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Reflections on the “Ethics in Digital Broadcasting Conference: Do No Harm!”

February 23, 2015

Windhoek, Namibia

February 9-10, 2015

When I was invited to speak at the Ethics in Digital Broadcasting Conference in Windhoek, Namibia I gladly accepted.

The conference was co-sponsored by the Southern African Broadcasting Association (SABA) and the African Center of Excellence for Information Ethics (ACEIE).


Professor Fackson Banda, UNESCO

I have worked with the SABA member Namibian Broadcasting Association (NBC) in the past so I was excited to share knowledge with them and learn from them.

I was taking notes because all the points made by the speakers were excellent.

Professor Fackson Banda of UNESCO talked about the need for fair communications.

“Information plays a key role in us understanding each other,” he said. “It is important that our communications be ethical.”

Mr. Albertus Achoamab, the President of SABA and the Director General of NBC followed Professor Banda. He said we must all ask ourselves four questions before we write.


Albertus Achoamab, President, SABA; Director General, NBC

“First, is what I’m saying factually correct? Second, is it fair” to the person you are writing about? “Third, Will it build good will and better friendships? And, finally, will it be beneficial to all concerned.”

I find that a fascinating concept but I’m not sure it would be feasible in all cases. Especially when you are reporting on government officials, business leaders or those accused of criminal activity.

Even if those stories are factually correct, they may not think the reporting about their activity is fair.

Social Media and Journalism

That brings up a point that I was asked to address: how do you balance the needs of social media with the ethics of journalism?

There are rules regarding slander and libel that say you can’t knowingly publish information that you know to be false. If you do, the aggrieved party can take you to court.


NABJ President Bob Butler with Namibia Minister of Information Communication Joel Kaapanda

The Honorable Joel Kaapanda, Namibia’s Minister of Information and Communication, said the lack of social media policies in his country is a real problem.

“The misuse of social media is the result of no social media guidelines. I have people calling and coming to my office almost every day complaining that someone has published false information about them on social media,” he said.

He expressed the hope that SABA and the other stakeholders at this conference help develop those guidelines.

The African Center for Excellence for Information Ethics at the University of Pretoria made valuable contributions by discussing tools you can use to help you make ethical decisions.

Mrs. Erin Klazar showed participants how they teach their students about information ethics.

Mrs. Rachel Fisher and went to great lengths to explain how to consider your motivation, the opportunities versus the risks, the vortex and the effects (MOVE) before you make a decision.

They also explained the RISE principles you should follow to guide your actions while online.


Mr. Coetzee Bester, Director, African Center of Excellence for Information Ethics

Center Director Coetzee Bester says all these principles are necessary for citizens to be well-informed.

“It is important that we have safe access to information and access to safe information,” he said.

Following the panel discussions and presentations we broke into small groups for intimate discussions about how to make ethical decisions in news writing and photography and further delve into the MOVE and RISE principles.

There are many people who deserve thanks for this important conference.

But none of it would happened but the the leadership of SABA secretary-general Ellen Nanuses, ACEIE’s Rachel Fischer. They and all the speakers and participants made this a valuable educational experience.


November 11, 2014

NOTE: This post was written on September 29, 2014. However it was “lost” in WordPress.

The interim president of the Central African Republic attended her first General Assembly of the United Nations to ask the world community to help bring peace back to her war-torn country. Catherine Samba-Panza met with reporters on Sunday, September 21, the day before going to the UN.

From left: Bob Butler, President, NABJ; Catherine Samba-Panza, President, Central African  Republic; John Yearwood, World Editor, Miami Herald; Dr. Djibril Diallo, Senior adviser to the Executive Director of the UN AIDS Office and Chairman of African Renaissance and Diaspora Network

From left: Bob Butler, President, NABJ; Catherine Samba-Panza, President, Central African Republic; John Yearwood, World Editor, Miami Herald; Dr. Djibril Diallo, Senior adviser to the Executive Director of the UN AIDS Office and Chairman of African Renaissance and Diaspora Network

Samba-Panza is only the third woman to lead an African country, joining Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Malawi’s Joyce Banda.

