IMMJ-MA Code of Ethics
As an IMMJ-MA student multimedia journalist, you must employ professional ethical standards. We want you to tell amazing stories, but you must also be honest and fair at all times in gathering, reporting, conveying and publishing information. You must at all times, treat sources, subjects, audience, colleagues, and yourselves as human beings deserving of respect and safety. Read these guidelines in full and sign the bottom to testify that you understand and will comply with IMMJ-MA ethical standards. The risk and ethics sections of your project forms will also need to be made with consideration to these guidelines.
Please note: This code of ethics has largely borrowed from and condensed from the Reuters handbook of journalism. We’ve tried to condense key points and put things into simple language for non-native speakers. Be clear, this guide is not intended as a set of “rules”. Some ethical breaches are obvious, such as plagiarism, fabrication or bribe taking, however, journalism is a profession governed by guiding ethical principles rather than by rigid rules. These guidelines are an attempt to help guide you to make good decisions and act in the best interests of your contacts, audience and the profession. Another great short but to the point resource is the NPR Guiding Principles and it’s more comprehensive the NPR Ethics Handbook. We suggest you read both.
IMMJ-MA TOP TEN RULES
- Protect your sources, translators and yourself. Never put anyone’s physical well-being in danger for a story
- Protect your sources, translators and yourself — if there are any potentials risks or harms that may impact people – negotiate with your tutor and ensure informed consent
- Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
SEEK & REPORT TRUTH
- Be as accurate, honest, fair and complete in researching, gathering, reporting and interpreting information as possible.
- Never assume that the collection of facts and assumptions, and the point of view that you have arrived at, is “the truth.”
- Strive for balance and freedom from bias
- Don’t lie or fabricate information and never plagiarise
- Never alter a still or moving image beyond the requirements of normal image enhancement
- Never pay for a story and never accept a bribe
- Always reveal a conflict of interest to a tutor If in doubt — ask
Accuracy is at the core of journalism. It is your job to get information quickly but it is MUCH more important to get it right. Accuracy, as well as balance, always takes precedence over speed. In today’s world of information overload, it is very easy to find “information” quickly, especially online. A good journalist, however, must never publish any facts, data or information without first verifying them as accurate. Regardless of the size, scope and audience of a story, always report with the goal of 100 percent accuracy of all facts, quotes and ideas presented. You verify or ‘fact check’ information by checking facts by two reliable sources. Another important part of accuracy is understanding the context in which events and issues occur. Nothing happens in a vacuum — This is why researching around your topic is imperative.
- Accuracy checklist – print and follow NPR’s set of questions to ask before you call any story complete:
- Is every name and title correctly spelled?
- Are the quotes accurate and properly attributed?
- Have I reviewed my spelling and grammar?
- Is every number and calculation correct?
- Are all the terms being used correctly? For example, was the suspect really “arrested” or is he only being questioned?
- Do I need to check a source’s “fact” against what others are saying? Advocates can skew things in their favour.
- Is the story fair? Read or listen one more time. Try to come to it as if you were a listener or reader, not the reporter, editor or producer.
- Does it hang together? Our conclusions are supported by facts. We pause before publication to ask if we have answered all the questions that can be answered. If important questions can’t be resolved, we make sure our listeners and readers know what they are
- Underline or highlight all the facts in your script, photo captions, text and graphics. Go through and fact check each one.
- The journalistic method: Five principles for blending analysis and narrative by Journalist’s Resource
- Pay attention to this point: “On any important issue, there is likely to be a long-running debate with a set of established compass points. Therefore the idea that you can find ‘an expert’ who can explain the issue quickly over the phone is unrealistic, and so, probably, is the idea that you can find two experts, one on each side, who between them can do justice to the subject. Instead, you should familiarize yourself with the expert discourse on the subject. You don’t need to read everything, but you need to know what the major schools of thought are, and where the debate stands at present, and you should be able to read the primary material for yourself as a way of enriching what other people tell you about it.
