Ethical conduct is one of the hallmarks of journalism, these principles are the foundation upon an honorable and reliable resource is built. Walter Lippmann once famously stated that the role of journalism is to mediate between the public and political policy. The pursuit of truth has led to a codified canon of journalism that all journalists are expected to abide by. Various organizations have produced their own “codes of journalism” which vary slightly but still contain the same values: accuracy, truth, impartiality, accountability, objectivity and fairness. Journalists must be careful to protect the public when reporting on sensitive topics, such as victims of crime, children’s names, and slander is to be avoided. If the public cannot trust what a journalist is producing, their professional reputation is at stake. There is a strong responsibility to the audience to create content that is informative and factual, otherwise the journalist is doing a grave disservice to the very people they are writing for. Careful attention must be paid to prevent discrimination, sexual orientation, religion and both physical and mental disabilities in reporting. Additionally, all journalists are expected to treat all cases prior to judgment as if all parties are innocent, according to the 1993 Resolution 1003 on the Ethics of Journalism by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The ethics of journalism, when boiled down to the basics, are very simple. They state, be accurate, be fair, be accountable and do no harm. The Society of Professional Journalists has developed a code of ethics that has been revised over the years.
The current code can be found here: Journalism Ethics Code.
The code lists several major topics with additional suggestions under each heading. There is nothing wrong or offensive in the code to bother a good journalist. However, sometimes the story causes an event that might be viewed as a violation.
For example, there is a paragraph that says a journalist should “make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.”
There is not a journalist who would argue with that, but what some might view as a misrepresentation could be the root of the story. The problem or perhaps, the roadblock to seeing that all the items set forth are in code is that there is no journalistic police force. Reporters, editors, photographers, producers and other people involved in news gathering may draw different views about particular incidents, comments or pictures than their colleagues.
Because people see things differently, there is always going to be charges that the press or certain members of the press are being unprofessional and unfair. In some cases, that may be true, but in other situations, the offense cited by some may prove to be invaluable to others trying to understand the story.
Thus, there should be an effort on the part of all journalists to strive for perfection, knowing that as long as humans with different views and understanding of various topics are involved, perfection will never be achieved.
Therefore, it then becomes the responsibility of the reader or viewer to determine if the story is fair or unfair or if the newspaper or broadcast is treating the issue in an appropriate manner.
All professions have certain standards they are expected to meet. Journalists are no different and like lawyers and doctors, they will sometimes make mistakes. They may pay for the error though dismissal, a lawsuit or the uncorrectable damage to his reputation. Thus, journalists try to do the best, like most professions. Sometimes, mistakes are made, and the consequences will have to be faced.
• The basic standards for journalists include:
• Seek Truth and Report It
• Minimize Harm
• Act Independently
• Be Accountable
As noted, these are the basic standards, each of these standards has details accompanying them that can be found on the Society for Professional Journalists website.