She presides over a country in the midst of fighting between Muslim rebels and Christian militia troops. Each side has been accused of killing civilians. Nearly a million people –– about a quarter of the population — have been displaced or fled to refugee camps to avoid the violence.

Samba-Panza was elected in January 2014 after the previous president, Muslim rebel leader Michel Djotodia, resigned under pressure. He had taken office in March 2013 after a coup by his troops ousted former President Francois Bozize.

Samba-Panza has experience as a corporate lawyer, businesswoman and women’s rights activist. She was appointed mayor of the nation’s capitol Bangui upon Bozize’s ouster.

She has a clear agenda in her appearance before the general assembly.

“Our main message will be to ask the international community to support us and the help the country to recover,” she said.

Recovery, she believes, depends on several things. First she wants help in increasing security.

“The second one is to build the capacity of the security and defense services and to support justice and also to give support to the recovery program.”

In her acceptance speech in January she called on both factions to lay down their arms. Both sides appeared to listen.

Interim President of the Central African Republic Catherine Samba-Panza being interviewed by Bob Butler (l), President of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Interim President of the Central African Republic Catherine Samba-Panza being interviewed by Bob Butler (l), President of the National Association of Black Journalists.

“As mother and as a woman I talked to them and they heard what I asked them to do,” she said.

“I think things will become better because we are on the process of peace restoration.”

She believes security is already better after a United Nations peacekeeping force took over security in mid-September.

“Now the UN forces implemented in the country, they are twice more than the African troops so it will help to improve the situation in the country.”

However thousands of people are still displaced and violence remains a problem.

One thing that Samba-Panza has going for her is that the Central African Republic does not have an outbreak of Ebola.

“I thank God that my country is not affected by Ebola because we already have many problems,” said Samba-Panza.

“If we had Ebola, I don’t really know how the country would be.”

In order to take office she had to agree that she would not run for the job when elections are held next year. Given that so few women get to lead African countries, will she try and change that?

“Since I am the transitional president I understand that politics concerning women should be done by the women. So now I will encourage women to promote themselves in politics.”

Africa Mayors Worry Media Coverage of Ebola Crisis Hurting Unaffected Countries

September 24, 2014

New York — Elected leaders from throughout Africa in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly are hoping to make the case that, while Ebola is a problem in West Africa, most of the continent is unaffected.

Alliance Board

The Global Alliance of Mayors of Africa and African Descent board of directors meeting at the United Nations.

Thousands of people in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have died from the deadly virus since the outbreak was first reported in February. A small number of people travelling from those countries have been diagnosed with Ebola in Senegal, Nigeria and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

At a meeting ahead of the General Assembly, members of the Global Alliance of Mayors and Leaders of Africa and of African Descent expressed frustration that many people believe Ebola is a problem on the entire African continent.

“Please, it is not true,” said Alfred Vanderpuije, mayor of Accra, Ghana and the president of the alliance.

“Africa is a continent and so if Ebola is in three countries, which is Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, it does not represent the entire Africa.”

Accra, Ghana mayor Alfred Vernderpuije (r), president of the Global Alliance of Mayors of Africa and African Descent board of Directors. On the left is Djibril Diallo, senior advisor to the Executive Director, UN AIDS.

Accra, Ghana mayor Alfred Vernderpuije (r), president of the Global Alliance of Mayors of Africa and African Descent board of Directors. On the left is Djibril Diallo, senior advisor to the Executive Director, UN AIDS.

Alliance members are concerned that the news media often don’t differentiate the affected countries from all of Africa.

Google “Ebola, Africa” and your likely to see headlines like this from the Guardian, “Ebola epidemic, experimental drugs to be rushed to Africa,” or this from CNN: “Blair: 3 ways to help Africa beat Ebola.”