- Verification Handbook: homepage verificationhandbook.com/ A definitive guide to verifying digital content. http://verificationhandbook.com/book
- Tools for verifying and assessing the validity of social media and user-generated content by Journalists Resource
Sourcing & Interviews
Accuracy and freedom from bias relies on good, credible, diverse sourcing. A named source is always preferable to an unnamed source. Journalists should work to understand and represent true diversity of the issue / community you are covering. You should recognise your own cultural biases and work hard to remove them when reporting and interviewing. Journalists should present a range of facts, opinions and sources. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics states that it’s the journalist’s job to “give voice to the voiceless” and to “tell the story of diversity and magnitude of human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so”
- Use named sources wherever possible because they are responsible for the information they provide. Press your sources to go on the record. Use unnamed sources only where necessary when they provide information of market or public interest that is not available on the record elsewhere. If they are unnamed, question motivations.
- When talking to sources, always make sure the ground rules are clear. Take notes and record interviews. On The Record – The reporter may quote the source and include name and title. On Background The reporter may use direct quotations, but will attribute them to “a source from an local environmental NGO” or another agreed-upon identification. The attribution is an important part of the ground rules for an on-background interview. It should be clear enough to establish credibility but vague enough that it doesn’t reveal your sources identity. On-background interviews are usually used in situations where a sources information contains details that might cause harm or discrimination. Off the Record The reporter cannot quote or use any of the information a source provides without independently verifying it. Off-the-record interviews help reporters advance particularly sensitive stories. By granting their source complete anonymity, journalists can get the real, undiluted story and have a better idea of where their investigation should lead.
- Cross-check and verify information wherever possible. Two or more sources are better than one. In assessing information from named and unnamed sources, weigh the source’s track record, position and motive. Use your common sense. If it sounds wrong, check further. Talk to or get information from sources on all sides of a deal, dispute, negotiation or conflict.
- Identify yourself at the outset of the interview.
- State the purpose of the interview.
- Make clear to those unaccustomed to being interviewed that the material will be used.
- Tell the source how much time the interview will take.
- Ask specific questions that the source is competent to answer.
- Give the source ample time to reply.
- Ask the source to clarify complex or vague answers.
- Read back answers if requested or when in doubt about the phrasing of crucial material.
- Insist on answers if the public has a right to know them.
- Avoid lecturing the source, arguing or debating.
- Abide by requests for non attribution, background only or off‑the-record should the source make this a condition of the interview or of a statement.
Quotes must never be altered other than to delete a redundant word or clause, and then only if the deletion does not alter the meaning of the quote in any way. Selective use of quotes can be unbalanced. Be sure that the quotes you use are representative of what the speaker is saying.. Accuracy means that choices of quotes, images and stories must reflect reality. It can be tempting for journalists to cherry pick in order to “hype up” or sensationalise material, skewing the reality of the situation or misleading the reader or viewer into assumptions and impressions that are wrong and potentially harmful. Equally be careful with your own language A “flood” of immigrants, for example, may in reality, be a relatively small number of people just as a “surge” in a stock price may be a quite modest rise. Stop and think about the words you use.
Accuracy means proper attribution to the source of material that is not yours, whether in a story, a photograph or moving images. It is essential for transparency that material you did not gather yourself is clearly attributed in stories to the source. Failure to do so is plagiarism. Plagiarism may lead to a module fail or students being ejected from the IMMJ-MA programme entirely. Do you want to lift a quote from a blog, news report, academic report, another newspaper report — ATTRIBUTE it, better still hyperlink to it too. (Better still contact the person who’s quote you want to use, and verify it directly — they may even give you an original and better quote).
Graphic images and obscenities
As journalists, we have an obligation to convey the reality of what we report accurately, yet a duty to be aware that such material can cause distress and damage the dignity of the individuals concerned. Journalists do not sanitise violence or euphemise sex. However, graphic images or obscene language should not be published gratuitously or with an intention to titillate or to shock. There must be a valid news reason for running such material and it will usually require a decision by the course leader.
