Ethics in reporting the work of think tanks

24 November 2020
SERIES OTT Conference 2020: the 3rd online event 14 items

[The summary of this session was written by Marília Ferreira da Cunha, Digital Communications Officer at On Think Tanks.]

We have made huge improvements in financial transparency. But more needs to be done in other forms of transparency. This involves how think tanks, thinktankers and their work are presented in the media. Laura Zommer reflects on how media organisations should do it – ethically.

Laura Zommer (Chequeado), hosted by Keith Burnet (Chatham House).

Key takeaways

Laura Zommer discussed how media organisations and think tanks should work using an ethical and transparent approach.

Laura highlighted a few guiding principles she uses on her own work at Chequeado. The most important one is to address conflicts of interest. All media organisations should ask think tanks to inform them about conflicts of interest. If the media asks that from all other governmental and public institutions, think tanks should also do it and be accountable to their specific audiences and also the general public.

Opening up the discussions around what think tanks do, who funds them and how, why have think tanks chosen a specific research agenda is crucial not only to ensure credibility and trust but also to be an active actor in the policy world and not merely reacting to complaints or situations where there are conflicts of interests or claims of lack of transparency. 

Think tanks that are well established are more prone to be on the spotlight, but Laura notes that this applies to all think tanks. So it is important to have procedures and credibility systems in place to be prepared to inform about activities, funding, and current partnerships.

Laura also reminded us that collaboration between media and think tanks was always very important, but the pandemic has shown that it is even more important now, considering trust, credibility, and transparency. She briefly referred to the myriad of tools that help cooperation, decreasing linguistic and geographical distances. Laura reminded us that disinformation and bad information are going to continue to exist, so it is important to invest more money on education about critical thinking.

From the chatbox


Fact-checking count tops 300 for the first time from Duke Reporters’ Lab

Signatories of IFCN code of principles


If you have a conflict of interest and you mention it then how valid will the think tanks’ report be? Would our judgement be compromised based on this conflict of interest; and could this affect how the public then perceive the work and what the think tank publishes?

While transparency in funding seems like a clear ask, would you also ask think tanks to be more transparent in their ideology? Some think tanks claim to not have an agenda / political viewpoint. What do you think of this claim?

In your opinion, what is the best way to engage with a journalist or media house? 

Watch the video to find out how Laura answered these questions.