CNET was put in an awkward situation Thursday when their parent company CBS forced them to pull one of their nominated "Best of CES" products because of an impending lawsuit. This is a story full of lawsuits, conflicts of interest, and journalism ethics. Are you excited yet? Good.
So, CNET nominates Dish Network's Hopper with Sling DVR for its Best of CES awards Wednesday evening. At some point in the 24 hours before CNET revealed the winners, their parent company CBS intervened saying CNET couldn't nominate a company involved in a lawsuit with CNET's parent company. CBS, along with many other major networks, are suing Dish for a DVR feature that lets viewers skip advertising during recordings. CNET falls under CBS Interactive, on one side of the company, while CBS Broadcasting, the other side, is involved in the Dish lawsuit. Either way, word came from on high to pull the Hopper from contention.
CNET was forced to add this note to their glowing CES review of Dish's Hopper DVR:
Editors' note: The Dish Hopper with Sling was removed from consideration for the Best of CES 2013 awards due to active litigation involving our parent company CBS Corp. We will no longer be reviewing products manufactured by companies with which we are in litigation with respect to such product.
CNET defended the policy on Twitter because it only applies to products entangled in "active litigation." Dish CEO and President Joe Clayton didn't wast an opportunity to rake CBS over the coals while defending CNET's ability to praise his product, though:
We are saddened that CNET’s staff is being denied its editorial independence because of CBS’ heavy-handed tactics. This action has nothing to do with the merits of our new product. Hopper with Sling is all about consumer choice and control over the TV experience. That CBS, which owns CNET.com, would censor that message is insulting to consumers.
This now becomes an ethical question. Shouldn't CNET be freely allowed to give out their awards based on the merit of a product as seen and judged through the clear eyes of their editorial board without interference from the higher ups? The short answer is "yes," while the longer answer is "welcome to real world, son."