Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’

Kazakh Journalists Meet With Local SPJ Chapter

This item first appeared on the website of the Washington, DC, chapter of the SPJ

By Alice Ollstein

How do you distinguish between trustworthy news and propaganda? Is it ethical to accept gifts from a source? How can we keep publishing serious stories when our readers and editors are demanding clickbait?

Journalists from Kazakhstan meet with SPJ International Community Co-chair Dan Kubiske (center) and Washington, DC, SPJ board member Alice Ollstein (second from right)

Journalists from Kazakhstan meet with SPJ International Community Co-chair Dan Kubiske (center) and Washington, DC, SPJ board member Alice Ollstein (second from right)

These were some of the many questions tackled in a cross-cultural discussion in early June between SPJ members in DC and a team of four journalists from Kazakhstan who came to the U.S. on a study tour organized by the State Department. Dan Kubiske, the co-chair of the SPJ’s International Committee, and newly elected local board member Alice Ollstein represented the SPJ at the meeting.

The four Kazakh reporters, who work for various print, radio, TV and digital outlets, offered a window into their lives, including their experiences with government censorship.

“We have to use code words,” explained one. “For example, if the value of the currency is falling, we call it a ‘correction.’”

Another added she routinely gets angry calls from government officials who sometimes demand a critical story be taken down or a photo changed to one that’s more flattering. “”But at least we can post a critical report, and it will be up for a few hours before we are forced to take it down.”

Kazakhstan ranks poorly on press freedom indices by Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders. Journalists can be jailed or heavily fined for “defaming” the president or other elected officials, and dozens of reporters were charged in the last year alone. This has created an environment where outlets self-censor out of fear of legal retribution.

Kubiske told the Kazakh just about the only time reporters in the United States go to jail is to protect an anonymous source. Ollstein added denial of access is also a major problem reporters have covering the government.

Over all, the meeting focused ethical, economic, and organizational challenges that are universal to reporters in every country, from the allure of easy clickbait to the difference between the appearance of a conflict of interest and the genuine article. While the discussion revealed that what might be an ethical and normal practice in one country could be verboten in another, fairness and accuracy are valued across national borders.

Meetings such as these give U.S. journalists better insight into under-covered parts of the world and help dispel stereotypes about the U.S. and its press corp. In addition, they can foster invaluable connections and help build a strong international community of journalists all struggling for free and independent media.

Journalism codes of ethics from around the world

Many thanks to the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and The Ethical Journalism Network for putting together Accountable Journalism a database of journalism codes of ethics from around the world. (See note below.)

The group admits it is not yet a full directory of codes and asks for contributions from other journalists and journalism organizations.

This database is very much still a work in process and far from comprehensive! Through our crowd-sourcing initiative we are asking media professionals to send us their respective code of ethics or an update to

And why is it good to know about other codes?

There is a greater need to know and understand ethics in an increasingly global world and the nuances between different cultures. While media policies may differ between news organizations and certain ethical topics are colored in shades of grey, the core concepts of accuracy, independence, impartiality, accountability, and showing humanity are international baselines for journalistic work.

It is important to recognise the value of media codes not just for traditional reporters, but for anyone using the mass social media tools and who are regularly committing acts of journalism.

NOTE: This posting was corrected to note the name of the database is Accountable Journalism and to identify the organizations that put it together.

Brazilian journo qualification law raised again

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

The International Federation of Journalists supports the Brazilian National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ) in their efforts to restore a requirement of a journalism college degree for anyone wishing to be a journalist.

And what a misguided position that is.

The campaign started up in 2009 when the Brazilian supreme court ruled that the requirement, which was imposed by the dictatorship, restricted free speech and was therefore unconstitutional.

The FENAJ argues that only properly trained journalists — with the proper degrees — can ensure fair and objective reporting.

“Journalists have to be truthful, impartial and accountable for their reporting,” said Elisabeth Costa, IFJ General Secretary and former President of FENAJ. “The public look to professional journalists for credible and objective information. We would fail them if we deny training to journalists.”

No one can dispute the need for training for journalists nor for the need to ensure journalists remain impartial and accountable for their reporting. But allowing a government to determine who can be a journalists gives the government way too much power over the news media.