Freedom from bias & conflict of interests
Journalists must remain independent and free of commitments to businesses, organisations or individuals. It is therefore. necessary to avoid payment or gifts in exchange for covering a story, or for covering a particular angle of a story. Also, if a person has a personal relationship with a subject of the story, it’s difficult to remain objective. On the other hand, gift-giving is common in China — so what if you are shooting a story in a school and the headmaster allows you to board in the dorms for free — it’s going to be great for your story, what do you do? On another story, you are offered a fancy dinner by the boss of the company you are reporting on — what do you do? An NGO provides you with transportation to where you need to go, what do you do? When in doubt over whether a gift or a personal relationship creates a conflict of interest in writing or reporting, ask a teacher.
Discriminatory language and stereotypes
Journalists should avoid inappropriate references to gender, ethnicity, religion, culture, appearance, age, and sexual orientation. Journalists must be also be sensitive to unconscious stereotyping and assumptions. Is it really novel that the person in the news is black, blonde, female, overweight or gay? If it is relevant, does the fact belong in the lead or should it be woven in lower down? Reporters must resist the assumption that their cultural values, religious beliefs or social mores are the norm. We should also be suspicious of country stereotypes — the usually negative notions about a national character. These can be offensive and inaccurate.
Checking back with sources: Will you submit stories, scripts or images to sources to vet before publication. This breaches independence. You may, however, check back with a source to verify a quote or information. Some organisations or companies sometimes ask to see the quotes you plan to publish or broadcast. Resist such requests where possible
This is one of the very clear-cut rules — Never take money or a bribe, never give money or pay for a picture or interview. In some situations, for example, if you are working with somebody for a long time or they are taking time out to host you a gift may be acceptable. However, the gift should be nominal. A box of tea from your home country, cookies or so forth — never give or receive anything of value.
Identifying yourself: If you are just asking around for background information you do not need to identify yourself to everyone, in fact in many countries it may be a bad idea to broadcast that you are a journalist as it may compromise your work and your sources — however if you intend to actually interview someone and use their quotes or photograph or film someone as an identifiable character then you must identify yourself clearly. You are students studying journalism and you intend to publish your projects online. This all needs to be very clear. When dealing with sources, we encourage you to cultivate sources but also expect you to be conscious of the need to maintain a detachment from them. Do not exceed the bounds of proper, professional contact. While it is appropriate to entertain sources, including outside working hours, regularly spending substantial leisure time with them may raise a potential conflict or a perception of bias. A good measure of the propriety of the relationship is to ask whether you would be comfortable spending as much time with another source on a different side of the issue or story. If in doubt, seek guidance from your tutor.
Your reputation for accurate, balanced reporting is going to be one of your biggest assets. You also need to seek to minimise any harm to the public through your actions. The people who make the news are vulnerable to the impact of our stories. In extreme cases, their lives or their reputations could depend on our reporting. If in doubt ask your tutor.
A Brief Guide to Standards, Photoshop / Lightroom and Captions
These are Reuters guidelines — they are good ones. Photoshop is a highly sophisticated image manipulation programme. We use only a tiny part of its potential capability to format our pictures, crop and size them and balance the tone and colour. Significantly altering a picture in Photoshop or any other image-editing software will lead to a fail.
- No additions or deletions to the subject matter of the original image. (thus changing the original content and journalistic integrity of an image)
- No excessive lightening, darkening or blurring of the image. (thus misleading the viewer by disguising certain elements of an image)
- No excessive colour manipulation. (thus dramatically changing the original lighting conditions of an image)
- Cloning, Healing or Brush Tools are not to be used. The single exception to this rule is sensor dust removal.
- Only minor Photoshop work should be performed in the field. Such as cropping, sizing and levels. You may also wish to lighten / darken, sharpen, remove dust or do basic colour correction.
- Saturation should be used with care
- Colour Balance adjustment should be kept to the minimum
- Auto Levels should be used with great care.
- The Burn Tool in most cases should only used to subtly darken areas that have been overexposed. When the burn tool is used in shadows a visible element of everything that can be seen in the raw file must remain visible.
- Highlights and Shadows should be used minimally and with care.
- Multiple-Exposure pictures must be clearly identified in the caption and drawn to the attention of pictures desks before transmission.
