Code of Professional and Ethical Conduct of the Philippine Press Institute in Covering Elections

 “The success of a free press is reflected in the ability of journalism to honor a primary responsibility to the public. Journalistic principles of truth-telling and independence work together to honor that loyalty.

“In order to seek truth and report it as fully as possible, journalists must be independent.

“Journalists must remain free of associations and activities that may compromise their integrity or damage their own or their organization’s credibility.

“Credibility is what others think of us. Ethics is what kind of people we are.

“Conflicts of interest occur when individuals face competing loyalties: to a source or to their own self-interest, or to their organization’s economic needs, as opposed to the information needs of the public.”

This Code of Professional and Ethical Conduct of the Philippine Press Institute will become a living document to the extent that individual newspapers, their publishers/owners, editors and staff writers will infuse it with life and vigor.

Ethics, and how individual journalists conduct themselves, are, first and last, the individual’s call. But it takes a community of journalists and newspapers living it out together to make this Code the genuine, positive, powerful norm and standard it should be for the industry.

Professionalism is the key to upgrading and enforcing ethical standards in the media. In the Newsroom, on the beat, in the boardrooms, and wherever it is journalists meet with their sources and make editorial decisions, the Code should serve all member newspapers of the PPI as a reference of conduct and decisions of the individual journalist and newspaper. At the least, this Code seeks to clarify; at best, it offers a road map for where the journalist and the newspaper should go, abiding by professional and ethical standards, according to widely held traditions and practices of the free press in the Philippines and overseas.

But this Code also assigns publishers/owners and editors the primary role in upholding professional and ethical standards. Fulfilling the spirit and intentions of the Code on the field requires the full, unqualified support—in terms of money, resources and corporate leadership—of the newspaper owners. Applying its terms to the day-to-day flow of operations and decision-making in the newsroom, and to the performance evaluation of reporters, photographers, desk persons, artists, columnists and contributors—or even popularizing and explaining the letter of the Code to the newspaper’s editorial staff—are the tasks of the editors as gatekeepers.

 

 

Ethics, and how individual journalists conduct themselves, are, first and last, the individual’s call. But it takes a community of journalists and newspapers living it out together to make this Code the genuine, positive, powerful norm and standard it should be for the industry.

Professionalism is the key to upgrading and enforcing ethical standards in the media. In the Newsroom, on the beat, in the boardrooms, and wherever it is journalists meet with their sources and make editorial decisions, the Code should serve all member newspapers of the PPI as a reference of conduct and decisions of the individual journalist and newspaper. At the least, this Code seeks to clarify; at best, it offers a road map for where the journalist and the newspaper should go, abiding by professional and ethical standards, according to widely held traditions and practices of the free press in the Philippines and overseas.

But this Code also assigns publishers/owners and editors the primary role in upholding professional and ethical standards. Fulfilling the spirit and intentions of the Code on the field requires the full, unqualified support—in terms of money, resources and corporate leadership—of the newspaper owners. Applying its terms to the day-to-day flow of operations and decision-making in the newsroom, and to the performance evaluation of reporters, photographers, desk persons, artists, columnists and contributors—or even popularizing and explaining the letter of the Code to the newspaper’s editorial staff—are the tasks of the editors as gatekeepers.

 

On the industry level, this is what the PPI will be guided by.

  1. Covering elections

Pay your way.

  1. The newspaper must cover the cost of coverage during the election campaign and count, including dining out sources for stories, the airfare, hotel accommodation, per diem and operations expenses of staff members assigned to political parties and candidates.
  2. This prohibition excludes transport services and common rooming accommodations arranged by the political parties for all members of the media.
  3. Staff members shall clear with their supervising editors invitations from the candidates or political parties to join out-of-town or overseas coverage events, so the newspaper may appropriate the necessary budget, if these are newsworthy events.
  4. Do not accept cash or gifts in kind from politicians and political parties.
    1. All editors, reporters, photographers, columnists, artists and other

staff members must resist all attempts  of candidates or political parties to bribe the newspaper in cash or in kind. Newspapers are encouraged to expose such attempts, whether consummated or aborted, to identify the culpable parties and to promptly return the bribe or donate it to charity with the appropriate documentation.

