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Module 9: Le journalisme et la presse libre

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Responsabilités des journalistes

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Responsibilities of Journalists

Self-Regulation

Journalists and news organizations can sometimes make mistakes.

Courts offer aggrieved individuals remedies. Law¬suits for libel, invasion of privacy, breach of confidence, copyright violation, and infliction of emotional distress are just a few types of civil action one can bring against the press.

However, there is always the risk that harsh judicial remedies, even those involving journalistic misconduct, will inhibit the future free and open publication of controversial views. Self-regulatory mechanisms offer a valuable alternative.

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Press Councils

Press councils, which typically operate as tribunals that consider and adjudicate complaints about media conduct, can take many forms. Some are legislatively mandated. Many are funded by the news media. Others are underwritten by charitable foundations or nongovernmental organizations, multilateral organizations such as UNESCO, or even voluntary contributions from the public.

Press councils can have national, regional, or local jurisdiction. The members of the tribunal usually include representatives of the press and of the public, including academics, and, sometimes, of the government. Those who choose to submit their complaints to a press council for resolution are usually obliged to waive any right to pursue a law suit.

Ombudsman

Also known as, readers’ representatives or public editors, ombudsmen act as liaisons between a news organization’s staff and the public. Typically, they field complaints, investigating alleged ethical breaches.

They encourage staff to respond to readers’ questions, and they explain how and why news organizations make their decisions. They may write a column, or they may simply handle complaints on an individual basis. Even though ombudsmen are generally paid by the news organization, they should be assured autonomy and independence.

But most codes of ethics, instead, offer voluntary guidelines to help journalists make morally and professionally sound decisions. Codes thus encourage greater accountability to readers and viewers.

Responsibilities of Journalists

Codes of Ethics

Most associations of journalists, and many individual news organizations, have adopted codes of ethics.

Terms vary. Some codes are binding, and violation of a provision can lead to dismissal by an employer or expulsion from a professional journalism society

Core Principles

Core Principles

Voluntary Guide

Voluntary Guide

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Voluntary Guide

By its own terms, the SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists), code is a voluntary guide to ethical behavior. It states:

“The code is intended not as a set of rules but as a guide for ethical decision-making. It is not, nor can it be, under the US First Amendment legally enforceable.”

The SPJ has a National Ethics Committee, consisting of members from throughout the United States with a special interest and expertise in ethics. Although the committee does not adjudicate specific complaints, it does pro¬vide guidance and opinions to journalists and members of the public.

Core Principles

Some codes of ethics are extremely detailed. Others offer more general principles.

A good example is the Code of Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the largest voluntary association of U.S. news reporters and editors. Its code encourages journalists to abide by four core principles:

1. Seek truth and report it
2. Minimize harm
3. Act independently
4. Be accountable
For Example

For Example

For Example

Principles

Principles

Accuracy

Accuracy

Use of Sources

Use of Sources

Responsibilities of Journalists

Codes of Ethics

Ethics codes aim not to impose legally enforceable standards but, instead, to offer journalists a framework to help them decide what to report and how to report it.

No code of ethics can answer every question, and good ones probably raise more questions than they answer.

Reasonable people, even journalists themselves, may disagree about how a specific ethical standard should apply in a particular situation.

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Use of Sources

Journalists must be cautious and determine that a source is credible. This includes ascertaining a source’s point of view or what his agenda might be.

Ideally, reporters should consult multiple sources to obtain diverse perspectives on a subject. And they should make every effort to verify the accuracy of a source’s information whenever possible.

Sometimes a source has valid reasons to request, or demand, that his identity be kept secret. When possible, a journalist should resist making this promise.
Some news organizations require that an editor review and approve any promise of confidentiality.

Accuracy

Of course, a journalist should make every effort to verify a story before reporting it. But facts that alter original perceptions may only be learned over time, after publication. Here, a responsible news organization publishes a correction or clarification as quickly as possible.

