The following suggestions and comments regarding the 2014 overhaul of the 1996 SPJ Ethics Code come from the April 12 SPJ Region 5 conference in Chicago.
Questions posed of the proposed code improvements:
1. Does this suggested revision of the code cover the essential guiding pinciples of our profession in concise and efficient language? 2. Is this suggested revision of the code helpful to journalists to improve and maintain their professional standards?
3. Will these proposed changes maintain and improve the public’s trust of journalists and their work?
Generally, the proposed code changes are an improvement over the 1996 document, but they are still riddled with redundancies and must be further simplied and distilled. For example, the preamble could be boiled down to this: Justice and good government require an informed public.
Journalists should serve the public with fair, accurate and comprehensive information reported with integrity. This code sets forth our Society’s principles and standards in the practice of professional journalism.
One suggestion: The preamble must include as one of the code’s raison d’etres “to protect the public’s right to know.”
Items of concern NOT addressed in the proposed changes:
1. Is it ethical for reporters covering events, issues and people to – in print or on broadcasts – to analyze, comment and critique those events, issues and people and still maintain a fair and objective journalistic status?
2. Is the use of music and other forms of emotional manipulation an ethical use of journalistic tools when used in video reports?
3. Is there a role for dramatic re-enactments — in essence “faked footage” — in serious journalism?
4. What mechanism(s) exist(s) to enforce the revised code once it becomes adopted? Should there be an appeals process for those journalists who believe they are innocent of charges of ethics code breeches?
Other suggestions and ideas
The code should be a call for journalists everywhere to unite as a single community and watch each other’s backs, rather than always viewing each other as “the competition” and setting up barriers between journalists.
Seasoned professionals understand the broad concepts of an ethics code, but student journalists need specific and concrete rules to fully understand what constitutes an ethical breach, e.g. Do not pick information and photos off the Internet and put them in your reports even in they appear to be public domain and real information. Verify the facts and be certain of copyright infringements before publication.
Chicago Daily Herald
Region 5 of SPJ