Towards an Ethical Environment. A Checklist- The Media Environment
Ethical conduct is not the responsibility of journalists alone. Everyone who works in a media house, from the boardroom to the basement, makes an investment – moral as well as economic – in the value of their work and the quality of the product.
That is why the best media managements and owners are interested not just in good and profitable communications, but in high quality content. A statement about the aims and objectives of media – setting out a clear vision of intent to respect rights, standards and democratic values – will strengthen journalistic attachment and build public confidence.
Such a vision may be stated briefly, as in the New York Times' style, All the News that’s Fit to Print, or it can be detailed. Either way, stating your mission is never without value.
It should be made clear that the standards adopted within media apply to all staff and executives, not only to journalists. The need to separate clearly advertising from editorial content may be understood by journalists, but is it also clear to those whose job is to sell advertising and to executives who may be tempted to sell access to editorial airspace or news space?
In some countries Colombia, for example, radio journalists have to obtain advertising for their networks before they are given air-time and in others “advertorials” (barely disguised publicity articles on behalf of local business and special interests) are accepted as part of the mix of editorial work. In other countries politicians pay to appear on “current affairs” programmes.
Whenever bean-counting priorities interfere with journalism they compromise independence and have a corrosive influence on standards.
If media are to report effectively on the financial and business affairs of others, then media companies themselves should be models of transparency, particularly over ownership and funding of their activities in journalism. They should be expected to display probity and integrity in their affairs. Without this, media have no credibility when exposing corruption or immoral conduct elsewhere in public life.
Management and unions should regularly review what is required to maintain standards of editorial quality, including editing, training, and internal systems for dealing with complaints from readers, viewers and listeners, all of which are vital to keeping public confidence.
Connecting with citizens is important. This is not just about getting people to buy media products or log-on to a website or tune into a network – it is also about reducing the gap that too often separates media and community. Citizens are less willing to be passive spectators so media need to explore new and innovative ways of encouraging civic participation. If errors are corrected speedily and if there is easier public access to the newsroom people will feel connected and journalism will benefit.
Do media have an agreed and clear statement of mission?
Are there ethical rules or codes covering work practices for all employees including management?
Are there internal structures to separate the work of editorial and commercial departments?
Is there full public transparency over ownership and financing of media, beyond that required by law?
Are regular reports prepared on the performance of media and journalistic coverage of public affairs and the wider community?
Is there training for journalists on practice and conduct, particularly on specific topics – covering conflict and migrants, dealing with racism and xenophobia for instance, reporting of elections, and human rights reporting?
Are there agreed recruitment strategies designed to bring a diversity of perspective into the newsroom and the workplace?
Are there agreed internal systems to deal with conflicts of interests, whether financial, political or otherwise?
What procedures exist to ensure adequate editing and ethical reflection on editorial work to maintain minimum standards of accuracy and quality?
Is there a mechanism for independent internal review of editorial work as well as correcting errors and dealing with complaints?
Things to do:
Organise meetings between unions and management to establish structures for dialogue. These should be ongoing with jointly agreed agendas to develop programmes for training and editorial development, including the capacity to review editorial policy and practice, to ensure editorial independence from all commercial activity, and to provide adequate resources for editorial activities.
Establish a clear and unambiguous line of command regarding editorial work. Ensure editorial decisions are taken by the designated editor and appropriate journalists.
Carry out a review of staffing and recruitment procedures. Make sure they are non-discriminatory and grant equal opportunities. Is it possible to establish targets and take positive steps towards building diversity in the newsroom?
Examine relations with the community and consider ways to improve connections with citizens through reports on media and its activities, for instance.
Produce leaflets and materials in support of ethical and quality journalism and organise petitions in support of national campaigns -- to change the law, or to highlight injustice or to seek an end to impunity. All of this should reinforce public awareness that journalists and media are standing for citizens’ rights and democracy.