in journalism commit themselves to
* Respect for the rights of others
1. Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis. Do your utmost to give a fair opportunity for reply.
2. Do not place unnecessary emphasis on personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, family relationships, religious belief, or physical or intellectual disability.
3. Aim to attribute information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source's motives and any alternative attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances.
4. Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence.
5. Disclose conflicts of interest that affect, or could be seen to affect, the accuracy, fairness or independence of your journalism. Do not improperly use a journalistic position for personal gain.
6. Do not allow advertising or other commercial considerations to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence.
7. Do your utmost to ensure disclosure of any direct or indirect payment made for interviews, pictures, information or stories.
8. Use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material. Identify yourself and your employer before obtaining any interview for publication or broadcast. Never exploit a person's vulnerability or ignorance of media practice.
9. Present pictures and sound which are true and accurate. Any manipulation likely to mislead should be disclosed.
10. Do not plagiarise.
11. Respect private grief and personal privacy. Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.
12. Do your utmost to achieve fair correction of errors.
Basic values often need interpretation and sometimes come into conflict. Ethical journalism requires conscientious decision-making in context. Only substantial advancement of the public interest or risk of substantial harm to people allows any standard to be overridden.