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Towards an Ethical Environment- A Checklist: Working Conditions

As champions of ethical journalism, journalists’ unions argue that without decent employment and working conditions it is impossible to expect high quality work from media. Precarious, low paid jobs destroy morale in a newsroom, undermine professional confidence, and reduce the capacity for risk-taking, all of which undermine the capacity for watchdog journalism.

The case for improving working conditions as a way of building quality and eliminating corruption inside journalism is widely accepted by policy makers and international organisations. Nevertheless, employers in the United States and Europe who find that their business model is no longer a licence to print money are cutting back on staff and quality in editorial departments. Even where markets are expanding ferocious competition has induced media to jettison principles to carve out market share.

Change is inevitable, but cutting out critical parts of the journalistic process – fact-checking and desk editing, for example, or filling news space with public relations material, or abandoning a sense of humanity to promote sensation –reduces credibility in the eyes of the public. These are short-sighted and foolish decisions in business terms. If the public loses confidence in quality media, there is no reason for it to stay loyal. In the long run, reducing quality in the newsroom is commercial as well as professional suicide.

The work of journalists, trained and informed observers and commentators, cannot be replaced by unskilled amateurs. No amount of “citizen journalism” rhetoric will change this reality, which is why journalists’ unions insist that attachment to professional values is essential to the future of credible media. This applies no matter how the technology changes and the way that journalists do their work.


 Do working conditions reflect core labour standards for all staff, including freelance and part time journalists?
 Is the obligation to respect ethical standards included in contracts of employment or collective agreements?
 Are there structures for management-union workplace dialogue on ethical issues?
 Are there policies and activities that promote safety and security of staff?
 Where a company operates in more than one country is there a group-wide policy establishing minimum standards of ethical work and management across all media outlets
 Do editorial managers and staff engage with the community and the public at large on their work?
 Is there an active commitment to editorial research and investigative journalism?
Things to do:

Seek meetings between unions and management to define a fair industrial relations environment built upon social dialogue – recognition of the journalists’ union, a collective agreement, and a structure for dealing with ethical and professional issues when they arise.

Discuss with journalists whether contracts of employment and contracts for freelance staff should contain obligations to maintain agreed standards. Ensure that such requirements, where agreed, apply to management as well as to journalistic work. Codes must not be used to intimidate or victimise journalists.

Establish contact with other unions representing other groups of workers within media and obtain their support for actions in favour of applying core labour standards as well as principles of editorial independence.

Seek group-wide international agreements where the company organises in more than one country and establish working networks with other groups of journalists elsewhere within the network of transnational operations. The IFJ and its regional organisations can assist in this process.