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European Code on the Ethics of Journalism

Boeykens | 17.10.2004 06:56

IJNET (International Journalists' Network) published the following ethical principles for journalism and believes that they should be applied by the profession throughout Europe.

1. In addition to the legal rights and obligations set forth in the relevant legal norms, the media have an ethical responsibility towards citizens and society which must be underlined at the present time, when information and communication play a very important role in the formation of citizens' personal attitudes and the development of society and democratic life.

2. The journalist's profession comprises rights and obligations, freedoms and responsibilities.

3. The basic principle of any ethical consideration of journalism is that a clear distinction must be drawn between news and opinions, making it impossible to confuse them. News is information about facts and data, while opinions convey thoughts, ideas, beliefs or value judgments on the part of media companies, publishers or journalists.

4. News broadcasting should be based on truthfulness, ensured by the appropriate means of verification and proof, and impartiality in presentation, description and narration.

5. Expression of opinions may entail thoughts or comments on general ideas or remarks on news relating to actual events.

6. Opinions taking the form of comments on events or actions relating to individuals or institutions should not attempt to deny or conceal the reality of the facts or data.

7. The media's work is one of "mediation", providing an information service, and the rights which they own in connection with freedom of information depends on its addressees, that is the citizens.

8. Information is a fundamental right which has been highlighted by the case-law of the European Commission and Court of Human Rights relating to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and recognized under Article 9 of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television, as well as in all democratic constitutions.

9. The public authorities must not consider that they own information. The representativeness of such authorities provides the legal basis for efforts to guarantee and extend pluralism in the media and to ensure that the necessary conditions are created for exercising freedom of expression and the right to information and precluding censorship.

10. It must be borne in mind that journalism is based on the media, which are part of a corporate structure within which a distinction must be made between publishers, proprietors and journalists.

11. News organizations should be considered as special socio-economic agencies which make possible access to a fundamental right.

12. News organizations must show transparency in matters of media ownership and management, enabling citizens to ascertain clearly the identity of proprietors and the extent of their economic interest in the media.

13. Inside the news organization, publishers and journalists must co-exist, bearing in mind that the legitimate respect for publishers' and owners' ideological orientations is limited by the absolute requirements on truthful news reporting and ethical opinions. This is essential if we are to respect the citizens' fundamental right to information.

14. These requirements are such that we must reinforce the safeguards of the journalist's freedom of expression, for they must operate as the ultimate sources of information.

15. Neither publishers, proprietors, nor journalists should consider that they own the news.

16. If we are to ensure that information is treated ethically, its target audience must be considered as individuals and not as a mass.

17. Information and communication as conveyed by journalism through the media, with powerful support from new technologies, has decisive importance for the development of the individual and society.

18. The importance of information, especially radio and television news, for culture and education was highlighted in Recommendation 1067 of the Assembly.

19. It would be wrong to infer from the importance of this role that the media actually represent public opinion or that they should replace the specific functions of the public authorities or institutions of an educational or cultural character such as schools.

20. This would amount to transforming the media and journalism into authorities or counter-authorities ("mediocracy"), even though they would not be representative of the citizens or subject to the same democratic controls as the public authorities, and would not possess the specialist knowledge of the corresponding cultural or educational institutions.

21. Therefore journalism should not alter truthful, impartial information or honest opinions, or exploit them for media purposes, in an attempt to create or shape public opinion, since its legitimacy rests on effective respect for the citizen's fundamental right to information as part of respect for democratic values.

22. In journalism, information and opinions must respect the presumption of innocence, in particular in cases which are still under investigation, and must refrain from making judgments.

23. The right of individuals to privacy must be respected.

24. The attempt to strike a balance between the right to respect for private life, enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the freedom of expression set forth in Article 10, is well documented in the recent case-law of the European Commission and Court of Human Rights.

25. In the journalist's profession the end does not justify the means; therefore information must be obtained by legal and ethical means.

26. At the request of the persons concerned, the news media must correct, automatically and speedily, and with all relevant information provided, any news item or opinion conveyed by them which is false or erroneous.

27. In order to ensure high-quality work and independence on the part of journalists, they must be guaranteed decent pay and proper working conditions and facilities.

28. In the necessary relations that journalists must maintain with public authorities, they must avoid a co-habitation that is susceptible to harming the independence and impartiality of their profession.

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