Why a code of ethics?
The great British newspaper editor C. P. Scott, who ran the Manchester Guardian for 57 years, put it best: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”
Journalism is different from most other professions in that its core activity is to tell the truth. Doctors, farmers and architects, for example, are morally obliged to be honest about what they do; but that does not define their jobs - to treat sick patients, to produce food and to design buildings.
Reporting verified facts - telling the public the truth - is what journalism is all about. We should remember that when paid political spokespersons try to persuade us that there are such things as alternative facts.
This code of ethics is based on the work of the Ethical Journalism Initiative and respected media such as the BBC, the New York Times, the Guardian, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. It aims to help reporters and editors to do their work to the highest professional standards.
There is a compelling commercial reason to respect the code.
The most important asset of any news organisation is its reputation for integrity, for accurate, honest and unbiased reporting.
Reputation is like an oak tree; it can take years to reach maturity, but it can be destroyed in a day. Every story which respects these principles can help to enhance our reputation. To ignore them may imperil it.
Accuracy depends above all on reliable and multiple sources. Every story should be cross-checked with at least three different sources. Do not passively accept what you are told. Reporters should challenge sources to back up their statements and point out inconsistencies and inaccuracies in what is said.
Whenever possible, sources should be named and their professional status made clear to show they speak with authority on the subject.
Sources often request anonymity. Agree only if you are convinced that to reveal their identity would harm them. The source may be just as keen as you are to make the information public. Beware of being manipulated by sources who wish to avoid taking responsibility for what they say.
If you agree to quote a confidential source, you have a duty to protect them and not knowingly put them at risk. You must be prepared to accept the possible legal consequences of refusing to disclose their identity.
Bear in mind that your source might be under digital surveillance.
If the source says that something is “off-the-record”, make sure that you agree precisely what that means (see Interviews below).
Sources must be quoted accurately and in context. You should provide as much background information as necessary for a reader to understand the story.
Do not manipulate quotes or change the sense when editing. Avoid ellipses and partial quotes. Do not correct grammatical mistakes or “polish up” the language.
Treat claims of breakthroughs and superlatives such as first, biggest, best and worst, with the scepticism they deserve.
Be careful about striking up a relationship with a source on social media. To be identified as someone’s “friend” might raise questions about your impartiality.
Analysis and commentary
Analytical stories play an important part in covering financial markets. Readers want to know not only what happened but why. To give them as broad a picture as possible, several sources should be quoted.
The sources must always be named. However authoritative, analysis - like other kinds of commentary - is opinion, and an anonymous opinion is worth nothing.
We should not report rumours. But a rumour which moves financial markets, itself becomes part of a news story.
When reporting the market reaction, we must be careful not to appear to endorse the rumour. Otherwise we are liable to be accused of market manipulation.
We should check what appear to be newsworthy rumours, such as a takeover bid, but special care should be taken to source them reliably.
Market sources who confirm rumours may be liable to regulatory or legal action when journalists are not. We must protect the identity of sources who require anonymity but treat their information with appropriate caution.
It is important to agree the ground rules with the interviewee. It is best to do this in advance and not at the last minute as you are about to start.
There is no universally accepted definition of what is meant by expressions such as off-the-record and deep background. It is essential for both sides to be clear which statements may be quoted in direct speech or otherwise attributed to the interviewee.
We should make clear to our readers how, where and when the interview took place. Was it face-to-face or conducted electronically? If the latter, we must say whether by telephone, Skype call, e-mail or other means.
A French television journalist once edited footage of a news conference with the Cuban leader Fidel Castro to make it look like an exclusive interview. For DL News, such behaviour is a sackable offence.
We must say whether the questions were submitted in advance, and make clear whether the interviewee spoke in English or through an interpreter.
An interviewee should never be allowed to vet the story. But the reporter may seek clarification of factual points or unclear quotes.
Journalists working for DL News must seek the approval of the editor in chief before agreeing to be interviewed by other news media. They should accept interview requests only from respected outlets.
When interviewed, identify yourself as a DL News employee.
Journalists working for DL News who use social media on a professional basis should clearly identify themselves. Any breaking news should be reported first to DL News. We must not scoop ourselves on social networks.
Journalists have a responsibility not to spread rumours on social networks.
A journalist who wishes to use social media in a private context, such as a blog, should open a separate account and not refer DL News.
Reporters should try to contact everyone concerned in a story so as to take contrasting opinions into account. We should give people the opportunity to comment if they are criticised or accused of wrongdoing.
Allow them reasonable time to respond. A single unanswered phone call or email is not enough. If we cannot reach the person before we publish the story, we should say so and keep trying to contact them to update the story.
But we are not obliged to give space to those who peddle fake news, conspiracy theories, defamatory remarks, hate speech, incitements to violence or propaganda.
While we take complaints seriously and will answer them whenever possible, there is no automatic right of reply.
Nor are we required to quote views that contradict established facts.
Errors must be corrected quickly and transparently. There is no time limit on corrections. Factual errors must be corrected, days or even weeks later.
Substantive errors should be drawn to the attention of our readers with a note to explain what was changed. In the case of a major error, it might be necessary to kill the story and delete it from the database.
We must also be transparent with datelines and use them only when we have a staff reporter there. Otherwise, we imply that someone is available to reply to questions on the spot.