To Recap Allowed:
• Adjustment of Levels to histogram limits
• Minor colour correction
• Careful use of lasso tool
• Subtle use of burn tool
- Adjustment of highlights and shadows
• Additions or deletions to image
• Cloning & Healing tool (except dust)
• Airbrush, brush, paint
• Selective area sharpening
• Excessive lightening/darkening
• Excessive colour tone change
- Eraser tool
Photographers may direct the subjects of portraits, formal interviews and non-news feature images needed to illustrate a story. The caption must not mislead the reader into believing these images are spontaneous.
Accuracy in Captions
Adhere to the basic rules of accuracy and freedom from bias. Captions must answer the basic questions of good journalism. Who is in the picture? Where was it taken? When was it taken? What does it show? Why is a subject doing a particular thing? Captions are written in the present tense and should use concise, simple English. They generally consist of a single sentence but a second sentence can be added if additional context or explanation is required. Contentious information, like death tolls in conflict, must be sourced. The caption must explain the circumstances in which a photograph was taken and state the correct date. Captions must not contain assumptions by the photographer about what might have happened, even when a situation seems likely. Explain only what you have witnessed. All other information about an event must be sourced unless the information is already obvious. Captions also should not make assumptions about what a person is thinking e.g. England captain David Beckham ponders his future after his team was knocked out of the World Cup soccer finals … Stick to what the photo shows and what you know.
• An employee of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd shows the media the
company’s new 32-Gigabit NAND flash memory card (top) and chip during a
news conference in Seoul September 11, 2006. Samsung said it has
developed the world’s first 32-Gigabit NAND flash memory devices.
REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (SOUTH KOREA)
• Actress Helen Mirren poses with the Coppa Volpi at the Venice Film Festival
September 9, 2006. Mirren won the Best Actress award for her role in
director Stephen Frears’ movie ‘The Queen’. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
• A man lies dead in the street May 7 after a NATO daylight air raid near a
market over the town of Nis some 200 kilometres south of Belgrade. The
Yugoslav army took media to show them damage it said the raid caused to
two residential areas and a hospital. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan
• Nobel Peace prize winner Wangari Maathai hugs a tree for photographers in Nairobi October 9, 2004. Maathai, a Kenyan, became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the first Nobel given to an environmentalist. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti
A Brief (slimmed down for IMMJ purposes) Guide to the Standards and Values of Reuters Video News
Never accept bribes nor accept gifts beyond those of nominal value. You should generally pay your own travel. Sometimes, however, you may travel with other organisations as it is the only way to access or get to a story safely. If, for example, you have gone to the scene of a story as part of a military embed or with an aid agency going to a disaster, you must say so in the script: e.g. “… in a trip organised by the Israeli military, journalists were taken to…”
Various organisations often try to manipulate or stage-manage events — from military areas to business and entertainment. If you are restricted from going to certain areas or prevented from asking certain questions, we should make this clear. If you feel you are being unduly restricted and that the result would be a slanted story, you should be ready — in consultation with your tutors — to refuse to cover an event. Organised news events should be identified as such e.g. “…the CEO was speaking at a live media event organised by the company…”
Never fake, fabricate or plagiarise a story. Video stories must not be shot, edited or scripted in a way which misleads the viewer. For example, when shooting demonstrations, convey the scale of the event accurately, using wide shots as well as close-ups. (There are very good online examples of this — protests made to look bigger and scarier than they actually are for example). Do not lift sections of copy from other news sources, Web sites or online encyclopaedias. Be aware how your presence with a camera affects action — take a look at this video which documents photojournalism ‘machine’s’ coverage of East Jerusalem and West Bank protests
Do not use “reports” or “unconfirmed reports” as the basis for a story. You can quote an acceptable source commenting on them, e.g. “the minister said he could not confirm reports that 100 people had died” as long as the report is clearly newsworthy. Avoid using the word “reported” as a source in a headline. If forced to do so for space considerations, specify the source in the lead paragraph. Avoid writing…”it was not known…” In many cases what is meant by this phrase is that the reporter does not know. It is ridiculous to say, for instance, “It was not known who committed the robbery, the murder, planted the bomb”. Use a source in such cases, e.g. “Police said they did not know…”
Do not quote “analysts” or “experts”. Specify their area of expertise e.g. “a strategic affairs analyst with the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations in New York” or “a media company analyst at Bear Stearns in London”.
