Take a moment to review what the EJN stands for, why our mission is so critical to the current era of journalism, and how your organisation can join the Network and support ethical initiatives.
Building Trust in Journalism
What is journalism?
Who is a journalist?
The Difference between Journalism and Free Expression
Our Ethical Base: 5 Principles Of Journalism
The Pressures on the Craft of Journalism
The Way Forward
Media and the Test of Self-Regulation
The Importance of Good Governance
National Standards for Self-Regulation
The Ethical Journalism Network promotes ethics, good governance and independent regulation of media content. The EJN was formed in 2011 as a unifying professional campaign bringing together owners, editors and media staff to strengthen the craft of journalism. It works across all platforms and supports partnership at national and international level between media, journalism support groups and the public.
The EJN calls for a new front in defence of quality journalism to counter efforts by governments and special interests to control the work of media.
Amidst the turbulence of the information revolution there have never been better opportunities for media professionals to work with audiences who can respond instantly to what they see, hear and read.
The same technology that is abused by Governments to spy on their citizens and journalists or is exploited by others to spread hateful messages can also be used to increase transparency, raise standards and build trust in democracy.
The need to inspire public trust in credible and accountable journalism has never been greater. On one side governments may seek to control media, censor journalists and promote their own propaganda. On the other side, journalism is often weakened by a corrupt media business environment.
Political and corporate spin makes for deceptive handling of the truth; there is more rumour, speculation and anonymous, often harmful, communication; and there is a rush to publish that makes verification and fact-checking increasingly difficult.
The EJN can help people in journalism combat these threats by creating a global mechanism to help media take leadership of the debate over how to maintain and promote high standards.
The EJN stands for fresh solidarity in a divided industry; for a positive response to the challenges of the information revolution; and, above all, for a secure and ethical future for the craft of journalism in the digital age. Our aim is simple: to support the values of honesty, truth and public purpose in media and to build trust in journalism as an instrument of democratic expression, as a guarantor of free speech, and as a reliable and trusted interpreter of the complex world in which we live.
The Ethical Journalism Network is a global coalition of media professional groups and journalism support organisations. It works across all platforms of the media, information and communications landscape. Its members agree to meet regularly, to share information and to support joint actions with the following aims
The network is an informal association and is registered as a company in the United Kingdom. In 2015 it will seek status as an independent charitable organisation. The funding of the programmes and operations of the Network shall be the responsibility of the Network secretariat and the Director.
Membership of the Network is free and open to media, journalism support groups and professional associations that support its objectives. Supporters of the Network may at any time withdraw from the process by writing to the secretariat of the Network.
Registered in the United Kingdom: June 7th 2013
These guidelines reflect the Ethical Journalism Network’s aim to be a catalyst for change and to promote new debate among media professional groups on how to promote standards of journalism and to ensure media professionals lead the debate about future regulation. These are specified in the EJN Foundation Statement:
The EJN Board Members in 2015 include:
Dorothy Byrne, Head of News and Current Affairs, Channel 4
Chris Elliott, Readers' Editor, The Guardian
Ashok Gupta, UK Financial Reporting Council
Zahera Harb, Senior Lecturer, City University
Thomas Spence, Presiden, Norsk Journalistlag
Randi S. Øgrey, Director, Norwegian Media Businesses' Association
Aidan White, Director, Ethical Journalism Network
The EJN Advisory Council includes:
Tom Kent, Standards Editor, Associated Press
Christopher Elliott, Readers Editor, The Guardian
Abeer Saady, Editor, Vice President Egyptian Press Syndicate
Dean Wright, Former Head of Standards, Reuters
Jean-Paul Marthoz, Journalist, Belgium
Our Network is open to anyone in the media industry who believes in the highest standards of ethics in journalism. Membership for both media organizations and individuals is free of charge. To join the Network and collaborate with the EJN on ethical initiatives, contact EJN Director Aidan White.
The EJN is an independent self-financing organisation. In 2015 it receives the major part of its grant funding for activities from the Norwegian Ministry for Foreign Affairs with additional support from UNESCO and Network supporters.
For more resources and current events on ethical issues, check out the “News” section of our website or do a search for your topic of inquiry.
Many media fall well short of their aspirations to be honest, accurate, truth-tellers. Journalists and editors face obstacles that prevent them from delivering on their high ethical ambitions.
Journalists have always had to counter political and corporate spin but today it is covert, pervasive and insidious.
Market conditions have undermined business models that are based on good journalism and strengthened those that see media as a route to profit or political influence.
Cuts in editorial investment undermine the fabric of journalism; investigative journalism is reduced and the voices of marginalized and vulnerable communities diminished.