  1. Do not moonlight with political parties.
    1. No staff member shall be allowed to work on a part-time, full-time or contractual basis with any political party or candidate.
    2. Staff members shall be discouraged from inviting candidates to stand as godparents in baptisms, weddings and other church rites, or as padrinosin the employment of relatives or friends.
  1. Beware of surveys.
    1. Statistical data derived from polling and surveying is especially susceptible to misunderstanding, misinterpretation and misuse. Newspapers should clearly distinguish between scientific polls and non-scientific surveys such as readers’ call-ins or write-ins and person-in-the-street interviews that are reported in statistical terms. This must be done in a way that is likely to be understood by the average reader, including the headlines and graphics.
    2. In using scientific polls, the sample size and the margin of error should be disclosed.
    3. In using non-scientific surveys, the manner in which they were taken and their limitations should be clearly explained in print. Merely labeling a survey as “non-scientific” is not sufficient.
    4. Surveys that do not meet minimal scientific standards of validity and reliability should not be identified as polls, nor should they be portrayed in language suitable to scientific polls.
    5. Great caution should be used in employing non-scientific polls to address substantial questions of public policy or to describe the popularity or approval rating of public officials or public actions.
    6. Conflicts of interest

Individual journalists (publishers, editors, desk persons, reporters, photographers, artists, columnists) must weigh their obligations against the impact of:

  • Involvement in particular activities
  • Affiliation with causes or organizations
  • Acceptance of favors or preferential treatment
  • Financial investments
  • Outside employment
  • Friendships

In the end, individual journalists might do well to ask themselves:

  • Am I being independent?
  • Could my action harm my integrity or my organization’s integrity?
  • Is the mere appearance of conflict enough to diminish my credibility?

Am I willing to publicly disclose any potential conflicts?

 

  1. Be careful with secondary jobs you take.
    1. “Outside work,” secondary jobs or moonlighting presents per se a potential conflict of interest, especially with individuals, firms or entities:
    2. that are the subject of news, past or future;
    3. that are competitors of the primary source of income of the journalist (another broadsheet or magazine circulating in the same market);
    4. that requires the journalist to render more than just editorial services (writing, editing, art design), additional services that would         compromise the integrity of his/her profession and news agency (pushing press releases, organizing press conferences, acting as        press agent, etc.)
    5. Individual journalists who do outside work or acquire secondary jobs must properly inform their immediate superiors. (A secondary job is one which gives the journalist income less than what he/she gets from his/her newspaper.)
    6. Professional work as stringers or free-lance writers for newspapers, magazines, book publishers, news services, photo agencies and similar organizations headquartered outside their circulation area is usually acceptable. So is part-time teaching in local colleges and other professional or para-newspaper duties. All arrangements of this kind are discussed in advance with management.
    7. Journalists must avoid paid or unpaid work for a politician or political organization, and should not hold public office or accept appointment to any political position for which there is remuneration other than expenses.

 

  1. Don’t use your paper/job to make money. Draw the line between journalism and your own money ventures.
    1. Financial investment by staff members or other outside business interests that could conflict with the newspaper’s ability to report the news or that would create the impression of such a conflict should be avoided.
    2. A staff member may not enter into a business relationship with a news source. A staff member may not make investments which could come into conflict with the staff member’s duties. A staff member with investments or stockholdings in corporations should avoid making news decisions that involve those corporations.
    3. Similarly, staff members’ employment by news sources or potential news sources should be avoided, and staffers should refrain from lending their names to commercial enterprises with no promotional value to their papers. Business interests that could conflict with a staff member’s ability to report the news, or that would create the impression of such a conflict, must be avoided.

 

  1. You are entitled to advocate causes and join organizations but don’t impose this on your readers. Disclose your advocacies and organizational involvements.
    1. Staff members should avoid any involvement in any activity which could compromise, or appear to compromise, the staff member’s role or the newspaper’s capacity, ability or disposition to gather, report, write or edit, faithfully, factually, impartially or fairly. Such activity must be cleared in advance with the editor(s) whenever any possibility of interference or conflict exists.
    2. Journalists exercise discretion in all relationships with causes and organizations. Staff members are encouraged to join and to perform voluntary services for local religious, cultural, social and civic organizations. Newspapers have the same community responsibility as other businesses in donating editors’ and employees’ time to civic undertakings. Staff members should let supervisors know what groups they’re involved with
    3. Journalists should avoid political involvement beyond voting. In no circumstances may a staff member seek political office or work, for pay as a volunteer, in a political campaign or organization.
  1. Don’t misuse and abuse your privileges as a journalist.
    1. Journalists must take care not to use newspaper property, i.e. its name, its stationery, or press card, for personal gain or advantage.
    2. However, we recognize that our involvement as citizens may sometimes compromise or inhibit our professional responsibilities, and we judge each situation with that in mind. We are particularly conscious of the necessity to avoid personal involvement in either side of an issue about which we would be writing or editing stories for the newspaper.
    3. Unpublished information gathered by the newspaper may not be used by staffmembers for investment decisions. Staffmembers should try to ensure the confidentiality of information gathered by the newspaper by making every effort to keep such information from reaching anyone who might attempt to use it for personal gain before it is published. Staffmembers should be careful in dealings with news sources—particularly those in the investment community—not to disclose before publication the nature of the story that has the potential to affect the price of any stock.  And because the timing of an investment is often crucial, no one outside the newspaper should know in advance the publication date of a story. When there is doubt about the appropriateness of a business investment, or about any possible conflict of interest, the staffmember should discuss the situation with the supervising editor.
    4. No staffmember should write about, report on, photograph or make a news judgment about any individual related to him or her by blood or marriage or with whom the staffmember has a close personal relationship. Writing or editing a story about a friend’s business, for example, presents a conflict and should be avoided. A staffmember who finds himself or herself in a situation where a conflict of interest (or the perception of such) becomes likely should consult with the supervising editor about the circumstances.
    5. Employees shall not use their positions with the newspaper to get any benefit or advantage in commercial transactions or personal business for themselves, their families or acquaintances. For example, they shall not use company connections:
    6. To get information or a photograph for purposes other than those of the newspaper.
    7. To expedite personal business with, or seek special consideration from, public officials or agencies, such as the police.
    8. To seek for personal use information not available to the general public.
    9. To get free or at a reduced rate not available to the public, things like tickets, memberships, hotel rooms or transportation.
    10. Employees shall not use the company name, reputation, phone number or stationery to imply a threat or retaliation or pressure, to curry favor, or to seek personal gain.