A couple of quick points:

  1. No degree from any establishment of higher education guarantees skills, honesty, integrity or objectivity. (We have a Brazilian cook with all the proper certificates from university but all she can only prepare one or two dishes and is seems incapable of thinking through a recipe. But she has passed all the courses and has a degree. Do you really think this is the exception?)
  2. If the government can determine who can be a journalist, then it can also silence voices in the media that raise questions about government policy.

The more the government gets involved in reporting the news the more it can control the agenda and silence its critics. There is nothing to stop a local, state or national government official to have a journalist’s credentials revoked. Other journalists who want to keep their jobs learn the lesson quickly and stop pursuing stories that could cost them their jobs.

Brazilians should have learned from the days of the dictatorship that government control of the news is a bad thing for democracy. Most of the journalists understand that. And that is why I am surprised that their organization supports a means for government control of journalism.

If the concern is that a reporter is being biased and plays loose with the facts, then that reporter needs to be taken to task and fired. Pretty soon no one will hire that person into a media organization again. (When was the last time you saw a Jason Blair or Janet Cooke byline?)

As far as independent bloggers go, they are journalists just as much as the top reporter at the New York Times is. They share  the same constitutional protections. There is not one constitution for paid journalists at a major metropolitan newspaper and another for a blogger.

And before you say that the previous comments are U.S.-centric, remember that the Brazilian supreme court ruled the restriction on who can be a journalist can be seen as a violation of freedom of expression. The highest Brazilian legal authorities said the law imposed on the people by the dictators was in violation of a basic right of the Brazilian people.

Unlike the IFJ and FENAJ I don’t see how limiting expression and giving the government the power to control who can be a journalist helps protect and preserve democracy.

Look, maybe it all comes down to the FENAJ wants to limit the number of journalists available in the market. If that is so, then they are not really in the business of protecting journalists’ rights and democracy. They are then just proposing a restrictive labor law.

Women and journalism: A look at the gap on International Women’s Day

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Let’s face it despite the positive image of Brenda Starr, women still make up a minority in the newsrooms of the world.

So on International Women’s Day, I thought I would post a few items from around the world on the current status of women in journalism.

BTW, Reuters is holding a day-long live blog on Women’s Day. To participate, go to International Women’s Day 2011 LIVE

Brazil and Libya: Some items not mentioned

In today’s Folha de S. Paulo there is a story about how Brazil sold Libya the anti-riot trucks and tanks being used against the demonstrators. And that is a good example of reporting about an international event and showing the local connection. It informs the Brazilian people about what deals its government has concluded.

Unfortunately, for the rest of the world will not hear about this. Seems as of noon today Folha did not put that story on its website.

Here is a picture of the story from the paper just to prove it exists:

I am not saying Brazil does not have a right to sell its products to anyone who can pay. All I am saying is that many in the world press went after the USA for selling tear gas to Egypt. Why then, are there no similar reports of Brazilian or French equipment being used in Libya and other despotic places?

UPDATE: It seems the article is now available but only to online subscribers. And you have to search by the actual title of the article. Searches for “Libia” or “Urutu” — Brazilian Portuguese terms for “Libya” and “tank” — came up with goose eggs.

If you want to see the online article, here is the link: Folha de S.Paulo – Brasil vendeu veículos “antimotim” ao país – 21/02/2011.

Just remember you have to register with the paper.


Female war correspondents: Beyond Logan

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Many thanks to Kim Barker of the Chicago Tribune for her piece in ProPublica and the New York Times last week on female war correspondents.

Female Foreign Correspondents’ Code of Silence, Finally Broken

Anyone who has lived or worked in an uber-male dominated society can imagine the harassment and hassles these women face. I join with Barker in praising Logan for speaking out.

Unfortunately, the actions of those who molested Logan and other female correspondents seem to have opened up two lines of commentary that is both uncivil and stupid.

While most comments that have flooded the websites of news organizations have been supportive of Lara Logan, some have been down right racist and misogynistic

NPR Ombudsman Alicia C. Shepard talked about how NPR had to take down some comments from its website and has to come up with a new way to monitor the comments because of the uncivil actions of a few.

NPR Struggling with Crude Behavior by Some Users of Its Web Site

And don’t think for a minute the women who volunteer to go into war zones don’t know what they are getting into. So there is none of this “being politically correct” crap.

Male reporters have faced beatings and assaults while covering events in Egypt and Bahrain. But no one is saying that maybe the news organization should not send them to cover the story.

As Barker points out, sometimes the female correspondents come back with stories that their male counterparts either don’t think about or can’t get.

