Communicators and journalists have codes of ethics and professional standards based on self-regulation. The general rule is respect for truthfulness and respect for people’s rights. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) considers the code of ethics as being at the heart of good communication and journalism for it fosters professional self-censorship among professionals in the industry. UNESCO argues that codes of ethics, under their different denominations, are an essential instrument of media self-regulation. They are a fundamental point of reference, guiding journalists on their role, their rights and accountabilities and how they can best perform their job—all while representing a standard against which their work can be assessed. With the code of ethics, journalists are served; publishers and owners of media outlets are protected against legal claims and critics.
The code of ethics contributes to the accuracy, fairness, and reliability of the information, therefore also benefiting the general public as consumers of information which form part of the basis of individual, family, community, corporate, and national decisions.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) provides a sample of a code of ethics in 1936.
NUJ Code of Conduct
The NUJ’s Code of Conduct has set out the main principles of British and Irish journalism since 1936. The code is part of the rules and all journalists joining the union must sign that they will strive to adhere to it. Members of the National Union of Journalists are expected to abide by the following professional principles:
- At all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed
- Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate, and fair
- Does his/her utmost to correct harmful inaccuracies
- Differentiates between fact and opinion
- Obtains material by honest, straightforward, and open means, with the exception of investigations that are both overwhelmingly in the public interest and which involve evidence that cannot be obtained by straightforward means
- Does nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief, or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest
- Protects the identity of sources who supply information in confidence and material gathered in the course of his/her work
- Resists threats or any other inducements to influence, distort, or suppress information and takes no unfair personal advantage of information gained in the course of his/her duties before the information is public knowledge
- Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, color, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation
- Does not by way of statement, voice, or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of his/her own work or of the medium by which she/he is employed
- Shall normally seek the consent of an appropriate adult when interviewing or photographing a child for a story about his/her welfare
- Avoids plagiarism
The NUJ believes a journalist has the right to refuse an assignment or be identified as the author of editorial that would break the letter or spirit of the code. The NUJ will fully support any journalist disciplined for asserting his/her right to act according to the code.
Further, the United Nations, Parliamentary Assembly issued Resolution 428 (1970), containing a declaration on mass communication media and human rights. They outlined some measures to secure responsibility of the press and other mass media as follows.
It is the duty of the press and other mass media to discharge their functions with a sense of responsibility toward the community and toward the individual citizens. For this purpose, it is desirable to institute (where not already done):
- professional training for journalists under the responsibility of editors and journalists;
- a professional code of ethics for journalists; this should cover, inter alia, such matters as accurate and well-balanced reporting, rectification of inaccurate information, clear distinction between reported information and comments, avoidance of calumny, respect for privacy, respect for the right to a fair trial as guaranteed by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights; and
- press councils empowered to investigate and even to censure instances of unprofessional conduct with a view to the exercising of self-control by the press itself.