Code of Ethics 2.0
In this time of change in the environment of online media, a challenge is presented to the news publications and writers operating within it to produce news stories that still abide by a code of ethics. Many agree that a dynamic shift needs to be introduced to the traditional code of ethics meant for more traditional news reporting methods. With the advent of citizen journalism through social media platforms online, perhaps more specifications need to be defined in order to sustain the practice of news reporting. Or, more accurately, to adapt the practice to the immediate, participatory, and pervasive environment of new media.
New media presents an environment that is immediate, participatory and collaborative, and pervasive for its users in platforms such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, or live streaming. As such, it enables the quick distribution and sharing of news stories online, whether the stories are reported by professional news publications, or locally by a Snapchatter that happens to be walking by as a crime scene unfolds, or even crowdsourced by publications to local internet-using citizens. Whereas in the past professional news publications dominated the circulation of news stories to consumers, now the flow of information has changed–making the code of ethics that professional journalists stuck by perhaps meaningless to the once-consumers that now hold the power to produce their own “news.”
This calls for constant adjustments and additions to the code of ethics that has since been followed diligently, in order to encompass the common internet user-turned-news-producer in hopes that a common ethical practice of news publishing, now inclusive of citizen and participatory journalism, can be followed. Below is an attempt of such a code of ethics that builds upon traditionally accepted codes, though it is acknowledged that it will continue to change as our news practices change in the future. (Note: the term “writer” has been used to dissociate from traditional views of the “journalist”.)
- Information reported will only be published after fact-checking and verification of sources used. The same process applies to news stories that an individual opts to share via an online platform, so as to not spread the growth of rumour-type content.
- Crowdsourced materials should be included with care, with a commitment to truthfulness in mind. Such material will be described as such and disclosed to the reader.
- Writers will not manipulate, omit, or embellish sourced information for the purposes of advancing one’s own agenda to viewers.
- Mistakes in an article will be corrected promptly, or if a news story has been updated with new details or changes that contradict a previous version of a story. (See Transparency)
- Sources from online will be considered in the same way as sources garnered in more traditional methods, but will be subjugated to lengthier methods of verification and fact-checking where possible, due to the susceptibility of online mediums to hold fake or untruthful information. This is recognised as a result of widespread access to such mediums that may be consulted as possible sources by regular citizens, that careful measures should be taken with online sources (such as Wikipedia, which can be edited by anyone). Sources online that cannot be verified will not be published.
Fairness of Representation
- The rights of people, whether subjects or readers or writers, are respected in news.
- Writers will give the subject of a story time to respond if it is a criticism or an accusation being reported.
- Where possible, writers will aim to represent all sides of a story.
- Writers will not discount the news story’s representation of the event by lingering on a subject’s aspects of identification (i.e. gender, race, sexual orientation, physical dis/ability etc.) in order to avoid stereotypes or unproductive assumptions in reader interpretations of the story, unless it is the focus of the story itself.
- If the writer holds a bias or a particular viewpoint within a story such as in opinion or editorial pieces, it should be clearly conveyed for the general audience’s understanding so that the position of the writer themselves is clear and will not act as a vehicle to manipulate and sway readers towards a particular opinion (which may cause the unfair and unwarranted dissemination of a particular view).
- If endorsed by particular parties such as companies or advertisers, it will be disclosed in the article.
- Writers should take care to only support endorsements that generally hold favourable values promoting public interests, that would be supported by own news publications.
- Content should not be compromised by the interests of such parties in influencing the essence of a news story. If a writer is paid to share particular content, it should be disclosed to readers.
- Stories themselves are not copyrighted, but one should not take words used to convey them as expressed by another publication or writer in ways that would constitute as plagiarism. News stories discovered from another source will be attributed to that source as the initial publication of such a story, although it may be understood and clarified that the story could have originated from elsewhere (supported by fact-checking and verification).
- The identity of a reporter should be revealed to subjects involved in a news story, unless circumstances deem it impossible to find out information crucial to public interest if revealed.
- Sources of information will be disclosed, unless the need to disclose such an identification in light of public interest is outweighed by the need for anonymity of the source (such as if the source is a victim of a sex offender, known for repeat offences, on the loose).
- If the publication or writer is asked to share information about a confidential source for legal purposes and/or security purposes, there is an emphasis on the journalist’s “promise” to the source. The writer should make clear the extent of his/her “promise” to uphold confidential information when engaging with the source, including responses to legal action. These “promises” should be upheld no matter what, so it is crucial to define them on one’s own terms.
- Writers should take care to separate their identities online as either journalists or a more general internet user (such as in forums or as a member of an online group) when commenting on topics such as politics or social justice issues, as to not compromise the professionalism, authenticity, or credibility of the writer that should be vouching for fairness and accuracy of the news (see Fairness). This can be an exception if the writer is partaking in an advocacy news project that promotes certain groups or ideologies (such as feminist news stories about the progress of abortion laws), in which it is clearly conveyed that the story is advocating for such a topic as a departure from more traditional news reporting methods.
- Corrections to errors in a story will be made promptly, with indications to note that edits have been made to a previous version.
- Articles online will not be deleted by request from any parties, unless it poses an endangerment to public security, or is demanded legally or by the state.
Right to Privacy (and Right to Knowledge)
- The public reserves the right to know about and share events that may have impacts on their interests, whether it be (such as, but not limited to) public safety and wellbeing, political, economic, or technological.
- At the same time, subjects who are criticised or accused also have a right to privacy and a fair trial, and it should be recognised that there will be clashes between the public’s right to know and the individual’s right to privacy. In such a case, one should weigh the consequences of each from the lens of morality, fairness, and rationality and publish accordingly. It is acknowledged that it may be difficult to sustain a consistent method of compromise between the rights, so it should be upheld that each case is viewed individually unless proven to be connected through extensive research and verification.
- Similarly, rights to privacy of people who may, for example, be victims of an event or are famous and recognised as celebrities are respected. A line should be drawn between extensively researching and publishing sensitive information about an individual, and researching and publishing information demanded by public interest. This should be determined ultimately by an individual’s values as a person with moral and principled obligations, above their role as a journalist when choosing an appropriate topic or event for a news story while keeping in mind public safety and possible ethical violations. (For example, this conflict may be seen in the case of Princess Diana being chased by the media resulting in her death, or a fictional situation where a person may be found plotting against public security but wants to keep his/her identity hidden.) (See Transparency)
- Similarly, sensitivity should be adopted with regards to “leaked” content online. The writer should consider from a rational and moral standpoint as to whether such content should be published or shared, with emphasis on public security and wellbeing.