Part Three: A Checklist for Self-Regulation
The following checklist covers the elements of and actions needed to create the conditions for both internal and external forms of self-regulation.
Media should publish a declaration of company objectives and values including commitments to ethical journalism, transparency and accountability and loyalty to citizens.
Code of Conduct:
Media should support a code of principles in line with international standards of media freedom that demonstrate commitment to ethical journalism and good governance.
Media should compile handbooks or manuals for reporters and editors’ providing detailed advice on how to apply ethics in their daily work.
It is not enough that codes of conduct and ethical principles exist as the theory of journalism. Working journalists need to be constantly reminded of their rights and responsibilities in their everyday activities.
Codes and guidelines should be distributed to all journalists and editorial staff and all staff should receive training on ethical principles
Media should ensure regular review and monitoring of the effectiveness of codes and guidelines through internal debate
Editorial policy related to ethical use of information should feature in published material, including online services.
Journalists and media staff need to work in a safe and secure environment which encourages them to behave ethically. Precarious working conditions can damage morale and confidence in the newsroom.
All editorial staff including journalists working as freelance contributors should have contracts which clearly outline their rights and ethical responsibilities as well as their employment rights.
Journalists should have the right to act according to conscience. This can be formally achieved by agreeing to a “conscience clause” in contracts which allows journalists to resist unreasonable pressure on them to violate their ethical principles.
Job descriptions of editorial staff should highlight the importance of ethical conduct in the exercise of specific tasks, for instance covering political and business journalism.
Editorial Contact Point: An Ombudsman or Readers’ editor:
Internal systems for monitoring standards and responding to concerns and complaints from readers and viewers can encourage self-criticism and build credibility.
Media should appoint a senior journalist to act as a public contact point – a readers’ editor or ombudsman, for instance – who will receive and respond to public complaints.
In smaller media houses the company can designate a specific member of the senior editorial staff to undertake these duties.
The ombudsman or readers’ editor should liaise between the staff of the media outlet and its readers, viewers or listeners and try to resolve amicably disagreements between the two sides.
This position should be independent of the Editor in Chief and may be appointed, for instance, by the board of directors and owners of the media.
Some examples of this practice are found in The Guardian (UK), in Le Monde (France) and also in some broadcast media.
Dialogue with the Audience:
Media should encourage debate and dialogue with reader, listeners and viewers. This will build public trust and inspire confidence in journalism.
- Prominently display information on how to comment, express concerns and make complaints regarding journalistic work.
- Provide opportunities for readers and viewers to express contrary opinions and express the right of reply where it is appropriate.
- Publish an annual report of editorial activities reflecting on successes and challenges of journalism and giving the audience information on how they can express their opinion.
Ethical conduct in media management is an essential prerequisite for ethical journalism.
At all levels media should apply internal rules that ensure good governance, transparency and accountability. Such rules should define;
- The independence of the Editor in all matters related to journalism, editorial operations and content;
- Procedures for transparency in the appointment of editors;
- Systems to maintain the independence of journalism from undue influence by commercial, marketing and advertising departments;
- Systems that avoid conflicts of interest at the level of the boardroom and administration of media;
- Respect for media’s role to protect the public interest including, where appropriate, the appointment of independent directors to the board of management.
Transparency, accountability and reporting:
Because media exercise a particularly powerful influence on political and commercial affairs they must be open and accountable, even more so than other sections of the national economy
Media companies should be transparent and report regularly on the standards they apply in the administration and conduct of their business and their journalism.
Such reporting should cover all aspects of their affairs and indicate a commitment to implement the highest standards of good management practice covering, for instance,
- Transparency in ownership as well as disclosure of political affiliations and financial interests including contacts with government
- Commitment to good industrial relations and employment practice including social dialogue, workforce diversity and application of core labour standards as well as a culture of security so that journalists and all media personnel can practice their profession safely.
- Commitment to international human rights standards.
 See the comments of philosopher Onora O’Neill in her Reith Lectures at the BBC in 2002
Alliance of Independent Press Councils in Europe
BBC Standards of Ethical Journalism
Institute of Communications Ethics
Journalism ethics for the global citizen
Media Ethics and Media Accountability Systems
Media Helping Media
Media Monitoring South Africa
New York Times-Handbook on Ethical Journalism
Regret the Error: How to Avoid Online Hoax
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society of Professional Journalists