News organizations should also take great care to assure that headlines, teasers, sound bites, or quotations are not only accurate but do not oversimplify the facts or take them out of context. Photographs, audio, and video may need to be cropped or edited to address considerations of space or time but not in a way that misleads or misrepresents.


Principles

Most journalism codes emphasize that telling the truth and being accurate is essential. “Seek truth and report it” is the first core principle of the Society of Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics.

The British Editors’ Code of Practice also lists accuracy as its first principle and states, “The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.”

For Example

Should a journalist lampoon a name or image sacred to a particular ethnic or religious group? This is perfectly legal in many countries. But does it contribute to robust public discussion or, instead, foment hatred and promote conflict?

Should the press publish classified information, especially where government claims that doing so will damage its efforts to protect the public? Would this be the act of an independent government watchdog or of one needlessly endangering public health and safety?

Responsibilities of Journalists

Objectivity in the News

Journalists in the United States strive to achieve objectivity. This model has been criticized in recent years. Some question whether objectivity is desirable.

They suggest that true objectivity essentially has no moral compass and treats all facts and all viewpoints as equally deserving of respect.

No one approaches any story with complete objectivity. As a reporter begins researching, it is likely that she will have a definite bias toward some aspects of the story. The goal is to set aside those prejudices and to move forward.

Reporting

Reporting

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Reporting Information

Suppose a suspect has been arrested and charged with a crime. In many countries, an accused person enjoys a presumption of innocence until tried and convicted. Yet law enforcement personnel often want to convince the public that the person in custody really is the perpetrator of a crime, and will encourage reporting of information that strengthens their case.

But, to the extent the law permits, the journalist should seek independently, to verify the accuracy of the information and to search for credible conflicting information from other reliable sources. She should resist simply parroting the theories of the authorities as if they are proven fact.

Responsibilities of Journalists

Diversity of Views

In many countries, a partisan press is the norm. Readers and viewers in these nations may expect that a news organization will approach topics from its
own particular point of view and select
the subjects that it covers accordingly.

They also know that competing news organizations may advocate different perspectives and opinions.

Opinion columns and editorial commentary should be clearly labeled and should neither distort nor falsify the facts that underlie the opinions.

Diverse Voices

Diverse Voices

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Diverse Voices

Journalists should seek out diverse voices and afford competing and, even unpopular, views an opportunity to be heard. They should support freedom of speech for all.

News organizations should provide a forum for robust debate on issues vital to their community. Letters to the editor and online readers’ comments are two ways to encourage public participation. But news organizations also should make every effort to keep the discussion civil and to discourage the dissemination of falsehoods or pejorative attacks on others.

Responsibilities of Journalists

Cultural Sensitivity

Censorship

Censorship

Journalists should not reinforce stereotypes. The practice is intellectually lazy and can lead to misperceptions and inaccuracy.

They should consider carefully whether it is necessary to identify an individual by race, religion, sexual orientation, or similar characteristics.

Journalists should remember, and be sensitive to different cultural traditions. For example, adherents of some religions forbid photographing individuals.

Loyalty

Loyalty

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Loyalty

The journalist’s highest loyalty should be to the public. This means avoiding conflicts of interest that could compromise her ability to act independently and to inform the public free from other influences and considerations.

Journalists should avoid accepting gifts, fees, tickets, travel, or other goods or services from news sources. Be wary of travel junkets that are little more than thinly disguised attempts to persuade reporters to write enthusiastically about a particular destination or subject.

Just as journalists should not take payments intended to influence news coverage, they should not offer bribes or payments to news subjects.

Censorship

On the other hand, “cultural values” are sometimes used as a cloak for censorship. Repressive regimes may cite social values when their real intent is to restrict freedom of expression and to silence dissenting views.

The ethical journalist should challenge attempts to suppress the truth, whatever justification is offered.

