Writing about Journalists

There was an interesting discussion on the comments flowing from one of my blog posts the other week – which exposed some variance in views about what journalists do, or at any rate how journalists should do journalism. It made me think that whilst I am sometimes critical of journalists or individual pieces of journalism I’ve never really given much thought to any accepted best practice or ethical code. What, I wondered, if I am really off beam with this?

So I went to look. Here’s what I found…I’m not going to make comment on it particularly – I think it’s pretty self explanatory and it hasn’t caused me to alter my views. But I thought it would be a useful reference point for future discussion.

The National Union of Journalists Code of Conduct says :

A journalist:

  1. At all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed.
  2. Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair.
  3. Does her/his utmost to correct harmful inaccuracies.
  4. Differentiates between fact and opinion.
  5. Obtains material by honest, straightforward and open means, with the exception of investigations that are both overwhelmingly in the public interest and which involve evidence that cannot be obtained by straightforward means.
  6. Does nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest.
  7. Protects the identity of sources who supply information in confidence and material gathered in the course of her/his work.
  8. Resists threats or any other inducements to influence, distort or suppress information and takes no unfair personal advantage of information gained in the course of her/his duties before the information is public knowledge.
  9. Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation.
  10. Does not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of her/his own work or of the medium by which she/he is employed.
  11. A journalist shall normally seek the consent of an appropriate adult when interviewing or photographing a child for a story about her/his welfare.
  12. Avoids plagiarism. 

The Society of Editors Code of Practice is too long to reproduce in full here, but can be found on their website.

The OFCOM Broadcasting Code is here.

The BBC Editorial Guidelines can be found here. They seem much more robust and comprehensive than the other documents, but the BBC of course is a different beast and I know many would query the extent to which the BBC successfully adheres to all of this code all of the time. Indeed I would rhetorically ask how well the recent “I want my baby back” episode of Panorama would score.

10 thoughts on “Writing about Journalists

  1. In last week’s BBC R4 Face the Facts on “Forced Adoption” i.e. all adoptions where the parent doesn’t consent, John Waite referred to the recent “well-known” Italian caesarian case in the context of adoption. The link between the caesarian and the adoption was spurious and confusing to anyone who hasn’t read the judgments, in my view.

    You can listen to the programme from this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007tmlp/episodes/player

  2. By way of context, read also the code of practice issued by Resolution
    which their solicitor members are expected to follow. I know from my own case and others I hear about, just how often these rules are flouted to the detriment of litigants and their children.

    It’s very easy to preach about others; somewhat more difficult to take criticism that’s a tad closer to home.

    • Not quite on point though, is it?

      • Sapiens in unum, sapiens in omnibus.

        It works in reverse too; falsus in unum etc, a bit like all those phony allegations which legal aid-funded lawyers make on behalf of their resident parent clients. Expose one for the falsity it is and you expose the lot. I thought you lawyers all knew about that old Roman principle.

        I think you could do a lot better for family law than harp on about a journalists’ code of conduct. Why not pick on the Resolution code with a few choice remarks?

  3. I think there might be a point 13, the unwritten code which assists anyone who might be very much career minded, rather than the garden variety.

    13. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

  4. Northern Lights

    Points 2 -6 & 9 in particular seem never to have been brought to the attention of the Daily Fail.

  5. Rule twelve, the unwritten rule, of Resolution’s code of practice is that rules 1 to 11 can be safely ignored.

  6. For those who don’t like “I want my baby back”, I would recommend an item, on BBC Somerset, about foster carers who are “hounded” on social media after a little boy with Down syndrome they fostered died in their care.
    The programme is here
    (starting from 01:00:00, i.e. at the start of the second hour)

    It’s a monologue of the director of the local children’s services and a rep of the fostering agency (TACT) employing these foster carers. To put it simply, just one big monologue of the child protection industry, and no one else’s voice is heard. This can be, I guess, some people’s ideal of balanced reporting on these issues.

  7. Christopher Booker’s reputation has been considerably enhanced in recent days with his piece on flooding in the Somerset Levels where he laid the blame squarely on the Environment Agency for its failure to dredge channels. After initial denials from ministers and E.A. alike, the agency has now capitulated and accepts that its failure to dredge is a causal factor in the flooding.

    As with flooding in the Levels, so with the scandal that goes by the name of UK child protection which ranks among the very worst in the so-called civilised world. Christopher Booker spells out the way it is, uncomfortable reading though that may be for those of the system who make their living off the backs of “Children in Need”.

    • Not sure that his knowledge in respect of the environment really improves his credentials in relation to family justice but hey…

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