The Power of the Press

fdallahan@cahners.com

So, it has finally come to pass. The nongovernmental organizations have gone public in a big way with their efforts to club the diamond world into submission. The well-meaning NGOs “nicely” demanded that the industry comply with their requests to control the flow of conflict diamonds to the consumer market. If the industry did not comply, the threat of a consumer boycott was possible. Since various members of the industry did not see things exactly the way the NGOs did, it became necessary to raise the ante. If you don’t play the game according to their rules, you pay. It’s only a more sophisticated form of blackmail.

Now CBS has taken sides in the conflict diamonds matter, in its recent report on 60 Minutes. It was a shoddy piece of reporting. It was biased, one-sided, and in some places outright wrong. JCK‘s editor-in-chief, Hedda Schupak, saw the show and fired off a letter to CBS president Leslie Moonves, expressing justifiable criticism, anger, and surprise. Those with knowledge of the situation in Africa and the distribution of diamonds worldwide will understand the criticism and anger. The surprise is the result of comparing CBS’s history of balanced reporting with the 60 Minutes piece. The names Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow are among the most respected in the history of journalism. One wonders how Cronkite, once described as “the most trusted man in America,” would critique this 60 Minutes presentation.

The media’s tendency toward sensationalism is helping to destroy civil discourse—indeed, to destroy the role the news media are intended to serve. We have become polarized into liberal and conservative camps on every issue. You can’t watch evening news shows without seeing a bias in what the anchors present as news. (Last night it was CBS’s Dan Rather opining that President Bush’s tax plan was controversial.)

Broadcast journalism has changed from a respected, independent profession to something closer to a public relations arm for particular points of view. The object has become “winning the ratings game,” rather than examining both sides of an issue. We’ve moved from journalism to cause advocacy.

If the members of the diamond industry don’t move quickly enough to adopt plans proposed by the NGOs and certain members of Congress, the public exposure card will be played. It is not unlike the race card played in the last Presidential election, portraying Republicans as a political party who stand by and do nothing when an African-American is brutally dragged to his death chained to the back of a pick-up truck.

Each of us in the industry has a responsibility to influence these events. I suggest you express your opinion on the matter to your congressional representatives, outlining a few salient facts, such as:

  • Only a small portion (4%) of overall diamond production—those diamonds originating in rebel-held areas in Angola, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo—can reasonably be designated as conflict diamonds.

  • The industry is committed to implementing a workable solution to stop even this 4% from reaching consumers.

  • It is not possible to scientifically identify the country of origin of any diamond.

Consider this: Over the past 30 years, we’ve spent billions to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the United States, yet the problem remains. So perhaps the diamond industry can be “cut a little slack” in its efforts to develop a workable plan to stop conflict diamonds from reaching consumers.

Finally, why don’t you send your thoughts about CBS’s treatment of the conflict diamond issue to Mr. Moonves and 60 Minutes executive producer Don Hewitt. And you might ask when they are planning to present the other side of the story, too!