Ethics is a philosophical discipline about morality. Media ethics is a set of rules drawn up based on professional values and they define which rules are acceptable and which are unacceptable. Functions, rights and obligations of journalists are compiled in codes of ethics and create guidelines of professional standards. Codes of ethics which aim to defend professional autonomy and public interests have different names in different countries: code of conduct, ethical standards, charter of ethics, et cetera.
Aims of codes of ethics
- To inform society about rules of professional conduct and increase trust towards media;
- To protect consumer rights;
- To improve quality of media and establish good journalistic practice;
- To develop sense of professional solidarity;
- To avoid state interference.
Key principles of codes of ethics
Codes of ethics vary by countries, however, all of them rest on the following key principles:
Accuracy – journalists must take all efforts to ensure that information they disseminate is fair and accurate. They must not disseminate opinions and assumptions as established facts, must not distort information by selecting facts and interpreting subjectively.
Fairness and impartiality – journalists must report controversial issues in a neutral and fair manner, verify facts with at least two independent sources and allow objects of criticism to make comments.
Right to reply – if it is confirmed that a factual error was made, media must immediately publish a correction in a due form.
Confidentiality of sources – availability of information that is important for society rests on the protection of confidentiality of sources. Journalists must protect anonymity of sources.
Unacceptability of discrimination – media must refrain from releasing such material which incites hatred and intolerance on the ground of race, language, sex, religious or ethnic belonging, social and geographic origin, political opinions.
Privacy – individual’s private life, living address, health and personal correspondence are protected. Journalists must observe balance between the freedom of information and a legitimate expectation of a person to privacy.
Children – media must not use prominence or social standing of parents as the only ground for the publication of information about private life of their children. Journalists must not interview children under the age of 16 without a prior consent from their parents or guardians.
Crime – when reporting crime name or other data identifying an individual may only be published when the case is of public interest. A suspect must not be declared a culprit until a court has delivered a verdict of guilty.
Offence and anti-social behavior – media must not release such material that may incite or encourage offence and lead to disorder and anti-social behavior.
Advertisement – advertisement must be clearly separated from editorial material.
Surreptitious recording and misleading – information may be obtained by surreptitious means only when there is a clear public interest and information cannot be obtained otherwise.
Copyright – plagiarism is unacceptable. Journalists must always cite the author of used material.
Personal benefit – Journalists must not use their position for receiving personal benefits that will harm their professional independence.