CBS again impinges on CNET's editorial independence

The Verge | Jim Romenesko

John P. Falcone's CNET story about TV-streaming service Aereo carries an unusual, and prominent, notice three paragraphs in:

Disclosure: CBS, the parent corporation of CNET, is currently in active litigation with Aereo as to the legality of its service. As a result of that conflict of interest, CNET cannot review that service going forward.

CBS had previously barred CNET from giving an award to a Dish Network product at the Consumer Electronics Show because it was in litigation with Dish.

"This is the first time we're seeing that broader policy applied to another company," Tim Carmody writes in The Verge.

CNET and its staff have been put in an extraordinarily difficult position by CBS. They have to prove that what remains of their editorial independence is full and robust. They have to cover news controversies involving their publication and its parent company; these controversies necessarily involve some evaluation of the value of products and competing legal claims. And they have to do it without further antagonizing or embarrassing CBS.

It's not clear if anyone knows how or whether this can be done. This, so far, is how CNET is trying to thread the needle.

"Going forward, I will do everything within my power to prevent this situation from happening again," CNET Reviews Editor-in-Chief Lindsey Turrentine wrote after the Dish debacle, which caused reporter Greg Sandoval to quit.

Unnamed CNET staffers tell Jim Romenesko they were crestfallen when the president and general manager of CBS Interactive said the company wouldn't reverse the policy.

“At first it sounded like it was a policy that just applied to reviews,” says someone who attended the meeting. “But it seems pretty clear that there’s going to be spillover into news.”

CNET writer Declan McCullagh wrote Romenesko an email detailing how journalists at media outlets owned by other companies suing Aereo are able to write about the service. "CBS has the right to set the editorial policies that CNET journalists must abide by," he tells Romenesko. "But I’m not aware of other media companies that have enacted a similar policy." (McCullagh posted his full email to Romenesko on his Google+ page.)

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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