Amid growing criticism, the executive producer of KTLA-TV’s “Morning News” defended the show’s decision last week to accept free accommodations in exchange for broadcasting its morning program from the newly renovated Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena.
Rich Goldner acknowledged Tuesday that three of his four anchors -- Michaela Pereira, Sam Rubin and Carlos Amezcua -- were given free rooms the night before broadcasting live from the posh hotel, but said there was no breach of journalistic ethics as suggested by a local newspaper. The fourth anchor, weatherman Mark Kriski, did not stay at the hotel.
“We’re not trying to hide anything here, and the viewer knows that,” said Goldner, whose morning show falls under the direction of the station’s news division. “We try to acknowledge whatever the service [provided] is, but the important thing to remember here is that we are always in control of the content.”
Goldner conceded the on-air personalities did not specifically mention that the rooms were provided free. The KTLA team stayed in deluxe guestrooms, which on a weeknight would cost $300 to $400, according to the Ritz-Carlton website.
The Pasadena Star-News this weekend reported the arrangement between KTLA and Ritz-Carlton, which also reportedly included free wine and chocolates for the anchors.
Even so, the broadcast from the hotel conformed to the morning show’s mission of highlighting new, unique and interesting aspects about Southern California communities, Goldner said. “People often come to us with these things. We don’t go to them,” he said. “If there’s something we don’t like or feel is inappropriate, we won’t put it on the air.... We’re a news show.”
KTLA-TV is owned by the Chicago-based Tribune Co, as is the Los Angeles Times. The media company’s broadly written code of business conduct states employees should avoid circumstances in which a conflict of interest may be actual, potential or even perceived.
News officials with other local stations declined to comment, saying it was inappropriate to criticize competitors.
But Ron Fineman a web-based media critic and former broadcast journalist who covers local television, said KTLA violated commonly held journalistic standards. “That is simply wrong ... and shows a sad lack of understanding of news ethics.”
Fineman addressed such ethical questions in a 2001 interview he conducted for his website with KTLA anchor Rubin about press junkets in which big companies pick up the tab for journalists. “If, say, Paramount wants to spend $2,500 to send me to New York for the weekend, so I can talk to Eddie Murphy ... well, why not? It never affects my coverage or reviews. “
Every medium has its ethical “squishy” areas, said Kelly McBride, an ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a Florida school for professional journalists. “You can’t write a rule for every possible situation,” McBride said. “But this case doesn’t really seem gray to me. If a story comes out of the news division, there’s strict protocols, and one of those is taking freebies for coverage is over the line.”