Conflict

Conflict

Conflict

Skeptical

Skeptical

Accountability

Accountability

Reports

Reports

Responsibilities of Journalists

Reporting on Government

Reporting on government raises particularly difficult challenges. The public expects journalists to act as watchdogs, guarding against improper government behavior.

During war, crisis, or emergency, journalists may feel conflicting loyalties. Sometimes they are asked to report propaganda as truth in the interest of protecting national security.

These are difficult calls. The answers are not always easy. One guiding principle is that a journalist’s loyalty is to the public, not a particular government or regime.

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Acknowledge

News organizations should invite readers to comment and encourage them to raise concerns and complaints. Ideally, a dedicated, impartial staff member should acknowledge and address these complaints.

Also, all news organizations make mistakes from time to time. They should strive to minimize these by establishing fact-checking procedures throughout the editorial process. But when errors do occur, they should be acknowledged promptly and corrected prominently.

Accountability

An important part of a journalist’s job is to hold those in positions of authority accountable to the public. News organizations have a similar ethical obligation of accountability.

The news media are more transparent than many businesses because their work product is constantly available for scrutiny. Journalists regularly critique and challenge each other’s work. And in most countries, the consumer has many news choices and can reject those whose standards fall short.

Skeptical

Governments may be tempted to suppress critical reporting by claiming it could damage public safety or national security. Reporters can respect these claims, but they should also be skeptical.

They can give government officials an opportunity to explain why a particular story might endanger lives or a specific national interest. But journalists should scrutinize those in power and hold them to account. Sometimes, the most patriotic thing a journalist can do is question authority.

Conflict

When editorial decisions conflict with government wishes, news organizations can be criticized for substituting their own judgment for that of elected officials.

This can arise when the government claims that there is a compelling need for secrecy about intelligence and law enforcement matters. On the other hand, journalists may also be condemned for withholding information or accused of delaying publication for partisan reasons.

Responsibilities of Journalists

New Media Ethics

Many journalists, both traditional and new media practitioners, are turning to social media, such as Facebook, or tapping into YouTube or other sites that allow individuals to post content.

These media can provide story ideas and useful leads.

They can even allow a journalist to interact with a community or to promote a journalism brand, by encouraging readers to visit a news organization’s Web site.

Challenges

Challenges

Recommendations

Recommendations

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Recommendations

Some organizations recommend that a reporter maintain separate profession¬al and personal Facebook pages. Journalists should remember that friending a confidential source on Facebook, may reveal that source’s identity to the world.
They also should recall that decisions to friend or to join a fan page may be construed as evidence of bias.

Finally, nothing on Facebook or similar sites is really private. Once something has been posted to the social media, there is really no way to take it back or to stop others from using it in whatever way they choose.

Social Media Challenges

But social media pose new challenges for the ethical journalist. Verifying postings can be difficult. Reporters should make clear when they utilize social media sites as the basis for a story.

They should exercise special caution when using information concerning minors, which could damage someone’s reputation, or when using information that someone else claims to own, such as a trade secret.

The laws of libel, privacy, and copyright still apply in cyberspace.

Responsibilities of Journalists

New Media Ethics

Techniques

Techniques

Those who publish in cyberspace face additional challenges.

Bloggers, unlike mainstream journalists, often publish anonymously or use a pseudonym. In some societies, those holding controversial or dissenting views, withhold their identity as a matter of personal safety.

But those who speak anonymously still have an ethical obligation to be truthful, accurate, and as transparent as possible about conflicts of interest.

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Techniques

Many bloggers encourage readers to engage in the discussion and to add comments to their sites. They may invite user generated content and post it on their blogs. They may link to external sites. And they may excerpt others’ work for the purpose of commentary and criticism.

All these techniques add vitality to a blog. But bloggers should consider whether they will attempt to verify links and to moderate postings made by others, as well as whether they will establish policies for certain content types, such as sexually explicit video or personal attacks. It is wise to post these policies prominently and to apply them consistently.