Statement on Ethics
Past the Popcorn generally adheres to the standards set out in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. Our writers, however, function as critics and commentators—not, properly speaking, as journalists.
The Society states that “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.” From that standpoint, “the duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.”
As the Los Angeles Times’ Code of Ethics notes, however, the job of the critic is “to express opinions on the merits of creative works.” This is by nature a subjective task which is neither comprehensive nor fair, to be perfectly honest. Film reviews, particularly those published on the day of a film’s release, are one person’s first—if considered and somewhat informed—impressions of a work of art that, if fully analyzed, might require two or three viewings plus an assessment of other critical opinions. For this reason, major media outlets (like the Times) typically distinguish between journalists and critics, and have certain relaxed standards for the latter.
So while the SPJ states that journalists should “refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity” (italics ours), the Times notes that “critics may accept free admission to events they attend in order to write reviews.” Many major newspapers, however (particularly those not in major media markets like New York and Los Angeles), specifically forbid film critics to accept all-expenses-paid invitations to film junkets—promotional events to which critics are flown for a screening, and at which they are housed, fed, pampered, and granted exclusive or group access to stars, directors, producers, and others associated with a film’s production.
In the interest of full disclosure, PTP feels compelled to note that all advance coverage of films is dependent on privileged access to screenings, promotional materials, and interviews. Only in rare cases could the job of the critic be described as being conducted in a manner “accessible to the public.” So when the Times stipulates that staff “may not accept free or discounted transportation or accommodations unless the same discount is available to the public,” it’s not surprising to find an addendum: “Exceptions may arise when access to a news event or source can be gained no other way.” This is often the case with junkets. Access to filmmakers may, at times, only be possible through junketeering.
Make no mistake—privileged access to the filmmaking business is a seductive and potentially corrupting influence. But at PTP, we believe it is possible to maintain objectivity and integrity in the face of such influence; and not only is it possible, it is necessary, given the critic’s dependence on such privileged access. All of PTP’s Senior Writers are experienced with press tours, promotional screenings, and junkets—and all know that poor movies are poor movies, regardless of how or where those movies were screened.
Given these realities, PTP’s policy is to: