Journalistic Ethics

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics enjoins journalists to:

  • Seek Truth and Report It. This includes fact-checking, not intentionally distorting information, identifying sources, avoiding stereotypes, and supporting the open exchange of opinions.
  • Minimize Harm. This includes demonstrating compassion for sources and subjects of stories and protecting the privacy of individuals. Interestingly, the code makes no prohibition to interfere with national security.
  • Act Independently. This includes avoiding conflicts of interest and corruption, and resisting the attempts of advertisers and special interests groups to influence the news.
  • Be Accountable. This includes correcting mistakes, inviting criticism, and exposing unethical practices of the media.

The Al-Jazeera Code of Ethics, here duplicated in full, organizes its tenets in a way that explicitly acknowledges conflicts between various journalistic motivations. In particular, note the last item, which has no counterpart in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. The Code reads as follows:

Being a globally oriented media service, Al-Jazeera shall determinedly adopt the following code of ethics in pursuance of the vision and mission it has set for itself:

  1. Adhere to the journalistic values of honesty, courage, fairness, balance, independence, credibility and diversity, giving no priority to commercial or political considerations over professional ones.
  2. Endeavor to get to the truth and declare it in our dispatches, programmes and news bulletins unequivocally in a manner which leaves no doubt about its validity and accuracy.
  3. Treat our audiences with due respect and address every issue or story with due attention to present a clear, factual and accurate picture while giving full consideration to the feelings of victims of crime, war, persecution and disaster, their relatives and our viewers, and to individual privacy and public decorum.
  4. Welcome fair and honest media competition without allowing it to affect adversely our standards of performance so that getting a “scoop” will not become an end in itself.
  5. Present diverse points of view and opinions without bias or partiality.
  6. Recognise diversity in human societies with all their races, cultures and beliefs and their values and intrinsic individualities in order to present unbiased and faithful reflection of them.
  7. Acknowledge a mistake when it occurs, promptly correct it and ensure it does not recur.
  8. Observe transparency in dealing with news and news sources while adhering to internationally established practices concerning the rights of these sources.
  9. Distinguish between news material, opinion and analysis to avoid the pitfalls of speculation and propaganda.
  10. Stand by colleagues in the profession and offer them support when required, particularly in light of the acts of aggression and harassment to which journalists are subjected at times. Cooperate with Arab and international journalistic unions and associations to defend freedom of the press.

Next: Ethical Dilemmas

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