With its ratings tanking, ESPN issues new guidelines concerning political commentary
ESPN said its on-air talent “should refrain in any public-facing forum from taking positions on political or social issues, candidates, or office holders." The network also said that any commentary should relate to sports and on-air talent “should refrain from overt partisanship.”
“We have the convergence of a politically charged environment and all these new technologies coming together at once.
“Based on that, we wanted the policy to reflect the reality of the world today. There are people talking about politics in ways we have not seen before, and we’re not immune from that," Craig Bengtson, ESPN’s vice president and managing editor of news gathering and reporting, said.
“Given the intense interest in the most recent presidential election and the fact subsequent political and social discussions often intersected with the sports world, we found it to be an appropriate time to review our guidelines,” Patrick Stiegman, ESPN’s vice president of global digital content and the chairman of the company’s internal Editorial Board, said.
“We wanted to err on the side of transparency and trust with our reporting,” Stiegman said, “but also give our columnists and commentators the freedom to discuss topics relevant to those sports fans who visit our platforms, even if the issues are political or social in nature.”
Here are some of the new guidlines ESPN expects from its on-air talent:
1. “At ESPN, our reputation and credibility with viewers, readers and listeners are paramount. Related to political and social issues, our audiences should be confident our original reporting of news is not influenced by political pressures or personal agendas.”
2. “Original news reports should not include statements of support, opposition or partisanship related to any social issue, political position, candidate or office holder.”
3. “Writers, reporters, producers and editors directly involved in ‘hard’ news reporting, investigative or enterprise assignments and related coverage should refrain in any public-facing forum from taking positions on political or social issues, candidates or office holders.”
4. “Outside of ‘hard’ news reporting, commentary related to political or social issues, candidates or office holders is appropriate on ESPN platforms consistent with these guidelines.”
5. “The topic should be related to a current issue impacting sports. This condition may vary for content appearing on platforms with broader editorial missions -- such as The Undefeated, FiveThirtyEight and espnW. Other exceptions must be approved in advance by senior editorial management.”
6. “The presentation should be thoughtful and respectful. We should offer balance or recognize opposing views, as warranted. We should avoid personal attacks and inflammatory rhetoric.”
7. “All interviews, features, enterprise efforts or produced pieces involving candidates must first be approved by senior management. This is to ensure a coordinated and fair effort, and includes considerations as to location, interviewer, timing and format.”
“I don’t think people are turning us on to hear us talk about social and political issues. When we can make a connection with sports, we should do so and do it smartly," Bengtson said.