Some news organizations headline Ebola in “West Africa,” which Vanderpuije said is more accurate but still gives the impression that the virus is more widespread than it really is.

“There is a bigger world than you see on television and the bigger world is that Ebola and its effects is only a minority, a small effect of what is happening in Africa,” said Vanderpuije.

News of the outbreak has affected tourism and was also on the minds of the mayors at the meeting in New York, which was part of a planning session for a global summit of mayors from 80 countries being held in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire in December.

In late August the United States World Cup Basketball Team cancelled an exhibition game in Senegal after a student from Guinea was diagnosed with Ebola in Dakar. The student has since recovered.

The next planning meeting of the alliance is scheduled for mid-November in Accra, Ghana, prompting several of the mayors to note that their respective governments would not allow them to attend unless they received assurances that they would not face health risks in Ghana.

The United Nations Security Council last week held an emergency meeting on Ebola, only the second time the body has met on a health matter. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for $1B in aid to help end the crisis, a move Vanderpuije praises.

“We are concerned, yes, about the existence of the Ebola disease, but it is under control. With the world commitment to the issues of Ebola, I know that we are going to have a cure. That (Ebola) should not deter people from coming to Africa.”

Vanderpuije hopes the media continues to focus on the Ebola crisis but he’s calling for more education on where people should and should not go and what they should and should not do to avoid catching the virus







Deadline to Get Affordable Care in Monday, March 31

March 27, 2014

The deadline to sign up for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is March 31 but it is likely several million Californians will still have no health coverage on April 1, according to a report by the Californian Healthcare Foundation and experts who spoke at a regional conference of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in San Francisco.

The Affordable Care Act, or ACA, or Obamacare was signed into law four years ago. The goal is to make affordable healthcare available to the 48-million Americans without coverage.

“There are seven or eight million uninsured Californians,” said Marian Mulkey, director of Health Reform and Public Programs Initiatives for the California Healthcare Foundation.

“Even if everything goes well several million Californians will still be without health insurance.”

In California, Latinos represent 41% of the general population, but account for 57% of the uninsured population, according to the healthcare foundation. African Americans make up 6% of the population and 5% of the uninsured. There are several reasons why.

The problems with the website created for the ACA rollout in Washington were also felt in California. In addition, once the website problems were fixed many people would not use it.

“Our research shows 28% would rather use family and friends and 23% would rather call,” according to Erica Pham, counsel for Government Relations with Kaiser Permanente.

“It’s not easy for them. They may not have held health insurance before. They don’t understand premiums, subsidies, etc.”

The deadline to sign up is March 31 but those who have started the process by then will still be able to get coverage the same way that people who are in line when a polling place closes during an election are allowed to vote.

Mulkey says that only makes sense because signing up can be very complicated.

“The average person when they walk in they don’t know what they are eligible for. The whole point of the law was that there was something for everyone… unless you were undocumented… and that’s another issue.”

In the Latino community there are problems of language barriers, the technology gap and the reality of living without immigration documents.

“Mixed status families are reluctant to sign up at all if someone in the family is undocumented,” said Angie Blanchette,” regional manager for outreach and media activities in the Bay Area for Covered California.

Significant resources have been dedicated to education and enrollment campaigns in the Latino community. These include holding numerous public events; some featuring United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta.

 Blanchette says that effort seems to be working because Latino enrollment has risen threefold in the past three months.

 Enrollment in the African American community could be better but the panelists agree initial education efforts missed the mark. Blanchette said she was disheartened by the enrollment numbers in the Black community and there are now plans to engage churches to increase those numbers but she admits time is running out.

 She said enrollment in the Asian community is quite high because there is a tendency to sign up through insurance agents.

 The fits and starts of the initial rollout of the Affordable Care Act taught some basic lessons that all agree will make next year’s campaign much more effective.

