Friday, 9 July 2010

CNN Twitter sacking raises difficult corporate questions

The sacking of CNN journalist Octavia Nasr, the editor responsible for the network's Middle East coverage, over a Twitter post on her own page, in which she expressed her sadness over the death of a Lebanese cleric she described as a ‘Hezbollah giant’, raises some difficult questions for all companies whose staff like to communicate via social networking sites.

Now if there is one place in the world where a journalist (or for that matter any of us) needs to tread carefully it is the Middle East, rife as it is with claim and counter-claim. It is often exceptionally difficult to get the bottom of what is going on or who started what – witness the recent boarding of the aid ship which attempted to breach the Gaza blockade. Journalist impartiality is therefore a vital currency.

It was unquestionably an error of judgement on Nasr’s part to post what she did, in the process compromising her journalistic integrity and almost certainly terminating any possibility that she can be regarded as impartial on Middle Eastern issues. However, sacking her, after 20 years service, seems a draconian measure when a more thought-through response would possibly have been to move her to another region or assign her to other duties.

As one of my colleagues has just pointed out to me, it is often corporate policy, at Sky News for example, for journalists to have Twitter pages and encourage them to air their instantaneous views on the breaking news. For that matter, many of us working in PR now have our own Twitter and blog pages upon which we regularly give vent to our own thoughts and opinions.

There are certainly people far more qualified than me, not least within our own digital division (little plug!) to comment on corporate best practice in this area, but I can’t help thinking that organisations are asking their employees to try and walk an increasingly difficult line between the personal and professional.

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