September 19th, 2012
Journalism Ethics is a Global Endeavor
By Kevin Smith
Nearly every day I receive phone calls or emails from journalists in the United States posing ethical questions to me. It’s part of my job as chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists’ national ethics committee to help American journalist make wise decisions about their professional behavior.
In fact, between the journalists and members of the public, SPJ’s ethics committee answers more than 300 inquiries each year. A slow, but steady portion of those calls are coming from foreign journalists. In a recent week, I answered questions from journalists in Denmark, Russia and Pakistan. For a period of time a lot of questions came from Indian journalists. I’ve been interviewed by reporters and editors in Egypt, Iraq, Korea, Japan, Israel, England, Germany, Canada and Vietnam. We are happy to help anyone, of any nation, address ethical problems in this challenging media landscape.
That The Center for International Media Ethics is holding its second International Media Ethics Day is the indicator you need for understanding that media ethics issues abound and they transcend borders and cultures. CIME should be commended for helping support the good fight across the world, much the same way SPJ handles matters in the United States.
SPJ’s ethics code has been the hallmark of our work to secure the highest level of ethical compliance among journalists. It appears in newsrooms, employee handbooks and in classroom notes all over the U.S. There are several thousand in circulation. But, since the very first SPJ-written ethics book was published in 1992, the SPJ code has been translated into 12 languages. Today you can find the code in Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, Hungarian, Macedonian, Spanish, French, German, Greek and Portuguese as well as English. More are coming. You might want to help. Many of the foreign journalists who call, have the code with them.
Whether it’s SPJ or CIME, the message is the same – we have a moral obligation to conduct ourselves with the utmost ethics so we can secure and maintain our respect and credibility with the public we serve. There is no place for lies, innuendos and sensationalism. Fairness must always be a standard bearer. Conflicts of interest cannot jeopardize our independence, we must strive to minimize the harm we do to others in the quest for information, and we must always remain accountable for our shortcoming and admit our mistakes and correct them.
On Friday, Sept. 21, International Media Ethics Day, the national ethics committee of SPJ will meet during our national convention in Florida to present our goals and objectives for the coming year. I suspect one of those will be to extend our hand in cooperation to more and more foreign journalists and to work closer in cooperation with groups like CIME so that we can help provided the best ethical journalism of our time, no matter where in the world that takes place.
Congratulations to CIME and to all the ethical journalists in the world for this commitment.
Kevin Z. Smith
Chairman, National Ethics Committee
Society of Professional Journalists