 It is likely the website will work better, the call centers will be staffed with more experienced counselors and the campaign will be able to fine-tune its messaging.

 “If you want to reach Black people, the message you are trying to distribute has got to be Black,” said Olis Simmons, president and founder of Youth Uprising, a non-profit organization in Oakland that is training teenagers and young adults to overcome obstacles so they can thrive as successful members of society.

 Good News

 One thing that has not been widely discussed is that Californians who miss the deadline can still get coverage by signing up for Medi-Cal.

 “In addition to having its own Marketplace Exchange, California took part in the Medicaid expansion,” said Mulkey of the Healthcare Foundation.

“Medi-Cal has been widened to include more people. So far two million people are newly enrolled and there is an ongoing opportunity to enroll without deadlines. There is an expansive program for benefits at low cost to Dreamers,” or those who came to the United States without documents while they were still children.

ImageImageBob Butler is an independent journalist whose radio reports can be heard on KCBS. San Francisco. He is a member of the National Association f Hispanic Journalists and President of the National Association of Black journalists.

FCC Taking on Shared Services Agreements

March 6, 2014

FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler today came out against further consolidation in the broadcast industry and made it clear he would like to cut back on the so-called “shared services” agreements or “SSA’s”.  SSA’s allow a station owned by one company to provide news for a competing company in the same market. (

In his statement Chairman Wheeler said, “…motivated by evidence that our rules protecting competition, diversity and localism have been circumvented, we will consider some changes to other Commission Rules to enforce existing rules.”

I could not agree more. This will no doubt be applauded by those journalists who were laid off when their newsroom shut down so the news could be provided by the competition. I know at least a half-dozen people this happened to. Sometimes they get hired by the new station, sometimes they must move for a new opportunity and sometimes they remain unemployed for a length of time. There are many more people who have been affected but they won’t talk about it publicly because they could get in trouble, especially if they currently work in the industry.

 When there are fewer newsrooms, jobs are cut, normally leaving fewer opportunities for all journalists to find work. Viewers for the different stations get the same news delivered by the same people, limiting the opportunity to hear different viewpoints. For those who work in these newly “shared” newsrooms, there is more work and less time for in-depth or investigative reporting.

There are also fewer management jobs, leading to less diversity among those who make decisions on news coverage and hiring.

Research has shown that the demographics of newsroom management trails way behind that of the country. The National Association of Black Journalists Association 2012 Television Newsroom Management Diversity census found that, while people of color represented approximately 35% of the nation’s population, that figure for television station newsroom managers was 12%.

The FCC has not stopped the practice of Shared Services Agreements because there may be limited cases where these agreements make sense. But, given the number of journalists who have been displaced by them, I’m glad to see the FCC take a closer look at how the SSA’s are being used.

Also read:

NABJ Mourns the Passing of Angelo Henderson

February 15, 2014

AngeloHendersonNABJ is stunned to learn of the passing of long-time member and award-winning journalist Angelo Henderson in Detroit.

Henderson won a Pulitzer-prize for the Wall Street Journal in 1999 and currently hosted “Your Voice with Angelo Henderson,” a popular news talk show on Radio One in Detroit.

I first met Angelo when he was running for president in 2009. He said it was a logical extension of his service to NABJ. He had served two terms on the NABJ executive board and two terms as the president of the Detroit chapter of NABJ.

The news of Henderson’s passing hit all members hard, particularly NABJ presidents.

“Angelo was one of the most influential members in this organization, said Sidmel Estes, who served as president from 1991-1993, Henderson’s second term on the executive board as parliamentarian.

“His buoyant style in terms of his personal demeanor, as well as his love for NABJ is unmatched. This is just devastating to me.”

Henderson was a stalwart for NABJ. He had a passion for journalism, the ministry and issues affecting African Americans.

Our hearts go out to Felecia, Grant, the Detroit NABJ family and the many people who were touched by Angelo and grew to love him over the years.

We will keep members updated when new information becomes available.

