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We need to discuss our ethics

by on 14 Dec, 2012

It’s time for us content generators, previously known as journalists, to talk about ethics.  I hear you say: “Richard, you’re having a laugh.  Who can keep the notions of ‘journalists’ and ‘ethics’ in their head at the same time?”

Whatever the outcome of the Leveson farrago, without some common understanding of what our ethics should be, we will soon be back in the same conditions which led to Leveson.   There has been a repeated cycle of this crisis of confidence for nearly 50 years.

A poor equation

BTW, what a farrago  the implementation of Leveson has become.  In effect, press barons who previously said politicians should have no role in this regulation are negotiating with the Conservative Party on what will be acceptable.   As we know: Conservative Party + press barons = a stitch up.

“Should” not “could”

Back to ethics: this means what we should do and what we should not.  Not what can we do.   We can lie, harass, bluster, follow the owner’s line, bow to advertisers, trade stories, help our “friends”, join the gang in giving somebody a kicking and submit copy for approval.  But we should not.

I’ve tricked people into giving information.  I’ve threatened people with a worse story unless they cooperate.  I’ve invented information to get more from a source.   And I should not have done.  Not to say I may not in the future do the same.

Not a Profession

But we do need some underlying framework by which we operate.  We are not a Profession.  Have no entry requirements apart from low cunning and an ability to write.  We cannot eject those who fail some standards, unlike doctors and others who made themselves into a profession in the 19th century.

So we need to agree some framework for our behaviour.  There are plenty of codes of ethics for journalists.  Here’s just three.

What would you state as your ethic?  David Randall, in The Universal Journalist, has a good list of ethics.  They are:

  • Serve only your publication and your readers;
  • Every story is an honest search for the truth;
  • Don’t accept inducements for publication;
  • Don’t let advertisers influence coverage;
  • Don’t submit copy for approval;
  • Always quote accurately;
  • Don’t use your position to threaten or gain advantage;
  • Don’t suppress stories for favours for friendships;
  • Don’t trick people into giving information;
  • Don’t invent or improve information;
  • Never reveal sources;
  • Correct mistakes; and
  • Don’t benefit personally from what you write.

My top five

These are quite daunting to accept.  My top five are:

  • Serve your readers;
  • Don’t reveal sources;
  • Go for the truth;
  • Don’t allow copy approval; and
  • Walk out of any publication which breaches any of the above.

What would yours be?


From → Journalism, Leveson

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