This document works as a guide for journalists, who can refer to it when making decisions regarding ethical problems related to journalism. This document will include ethical codes for all types of journalists like citizen journalists, professionals and social media users. The code for each group varies slightly, but the general guidelines remain the same.
Journalists must be able to link their story up to a primary source. This requires them to be able to link their sources all the way to a primary source; someone who experienced the documented incident firsthand. It should not matter how many secondary sources one has to go through, or how many people the story passed through before reaching the journalist, but the journalist should be able to verify the story with a primary source. The primary source, itself, must be able to verify the story with some sort of proof and it must be reliable. The person should be of good character, and should be studied by the journalist for his intentions in conveying the story; is he just relaying what he saw; is he attempting to attack a political party or is he attempting to get achieve fame by telling the story. All these problems can break other ethical codes listed below like bias and privacy. Accuracy must also be enforced on social media users, who tend to report whatever they hear, unverified, contributing to the spreading of false rumours and stories. Quotes should be quoted word for word, misquotations can create large problems in some cases.
A journalist’s job is to report a story. He must be careful not to bring his own opinions and feelings into the story while reporting it, so he gives off a completely biased story. This is especially crucial for professional journalists, amateur journalists who spread news through social media and infamous blogs tend to report stories with their views blended into it, so these restraints are not very tight on amateurs. Making up facts, or exaggerating them while reporting news is unacceptable, by any type of journalist. When taking interviews and polls, one must include a varied group of people of different ages, races and sex, to avoid any bias in their opinions, and include a balanced result of these interviews and polls in the final story.
Journalists must respect the privacy of people they interview or get information from. If anything is said in confidence, or the journalist discovers something about a person affected by the incident being reported, that the said person does not want the journalist to know, the journalist must not include it in their report. The journalist must be persistent in getting information, but there is a fine line that must not be crossed, and the journalist should not push for information that the subject is unwilling to reveal. This rule goes for all types of journalists, as privacy is essential to respect, and even social media users have responsibilities regarding it.
One must be careful to include only free and available information in their story. Images that don’t have public access should not be included, and information that has not given permission to be copied should be left out as well. Plagiarism should not just be frowned upon, it must be banned altogether. Information provided from others should also be checked, incase it might be copyrighted. A special eye should be kept for sources demanding payment of information, this should be avoided at all costs. Journalists should not have to pay for information from sources in any way.
A journalist must foresee the effects his story will have on society. Will the story reveal a hidden truth that could benefit society? Perhaps revealing the truth could harm society. Would the story direct unwanted attention to someone. One must attempt to minimize the harm done by a story, and at the end, the journalist must decide whether a story is ethical to publish or not, regarding the effects it may have on people or organizations. Empathy, thus, is a crucial characteristic of a journalist, he must be able to empathize with subjects of the story. Social media users would do less damage than professional journalists, however the law still binds them.
Professional journalists and even citizen journalists must be careful not to be influenced by advertisers or third parties, and should be careful not to mix news with advertising. Bribes should be avoided, and threats should lead to the shutting down of the story. These outer influences can only increase the bias from one perspective of the story. A journalist must have the quality of restraint for this reason.
Stories that contain adult content, mainly for professional journalist, should put up warnings at the beginning of the story. When the target audience has a large percentage of students included, this content should be avoided or censored altogether. Adult content can include violence, implied violence, sexual references, profanity and images showing nudity, blood or violence. The images, more than the words and their implications should be cautioned for. Scary or triggering images and sentences should be looked out for as well, anything that could mentally damage a child.
Racism, Homophobia and Political Correctness
Professional journalists and citizen journalists must be careful to use terms that are considered politically correct by their target audience. This would obviously vary from country to country, maybe even city to city. Using the accepted words to describe a race or a gender identification is very important. They must also be careful not to stereotype any groups of peoples in any way, nor to make unsupported assumptions about them. Physical and mental disabilities, when being covered or even mentioned, should also be referred to in an acceptable way, with the right description of the disability or the disabled person being used rather than offensive terms. The journalist must be well versed in what is correct and not correct, or must have a set of rules to refer to when deciding how to phrase a description.