Journalism is coming under greater scrutiny as rumour, speculation and celebrity trivia replace journalism that delivers on people’s right to know and nourishes civil society. The media audience, now a partner in the news gathering business, is adamant that media make good on promises of transparency, accountability and fair dealing.
In response, the EJN is encouraging a fresh and invigorated vision of journalism’s future, based upon revival of the spirit of mission and values in media and a new and inclusive partnership with the audience.
Journalism is about gathering, preparing and disseminating information and content and it requires high standards to be effective.
Across all platforms and technologies journalism is based on respect for the rights of others and involves the application of skills and editorial judgment.
Journalism is not restricted to news and current affairs but covers all aspects of social, economic and cultural life and particularly the public sphere. Wherever there is an area of human interest or enterprise there is an avenue for good journalism.
Put simply, good journalism makes accurate information available and accessible to everyone, usually at a modest price. What sets quality, ethical journalism apart is the framework of values, skills and standards that it recognizes and supports.
There are many codes of professional standards and ethics and links to the most relevant can be found on the EJN website on the resources page. These texts enshrine some basic principles that should be central to journalism wherever it is practiced.
Although in most countries codes for ethical journalism are not circulated and are not part of the journalistic culture, all editors, editorial managers and newsroom staff should be aware of their responsibilities and the purpose of journalism – to tell the truth, to be independent, to be impartial, to be accountable and to respect their audiences.
Journalists have traditionally been defined according to their employment by a media organisation, by affiliation to a professional association or union, or by completion of an appropriate course of training.
Journalism is a craft with two personalities. The skilled and creative worker in full-time employment is part of a media brand, working in a team dedicated to a mission defined by the owner or management. The freelance, part-time or contract journalist sells his or her services, often in precarious conditions, and these have become the fastest-growing community in the profession.
Increasingly the term “journalist” is used to include all those who regularly engage in collecting or disseminating information to the public with a journalistic purpose.
Even people who have no formal training, who are not members of a professional body or who are not employed by media can commit what might be called acts of journalism.
Many now argue that anyone who publishes information on matters of public interest in this context should benefit from the protection and limited legal privileges given to full-time journalists, including protection from censorship and undue interference, the right to publish in safety and security and the right to protect confidentiality of sources.
Journalism, thankfully, is no longer the self-identifying elite it used to be. But a broader vision of who practices journalism does not justify any dilution in skills, standards or ethics.
Those who aspire to communicate in the public interest should acknowledge the need to disclose any relevant political or other affiliations. Only acts of journalism in good faith are worthy of protection.
Although journalism has become a more open profession, those who earn their living from it have been among the most prominent victims of economic turbulence. Jobs have become precarious; working conditions have declined. Young people scrambling to get a foothold in journalism face the humiliation of lengthy unpaid internships as they vie for the few career opportunities available.
The unions and associations that represent the foot-soldiers in journalism rightly condemn reduced investment in jobs, training, social conditions and professional capacity. They warn that weakening the status of journalistic work is diminishing democracy.
The EJN sees this crisis and the economic decline of traditional media as a profound challenge for wider political and civil society. By creating new structures for co-operation and focusing on quality, the EJN aims to build an industry consensus to enhance and strengthen of journalism and media content.
The EJN takes its inspiration from international human rights standards, but recognises that journalism is a distinct specialist form of free expression.
Journalism combines free expression with a commitment to professional and ethical standards. Journalism has a public purpose to provide, as honestly and as independently as possible, accurate and reliable intelligence for the communities it serves.
This commitment to be truthful, act independently, be accountable and show humanity and respect for the audience are forms of voluntary restraint. Such restraint is not always shown by bloggers or users of social networks, who often excuse every reckless inaccurate or damaging statement under the banner of “freedom of expression”.
Onora O’Neill, professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge, has explained the difference by saying that freedom of expression can only support the discovery of truth when it is embedded in discussion in which differing opinions are tested in open debate.
She describes unrestrained freedom of expression as “self-regarding” while journalism and media set out to be “other regarding”, guided by core ideals of mission and aspiring to standards and values.
The core principles of journalism set out below provide an excellent base for everyone who aspires to launch themselves into the public information sphere to show responsibility in how they use information. There are hundreds of codes of conduct, charters and statements made by media and professional groups outlining the principles, values and obligations of the craft of journalism. Most focus on five common themes:
Truth and Accuracy
Journalists cannot always guarantee ‘truth’, but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle of journalism. We should always strive for accuracy, give all the relevant facts we have and ensure that they have been checked. When we cannot corroborate information we should say so.