Material received as handouts from governments or press services should be identified as such and not presented as original work.
Reporters must always try to obtain information by fair means. In particular, they should identify themselves as journalists and not pretend to be someone else.
In a free society the media has a responsibility to expose wrong-doing and hold government officials and other powerful people to account. Some undercover journalists have done remarkable work and even helped bring about changes to the law.
They, however, are the shining exceptions to the rule that subterfuge is justified only in the most extreme circumstances. Those are when the story is in the public interest, and when the information could not reasonably have been obtained by other means.
There is an important difference between what is in the public interest and what is of interest to the public. One includes fighting corruption and exposing lies told by a government minister; the other might be details of a Hollywood divorce.
Undercover methods include video-taping someone or making a voice recording without their knowledge. Such techniques are permissible only to follow a lead in a story that is in the public interest. They should never be used to “fish” for information that might come up.
If you believe that a story is so important, and the information so difficult to obtain, that you have no alternative, you must seek the approval of the editor in chief before resorting to undercover methods. It is not just your reputation as an individual journalist that is at stake.
One of Britain’s best-known tabloid newspapers, The News of the World, was forced to close in 2011 after it published information obtained by an investigator who hacked the voicemail on the mobile phone of a murdered teenager.
The use of drones to gather information is likely to become more frequent but is still illegal in some countries. The approval of the editor-in-chief and DL News’s legal department is necessary.
Plagiarism is theft and is a sackable offence. So are making up stories, fabricating quotes and intentional defamation.
Conflicts of interest
No journalist should ever use his or her position for financial gain or other benefit. That is especially true of those covering money markets.
Reporters or editors working on stories about companies in which they have a financial or other interest must declare that to the editor in chief. To avoid any suspicion of conflict of interest, another journalist will usually be assigned to the job.
Make sure that you fully understand the laws and regulations concerning insider trading in the country where you work.
Journalists have a responsibility to report corporate earnings fairly and accurately. Beware of company spin such as “pro-forma” results which might be intended to disguise poor performance.
Always maintain a neutral tone so as not to appear to be giving an endorsement to a company or its products.
Gifts and payments
In an ideal world, journalists would never pay for information. We do not live in an ideal world. But we must never do anything that would bring ourselves as individual journalists, or DL News, or the profession as a whole, into disrepute.
Under no circumstances should a journalist accept money or anything with a monetary value in return for placing a story or for reporting in a way that favours the source.
Contacts should never receive preferential treatment for their hospitality, nor be led to expect it.
Journalists should be wary of accepting cash, tickets or any form of token or coupon with a monetary value from a source.
Before accepting non-monetary gifts such as travel, accommodation and entertainment, journalists should consult the editor in chief so DL News can offer to contribute towards the costs.
Similarly, reporters should offer to pay when sharing a drink or a meal with a contact.
Journalists should never receive gifts or promotional material at their home address. Any goods lent for the purpose of testing them, such as electronic devices or cars should be returned promptly.
User Generated Content
The first question with every UGC photo or video is: who owns the content and who created it? Violating the copyright of a photo or video can have extremely serious consequences. Written permission must be obtained from the owner of the content to use, distribute and archive the content.
We must confirm the authenticity of any uploaded material before redistributing it. We must never post material with the caveat that “the authenticity of this content could not be immediately verified”.
Verification of the image and its ownership includes the following: Location: Does the image show the location that the source claims it does? Time: Does the video or photo correspond to the date and time claimed? Source: Is the source’s identity and authorship confirmed? Publication: Has the photo or video been published or is it exclusive? Copyright: Is the image protected and if so what are the legal terms?
The Verification Handbook provides clear and concise media industry standards and practices on handling User Generated Content in multiple languages. http://verificationhandbook.com/
It is important to deal as fairly and transparently with sources on social media as with any other source. Approved media industry standards were drawn up by the Eyewitness Media Hub after the coverage of the attacks in Paris in January 2015.
There are six key principles: Consider the physical and emotional welfare of eyewitnesses. Ensure that nobody is tempted to take risks in order to secure images. Be transparent; explain where and when the content will be used. Think of the intent of eyewitness when uploading content. Consider the impact on any person identifiable in the video or photo. Ask how an eyewitness wants to be credited. Work to make sure they feel fairly treated.
The full checklist can be found at the website of the Eyewitness Media Hub, which publishes regular reports on the use of UGC in the news media. http://eyewitnessmediahub.com/resources/guiding-principles-for-handling-eyewitness-media DL News will pay for authentic content produced by eyewitnesses if the news value justifies it.
Some investors in crypto currencies have lost large amounts of money and suffered as a result. Journalists should show sensitivity and compassion when interviewing such people and remember that dealing with the media can be a source of additional distress for them.
We should avoid intruding into people’s private lives unless they indicate a willingness to talk.
We should seek permission, preferably in writing, from a parent, guardian, teacher or other responsible individual before speaking to, photographing or filming children.
Special care is required in reporting extreme cases involving death. The reporter must ensure that the death has been confirmed by the family or another person authorised to speak for them.
We must not report suicide as a likely cause of death unless it has been formally confirmed.
Distress can lead to anger or resentment, and reporters must be wary of quoting potentially defamatory statement. Repeating what someone else has said is no legal protection from being sued for defamation.