Picking up from Twitter and social media Social networking and micro-blogging sites on the Internet
Social media such as Twitter, are virtual venues where users around the world may sometimes post information and images of great interest that are not available elsewhere. This is especially true in countries or circumstances where the regular free flow of information is impeded. You may sometimes retransmit such material, or refer to it in text stories. Handled correctly, material from such sites can enhance reporting.
- It is important to remember that Twitter and similar sites are not sources per se. It is wrong to talk, for example, about “picking up Twitter”. It makes no more sense to source a story to Twitter than to source it to “the Internet”
- Governments and other institutions are increasingly using Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites to get official information and news out to journalists and the general public. Journalists using official material from Twitter should mention that the information comes from Twitter (as one does with information from a press conference or press release), especially if Twitter is the only channel used.
- Verification can be a major issue. Textual, video or photographic material
- might not be what it purports to be, either due to sloppy information from the person posting it or to deliberate deceit.
- In many cases, information initially coming via Twitter or social media will serve simply as a tip, you need to check out and report the information in the regular way, quoting more solid sources.
- If you go ahead, state “Twitter users said/ posted xxx”, say how much or how little we know about the source and whether you were able to contact them directly.
- Be mindful that copyright applies to the Internet. The person posting material might hold copyright, or worse, they might not hold copyright. The material could originate from a private individual, a company or another news organisation. Wherever possible, we must seek to find and seek permission from the originator of the material.
Understand that Video journalism & Photojournalism have different ethical standards.
This is confusing and hard to explain. The rules of photojournalism are more codified than video journalism, I believe there is a lack of discussion on this topic. Follow the rules you know for photojournalism. There is one major difference that is accepted by the industry. Unlike photo journalism you may ask someone in a video to do something (so long as they would typically do it) at a different time. For example, if your character is a boxer and usually goes for a morning run 5 times a week. You are scheduled to shoot on the weekend, you might ask them to do there morning run, exactly as they normally would and follow along. You also might ask someone to hold an action for a few moments so that you can get into a room to film them enter for example. A photo journalist would NOT do this. If you are filming an action DO NOT ASK YOUR SUBJECT TO REPEAT THE ACTION SO THAT YOU CAN FILM A NICE SEQUENCE. Some video journalists and documentarians will do this. While it is a grey area we believe this crosses a line. If you do this, it must be clear and not mislead viewer. If you are filming quick action where you’d like more angles for better sequencing ask a friend to operate a second camera.
For safety and to avoid any blurring of the lines in terms of ethics, avoid shooting stills and video at the same time.
- Staging, Manipulation and Truth in Photography NYT
- EP 29 – Ed Kashi and Sim Chi Yin – Multimedia Week
David Campbell is in conversation with Ed Kashi and Sim Chi Yin. They discuss the wide-ranging topic of ethics in visual journalism, including the question of posing, reenactment and staging in stories, and whether there is a difference in standards between photojournalism and video journalism.
Finally here are some further selected links:
- SPJ Code of Ethics
- BBC Editorial Guidelines
- Los Angeles Times Ethics Guidelines for Reporters, Editors
- National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics
- National Public Radio Ethics Code
- CHIP BERLET — Ethics
You will be asked to sign this Declaration
No set of rules can possibly address all situations that may arise. The IMMJ-MA programme reserves the right to find that other conduct not specified in this Code constitutes violation of academic or journalistic integrity. If situations arise that seem ambiguous, please talk to the appropriate faculty member and/or program leader. Your full disclosure is very important in all matters of integrity.
By entering your name & email, you acknowledge that you have read the Code of Ethics for IMMJ-MA students and agree to comply with it in letter and spirit.
I ………………………………………. hereby certify that I have read, understood and will follow the IMMJ-MA code of ethics.