Yahoo and the responsibilities of a media company

Yahoo has been accused of handing over email and personal registration details of a dissident journalist, Shi Tao, to the Chinese authorities, by none other than Reporters Without Borders. Rebuilding Media has this to say about it:

If the charges are true, it’s a telling failure on Yahoo’s part. Media Companies know what it means to exert cultural weight and know that sometimes you have to make decisions that are bad for business simply because they are the right thing to do ethically. Or at least, we hope media companies understand that — sometimes the modern media landscape does shake that faith a trifle.

On a fundamental level, tech companies still don’t realize that as they semi-kinda-really-sorta-maybe-yep-it’s-true morph into media companies they must assume certain profound social responsibilities. These responsibilities include not outing dissident voices to the authorities, no matter how good it is for business.

Good point. The best media companies (a group in which I include, needless to say, the Guardian) have a whole set of rules, either explicit or implicit, under which they operate. They could be rules about fair reporting. They could be injunctions like CP Scott’s famous dictum “comment is free, but facts are sacred”, which is less of a rule and more an unbreakable truth which Guardian journalists have drummed into them. It could even be legal rules about libel and contempt of court (how many lawyers at Yahoo worry about libel and contempt, I wonder?). Or it could be non-specific rules of journalism, such as never reveal your source. Or it could be an awareness that part of your brand as a media company is the extent to which people trust you to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.