Journalists must be independent voices; we should not act, formally or informally, on behalf of special interests whether political, corporate or cultural. We should declare to our editors – or the audience – any of our political affiliations, financial arrangements or other personal information that might constitute a conflict of interest.
Fairness and Impartiality
Most stories have at least two sides. While there is no obligation to present every side in every piece, stories should be balanced and add context. Objectivity is not always possible, and may not always be desirable (in the face for example of brutality or inhumanity), but impartial reporting builds trust and confidence.
Journalists should do no harm. What we publish or broadcast may be hurtful, but we should be aware of the impact of our words and images on the lives of others.
A sure sign of professionalism and responsible journalism is the ability to hold ourselves accountable. When we commit errors we must correct them and our expressions of regret must be sincere not cynical. We listen to the concerns of our audience. We may not change what readers write or say but we will always provide remedies when we are unfair.
EJN members do not believe that we need to add new rules to regulate journalists and their work in addition to the responsibilities outlined above, but we do support the creation of a legal and social framework, that encourages journalists to respect and follow the established values of their craft.
In doing so, journalists and traditional media, will put themselves in a position to be provide leadership about what constitutes ethical freedom of expression. What is good for journalism is also good for others who use the Internet or online media for public communications.
The Internet and digital communications have turned the media world upside down, but we cannot turn the clock back. The EJN believes that information as a public good and in the public interest is vital for democracy at local and national level. However, in a climate when change threatens to overwhelm ethical something further has to change to reassert these values.
There is much to explain the loss of confidence and low morale felt in many corners of journalism. Public interest journalism is undermined by the uncertain and precarious conditions in which journalism functions, a legal vacuum over regulation and heightened fears of more state influence, political spin and content driven by corporate interests.
Restructuring of the media industry has been driven by technological media convergence and a revolutionary shift in the way people communicate and disseminate information.
As the Internet has opened up new markets, traditional media have witnessed the collapse of their business models. Revenue forecasts are dire and even digital media struggle to be profitable as Internet giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook siphon off advertising revenue.
As traditional media are stripped of resources to maintain the craft of journalism, less is spent on employment and training and less time is available for research and fact checking, reinforcing public scepticism and weakening trust.
Some media have turned to unpredictable and unreliable social networks and online sources to fill editorial gaps. Other journalists and media look to private foundations, philanthropy or new models of public support to support journalism without compromising editorial independence.
The firewall that used to protect journalism and editorial work from advertising has been broken. Advertorials, sponsored sections and editorial linked to commercial interests are common features.
Old failings have been fuelled by new technology. The old tabloid obsession with sex, violence and sensation has been supercharged by the Internet and social media. A “rush to publish” sends rumour, speculation and ignorance viral.
Misinformation and stereotypes target the most vulnerable and marginalized groups and reinforce prejudice and hatred. Political spin and public relations are sucked into the vacuum when well researched journalism is axed – in a process known as “churnalism”.
Tooth and claw media competition, a weakening market for quality journalism and the increasing influence of social networks as drivers of the news agenda are taking their toll.
However, there are many reasons to be positive. New sources of information open the door to more inclusive journalism, more pluralism and a vastly expanded landscape of public opinion and comment.
Technology has handed freedom of expression to many millions of people who did not have it before. People can say whatever they want to, no matter how shameful or praiseworthy it may be, and do so whenever they choose.
A major challenge to this fresh-faced world of open communications is to promote standards on responsibility in how we all use of information that give meaning to these new freedoms.
Part of the solution is to build a new partnership between media and the audience focused on support for the craft of journalism inside and outside newsrooms.
The EJN will examine some of the most egregious examples of how a corrupt business environment affects journalism – advertising disguised as editorial, corrupt employment systems, partisan allocation of state advertising and favours, and even extortion and bribery to manipulate the news agenda.
We believe that journalism is more than a business, but a service with a purpose that is shaped by values.
We will encourage media owners and editors to stand up for journalism and to create transparent and trustworthy media buttressed by newsrooms that are engine rooms of accurate and balanced reporting. This partnership requires an understanding of what constitutes the ‘public interest’ and a reconfiguration of the relationship between journalism and the state.
Journalists and media face new challenges from governments as many countries try to monitor and regulate the Internet and social networks. The growth of online bullying and hate-speech poses serious questions about how to build a culture of responsibility in the use of information. At the heart of these discussions is a fresh debate about whether self-regulation is a viable and credible alternative to the use of law.
Even journalists who care about the truth get things wrong sometimes. To build public confidence journalism must connect with its audience and make itself accountable for its mistakes. Journalists should embrace independent self-regulation as a way of strengthening the work they do.
The EJN believes credible systems of media accountability are at the heart of building an informed and trustworthy public information sphere. Without it people have no form of credible scrutiny and will lose trust.
