As a journalist, being ethical is crucial but not simple. Being accurate in telling the truth is the most important principle to me. The readers/listeners/viewers need to be certain that the information is correct in order to build a relationship of trust. Here is a set of guidelines that appear to be most important to me.
To come up with this list, I have used various sources.
The New York Times’ Ethical Journalism Handbook, the NPR’s Ethics Handbook, the Canadian Association of Journalist’s Ethics Guidelines and The Ethical Journalist textbook from Gene Foreman.
- Personal relations with sources:
Sources cannot be family members, close friends or a romantic relationship. It is ok to be friendly with a source and maintain a good relationship with the latter but it cannot be a personal friendship.
- No bribes:
Don’t accept gifts or money from parties of a story. Don’t ask for gifts, money or favors.
No political affiliation. No participation in marches. No participation in any board of trustees. No stock in a certain company. Report the truth even if it conflicts with various public and private interests, such as sources, governments and advertisers. Report crimes and misconducts. No favored treatments. Don’t report about subjects in which I have financial or other interests. Don’t show a report before it’s published.
Respect the rights of people mentioned in the news. Give all parties a chance to speak. Avoid stereotypes about gender, ethnicity, age, religion, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status. Keep biases out of the story. Give the benefit of the doubt to a suspect before he or she received a fair trial.
- Minimize harm:
Don’t do any more harm than necessary. Treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving respect. It is ok to omit some details if it’s news value doesn’t justify the harm.
Verify all facts. Verify identities and backgrounds of sources. Seek documentation to support testimonies of sources. Always attribute a fact to its source. When mentioning or quoting something/someone, always make sure to keep it in context. Take full responsibility for the work done.
Fairness and reliability of the reporting. Serve public interest. Clearly identify opinions. Don’t mislead the public. When a mistake is made, it is immediately corrected in a transparent way.
Report stories thoroughly. Tell stories in a clear and comprehensive way. Do all the background research to get the context of the story. Give all parties a chance to speak. If there are areas of uncertainty, say it.
Corrections are made transparently. Introduce myself as a journalist and share my intentions. Identify sources by their names unless there is a clear reason to protect their anonymity. When anonymous sources, identify them as accurately as possible with a job title for example. Credit original source if part of the content is not mine.
- Promises to sources:
When promised anonymity to a source, the promise will be kept.
I think guidelines or rules are a good way to start an ethical thinking. The rule-based thinking can be very help full when the decision I have to make is so complex that I can’t figure out a way to solve the problem and it’s hard to go when you’re playing by the rules.
Unfortunately, the rules can’t cover everything, that’s why I find useful to also use the three other theories. I am convinced that minimizing harm is crucial in any ethical decisions but it is also necessary to be tough and not be afraid of exposing people. It is all about finding the right balance, just like in Aristotle’s theory of the Golden Mean.
I have never really faced a major ethical choice in my student journalist career but I have chosen to highlight these specific guidelines because I feel like good journalism couldn’t be done without them.
I feel like some of these guidelines are true to good journalism but also true to being a good citizen, family member or friend. If I had to pick three of these guidelines that apply to my private life, I would probably chose minimizing harm, fairness and transparency. I believe that by using these, I can sleep soundly at night and I wouldn’t want the work I’m doing for my job to be any different.
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