Handbook of Independent Journalism (7-End) : Ethics and Law

All journalists, and all news organizations, suffer when journalists behave unethically because that behavior calls the profession’s credibility into question.

When credibility suffers, so does a news organization’s ability to survive economically.

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Ethical Principles
There is one sacred rule of journalism,” said the late reporter and prize-winning novelist John Hersey, who covered the aftermath of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima.

“The writer must not invent. The legend on the license must read: NONE OF THIS WAS MADE UP.”

Ethical journalists do not put words in people’s mouths or pretend to have been somewhere they have not. And they do not pass off the work of others as their own.

Fabrication and plagiarism are violations of basic journalistic standards the world over. But not all transgressions are so clear.

Journalists face ethical dilemmas every day, under pressure from owners, competitors, advertisers, and the public. They need a process to resolve these dilemmas, so that the journalism they produce is ethical.

They need a way of thinking about ethical issues that will help them make good decisions, even on deadline.

This way of thinking is grounded in the principles journalists rely on. These are the basic principles of the U.S. Society of Professional Journalists, a voluntary journalism organization:

• Seek truth and report it.Journalists should be honest, fair, and courageous in gathering, reporting, and interpreting information.
• Minimize harm.Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects, and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

• Act independently.Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.
• Be accountable.Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers, and each other.

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