But although they are ready to make lacerating criticism of people in public life, many journalists are reluctant to admit their own mistakes. There is a die-hard reluctance to accept the notion of independent regulation and to bring about meaningful reform in the way media police their own affairs, particularly in the press.
This is ultimately self-defeating. Complaints that are ignored or treated lightly can do enormous damage, while often a quick right of reply or a published correction restores belief that journalism is worth defending.
If journalism is to function effectively it must open up to public scrutiny. EJN members can help shape the debate about how to make media more credible and trustworthy.
The appointment of readers’ editors or ombudsmen responsible for correcting errors and explaining how journalism works to the public is a signature commitment to professionalism and accountability and a useful mechanism to create public trust.
Journalists need to be trained in their ethical duties and they need to have internal systems that constantly review the work of the newsroom and which provide them with guidelines on the style and substance of journalism that highlights ethical dilemmas and how to resolve them.
But it’s not just in the newsroom where standards need to be applied. Ethics and self-regulation are equally important in the boardroom. Owners and managers of media are not exempt from practicing standards they expect of their journalists.
Indeed, it is vital to the creation of a responsible and free media to have a commitment to the values, mission and standards of journalism from the top of the media pyramid to its base.
There is a long-established connection between the quality of mass media and democracy and some recent research illustrates the importance of free media to building open and confident societies, but this is not guaranteed. Media organisations must themselves demonstrate high standards.
That is why the EJN has stressed the need for media owners to promote transparency and good governance inside media houses.
There is a widespread concern in many parts of the world that editors have become much less influential on the work of journalists than media owners. The moral leadership of managements – or lack of it – is a critical factor in shaping the behaviour of journalists.
Newsroom managers often set the moral tone of media work according to the preferences of owners whose conflicts of interests, whether cosy relations with politicians or business partners, often lead to open or covert interference in the newsroom. When this happens it inevitably damages the credibility of journalism.
The EJN promotes transparency in media ownership and the adoption of internal rules of good governance for media. We do so believing that media owners should respect the benchmarks for openness and moral conduct that their journalists apply to others in their daily reporting.
The creation of an Ethical Media Audit to help media companies establish their own internal self-reporting process has already been useful in helping media companies in Pakistan to develop more effective internal self-regulation.
Self-regulation begins with the individual and is reinforced in the newsroom and in media houses, but to touch the public consciousness it also needs to work effectively across the media industry at national level.
The EJN is working with press and media councils and journalism support groups in a number of countries to support national self-regulation bodies that are in tune with the digital age. In particular, national structures for self-regulation need to work effectively in a world of multimedia, cross-platform journalism.
Existing structures for media accountability, such as press councils, are under pressure to extend their reach to cover all forms of journalism, particularly news and current affairs, across all platforms, and beyond to include companies and individuals who are publishing on the web.
The mandate of a national self-regulating body should flow from a code of conduct covering the practice of journalism which should be agreed by the media professional community. The EJN has developed some basic principles for national self-regulation:
The EJN does not promote any particular national model, but there are many examples where the job is being done effectively and competently by bodies which have achieved consensus and largely command the trust of the public.
In Norway, Denmark, Germany and many other European countries, national press councils succeed largely because the owners, journalists and editors have agreed to work together to make self-regulation work in practice as well as theory. Similar models are operating or being developed in countries as diverse as Indonesia and Ghana, Pakistan, Egypt and Myanmar. The EJN is working to promote a global movement of self-regulation that while shaped by national and cultural values, also embraces universal concepts of independence and respect for human rights.
A key question is what happens when a newspaper or media organisation defies a press council and refuses to publish a retraction or provide remedy when it breaches ethical rules.The EJN is against legal coercion, preferring voluntary systems and peer pressure. However, there must be a mechanism for dealing with egregious offences that cross a line.
In Sweden the Press Council fines media that break the rules and, although this is a voluntary system, everyone pays because the process is trusted by the industry. In Austria the system broke down when a newspaper flagrantly challenged a press council ruling. As a result, the Press Council wound itself up. It took years to rebuild industry consensus to get the press back on track.
Coercion by law is available in Denmark although it is narrowly defined and applied in very exceptional circumstances. It’s not a model that the EJN favours, as it can encourage legal and political interference, but all forms of independent regulation should be on the table for consideration.
The EJN is founded in the belief that democracy and progress can only be guaranteed through respect for human rights, tolerance and free expression.
That is why we need to defend and enhance the basic principles and definitions of ethical journalism and why we ask all those who care about the future of free expression and press freedom to join us in this challenging endeavour. Sign up to the EJN and help build the campaign for ethical and quality journalism.