My Road to Madiba’s Memorial

December 11, 2013

Johannesburg, South Africa

December 11, 2013

In late August my wife and I scheduled a trip to see her cousin in Windhoek, Namibia. When Nelson Mandela’s health took a turn for the worse a few weeks ago I mentioned to my mentor, Belva Davis, that I might try to cover the story if he died while I was in Southern Africa.

Lois and I flew to Frankfurt on the fourth of December and arrived in Johannesburg on the morning of the sixth. I learned of Mandela’s passing during our layover and did some interviews and filed a report with CBS Radio and KCBS. The network was especially pleased because it had no one in the region.

Before boarding our flight to Windhoek I talked with the network about the possibility of covering the memorial service. The bottom line was, while it wouldn’t pay my travel expenses, it would put me to work if I happened to be in town.

It was an expensive, but easy, decision. I flew back to Johannesburg on Monday and made my way to FNB Stadium Tuesday morning in the steady rain. There were concerns that the weather would prevent people from coming out. That was partially true. More on that later.

With 90 world leaders in attendance I was surprised that there was not more security. There WAS a large police presence but I walked into the stadium without going through any kind of screening.

The first person I met was Sean Pardo. “I think it’s such a great honor to pay our respects and last homage to a great, pious, graceful, gracious and harmonious leader like the father of our nation, Tata Madiba” he said.

He was like many dressed in Mandela t-shirts, carrying the national flag or dressed in color of the African National Congress. Some groups marched into the stadium singing freedom songs. I was inspired. The atmosphere reminded me of Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.

I spent the day interviewing members of the crowd and reporting their comments live for a number of radio stations in the U.S and Canada. I only caught pieces of the speeches but two things from the public announcements stayed with me: one was the huge cheer that went up when the arrival of former South Africa President F. W. deKlerk — who ordered Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 — was announced; the other was the tremendous ovation U.S. President Barack Obama received.

The speeches were long but the rain-soaked crowd didn’t seem to care. The upper decks were full because the lip of the 90,000-seat stadium protected people from the rain. The bottom decks were a sea of umbrellas but the rain was actually a good omen.

“In lots of African cultures and customs rain (at a memorial service) is a symbol that this person was really special,” said Melissa Chavila, who was born in Mali, now lives in South Africa and works as a business researcher and writer. 

“I’ve never seen so much rain in one day in the middle of summer and that, to me, is very symbolic of how significant Madiba was.”

Mandela was indeed significant. It is why so many world leaders came to pay their final respects. Eight of them spoke, including Obama who talked about how he was influenced by Mandela.

“Over thirty years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land,” the President told the crowd.

“ It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities – to others, and to myself – and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better.”

Chavila said Mandela’s ability to unite, to forgive and his desire for reconciliation will benefit all of Africa and the world.

“That is a very important message especially in this day and what we’ve been going through in this global community,” she said.

I have covered news all over the world but it was a big deal to leave my wife on vacation in Namibia and fly to South Africa to cover this historic event.

As a member of the National Association of Black Journalists – and now as its President  — I have worked tirelessly for jobs, promotions and opportunities for NABJ members. We have often criticized our companies for assigning “us” to cover “Black” stories. Often we don’t get a chance to cover the high-profile beats (see White House press pool) or high-profile stories.

But this is one time I can’t complain too much because of all the NABJ members I greeted at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.

It was great seeing Byron Pitts from ABC, Bill Whitaker from CBS, NBC’s Lester Holt, NPR producer Jonathan Blakely, Al Jazeera America’s Karl Bostic and James Blue from Arise TV.

CBS’ Alphonso Van Marsh was at the Mandela home in Soweto as was CNN’s Errol Barnett, a young man who was very impressive. I was hoping to meet him at the stadium but CNN sent in the big guns, Anderson Cooper and Christiane Amanpour.

This is one of those stories that leave you exhausted but exhilarated. I’m glad I came.


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