Without female correspondents in war zones, the experiences of women there may be only a rumor.

Look at the articles about women who set themselves on fire in Afghanistan to protest their arranged marriages, or about girls being maimed by fundamentalists, about child marriage in India, about rape in Congo and Haiti. Female journalists often tell those stories in the most compelling ways, because abused women are sometimes more comfortable talking to them. And those stories are at least as important as accounts of battles.

New online news service in Dominican Republic

Good news for people who love good journalism in the Dominican Republic.

A new online newspaper is starting.

New digital newspaper launches in the Dominican Republic

The best part is that it is being run by an old friend of the SPJ and our Code of Ethics.

When Fausto Rosario Adames ran Clave — a now-defunct online publication — he adopted the SPJ Code of Ethics for his publication. Then SPJ President David Carlson met with Adames to talk about online journalism and ethics.

When Clave came out with a monthly weekly paper edition, it printed the SPJ Code in its first edition and at the unveiling party Adames specifically thanked the SPJ for providing copies of the code to him and his journalists.

Unfortunately Clave closed about 6 months ago. Besides angering many in the business community for their hard-hitting reporting (and thereby losing advertisers), Adames and his staff were under death treats because of their reporting of the growing influence of the drug syndicates.


Journalists protest firing in Brazil

Bloggers and journalists in the northeast Brazilian city of Salvador protested against first the firing that was later changed to a suspension of Aguirre Peixot from A Tarde.

Seems Peixot wrote some stories about the environmental damage new development in the city was causing. The protesters claim pressure from the real estate developers led to the suspension.

The paper denies the connection. But soon after the articles appeared the developers pulled their ads from the paper. Soon after the suspension, the ads re-appeared.

The battle is nothing new to Brazil or the United States. (Think about the last time a U.S. newspaper ran a story highly critical of car dealers.)

Here is a Google Translate version of the story (so expect the English to be really rough).

Journalists in Brazil, like their American counterparts, are fiercely independent and often complain about management interference in their pursuit of stories.

In just a little more than 25 years, journalists in Brazil have thrown off the censoring shackles of the military dictatorship and developed a strong and independent form of journalism.

It would be great if more Brazilian and American journalists could get together. We really have a lot in common — besides that deep love of free and independent journalism.

Criticism of Indian media ethics

The following linked item is a blistering attack on the lack of ethics in the Indian media by an Indian commentator.

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar: The ugly face of Indian news media

How much of what she describes is widespread is hard to tell. But she does make an case that there are some serious problems in India.

Most TV reporters are imposing their half-baked moral judgements on the audience because editors are allowing them to. Editors and publishers simply don’t have the time, energy or money, or all three, to take them through the ropes.

The result: In a market where the context of news was set by some really good brands, the drop in standards has been nauseatingly dizzy.

Oh, does some of this sound familiar to U.S. ears as well?

Protecting sources — update on Wikileaks fallout

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

No real need to expand too much here.

U.S. Cautions People Named in Cable Leaks

As any journalist knows, protection of ones sources is important. Too bad that so many people do not see that it is also important for the US government to protect its sources, especially those who give vital information to understanding what is going on in the world. (Kind of like a reporter getting a confidential source inside a government agency or corporation.)

At least the US government is now doing something to protect many of their outed sources.

The issue here is not the release o the cables — most of them would have been made public in a few years anyway — rather it is protection of sources.

Once the cables were released, there is no reason NOT to publish them. But how hard would it have been for Wikileaks to redact the names of people cited in the cables? Especially the sources in places such as China and Libya.

I don’t see how it would have hurt the public’s understanding of the issues discussed. Hell, we journalists use confidential sources all the time. And we keep those sources confidential to protect them from reprisal.

As the Times story points out, there does not seem to have been any major fallout over the cables released so far. But there is fallout:

An American diplomat in Central Asia said recently that one Iranian contact, who met him on periodic trips outside Iran, told him he would no longer speak to him. Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, said people in Afghanistan and Pakistan had become more reluctant to speak to human rights investigators for fear that what they said might be made public.

The fallout is that people will not even speak with NGOs about their situation. And that really can’t be helpful.

So I ask again: Why put people in danger?

Let’s face it, there are a lot of very bad people and governments out there who would love to have more excuses to persecute and remove “trouble makers.” (At least the Times and some others have redacted some names.)


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