III. Writing the story

  1. All efforts must be exerted to make stories fair, accurate and balanced. Getting the other side is a must, especially for the most sensitive and critical stories. The other side must run on the first take of the story and not any day later.
  2. Single-source stories must be avoided as a rule. There is always the imperative to get a second, third or more sources, the contending parties to an issue, the expert source, the affected party, the prominent and the obscure, in the story. We must strive at all times to ascertain the truth of our sources’ assertions.
  3. Documents are required, particularly for stories alleging corruption or wrongdoing by public officials or agencies, or private individuals and corporations and groups.
  4. As a rule, anonymous sources shall be discouraged, especially if they are coming from the public sector or publicly accountable agencies. But when we have to shield the identity of our source.—because revealing it would put his/her job or life in danger—we must: First ascertain the truth of his/her assertions; Determine if he/she is not a polluted source or an interested or beneficial party; Describe him/her in a manner that would establish his/her expertise or right to speak on the subject.
  5. We shall avoid at all times language, photographs, visuals and graphics that are racist, sexist, insensitive and disrespectful of men, women and children; the religious denominations, cultural communities, and gender and political preferences.
  6. The identities and photographs of children and women who figure in the news as victims of sexual abuse (i.e. rape, incest, sexual harassment, prostitution, battering, etc.) must not be printed, and details about their personal circumstances and identities must be withheld. In the case of incest victims, the identities of the accused and immediate family members must also be protected. Disclosure of the identities of victims of sexual abuse—but not their photographs—may be allowed only in cases when the adult victim (above 18 years old) has decided to file a case in court.
  7. Suspects in criminal cases must be properly described as suspects, Photographs of a police lineup of suspects must be avoided, except in cases of large public interest, and when prima facie evidence has been established against suspects who are publicly accountable officials.
  8. Documents that had been leaked by sources, especially those from the government, must be properly described as leaked documents, when used in a story. As much as possible, the source must identified.
  9. We shall accord equal prominence to rejoinders, rebuttals and clarification from persons or agencies criticized in our stories. These should run without any delays, or as promptly as possible, and should be edited only for grammar.
  10.  When we commit errors of fact or impression, we must  acknowledge this on print, and promptly issue a clarification.
  11. Misleading practices such as misrepresentation, trickery, impersonation, and the use of hidden tape recorders in newsgathering can seriously undermine a newspaper’s credibility and trustworthiness and should be avoided. An editor confronted with a decision to employ such methods should meet the following conditions:
  • Public importance. The expected news story should be of such public interest that its news value clearly outweighs the damage to trust and credibility that might result from the use of deception.
  • Alternatives. The story cannot reasonably be recast to avoid the need to misrepresent,
  • Last resort. All other means of getting the story must have been exhausted.
  • Disclosure. The deceptive practices and the reasons why they were used should be disclosed on print at the time the story is published.

Advisory:

No code of ethics can prejudge every situation. Common sense and good judgment are required in applying ethical principles to newspaper realities. Individual newspapers are encouraged to augment these guidelines with locally produced codes that apply more specifically to their own situations.

 

Sources: The Manila Times Editorial Guidelines, Doing Ethics in Journalism, Associated Press Managing Editors Association Code of Ethics for Newspapers and their Staffs

 

Share this:

Comments

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.