Ethical Code of the National Association of Hungarian Journalists
The purpose of this Code of the National Association of Hungarian Journalists (MÚOSZ, or the Association) is to preserve and promote ethical and honest journalists’ activities within the framework of human rights, democratic public life and the constitutional state.
The Code is binding for all members of MÚOSZ, and the Association recommends its application and the respect of its norms for non-members alike. Cases of litigation shall primarily fall within the competence of courts and other legal forums, however, legal disputes might also have ethical implications too, to which the rules of the Code shall apply.
The Code does not give a full exhaustive account of all possible ethical offences. Therefore, if unethical conduct is suspected, but the Code does not contain a description of a state of affairs which evidently matches the objectionable act, then it needs to be examined whether the act in question breaches (either directly or indirectly) the four fundamental principles of ethical journalists’ conduct. These principles are as follows: fairness, independence, trustworthiness and sensitivity.
The freedom of the press means that obtaining information, expressing opinion and publishing intellectual works are basic rights of citizens. For journalists as citizens, the freedom of the press establishes rights as well as obligations, and at the same time professional journalists also have prerogatives and responsibility.
Journalists, in the course of their daily work, exercise the freedom of press and serve the public. They have the right to obtain information in order to further inform the public. Since holders of information – be they official authorities – shall not consider publicly relevant information as exclusively their own; they are obliged to share this information with journalists upon request.
It is an ethical duty of journalists to hold on to their rights provided by the freedom of press, and also to meet the obligations. Since, however, in the course of practising journalism, various rights and obligations from various legal sources might clash, it is journalists’ prerogative to choose responsibly between these rights and obligations; and their activity shall be judged by the responsibility implied in this choice.
MÚOSZ continues to cooperate with all those journalistic organizations which adhere to the Common Ethical Principles, and which are therefore members of the Ethical Cooperation Body. Our objective is to establish a working order for the Association in line with the Common Ethical Principles.
MÚOSZ, in tandem with the Ethical Cooperation Body, participates in the regular analysis of the ethical activity of journalistic organizations.
In their decisions about ethical cases, the acting councils of the Ethical Committee of MÚOSZ consider the recommendations of the Ethical Cooperation Body.
As an appendix to this Code, MÚOSZ presents the complete text of the Common Ethical Principles.
MÚOSZ is represented in the Ethical Cooperation Body by representatives who are delegated by the Association’s Ethical Committee, from among its own members.
Section 1. Rules of conduct and proceedings
1.1.1. Rules of conduct shall apply to all persons undertaking journalistic, editorial or publishing activities. The scope of the Code extends to professional journalistic activity, both individual and collective, carried out in the field of print (written and photographed), electronic and online press.
From the Code’s point of view, all those persons are considered professional journalists who
– are members of a registered journalist association, or
– who are commissioned as employees by an editor of a registered media organ (i.e. a registered device of public information supply).
1.1.2. In order to protect journalism as a profession, it is necessary to apply high diligence in the admission of new members into associations as well as in commissioning new employees as members of an editorial staff.
1.1.3. In the course of ethical proceedings, the responsibility of the head of the editorial staff – as well as the responsibility of the head of the publisher – shall be investigated.
1.1.4. The Ethical Committee of MÚOSZ is entitled to launch ethical proceedings on the claims of the aggrieved party, or on the complaint of any given person or body. The Ethical Committee retains the right to reject without proper consideration complaints which are obviously unfounded, or which do not fall within the scope of authority of the Committee. The Ethical Committee is also entitled to launch proceedings on its own initiative, should the Code be breached.
1.2. Even if the person accused of an ethical offence is not a member of MÚOSZ, he/she is entitled to the same terms of procedure as members of MÚOSZ. In such a case, no punishment can be imposed on the defendant, but the Ethical Committee may still release an official, public statement about the case. If the defendant is a member of another journalist association, then the acting council of the Ethical Committee shall notify this other association about the proceedings, and it shall request that said association provides an expert with proper authority to help the work of the acting council. This expert may not be directly involved in the decision of the Ethical Committee’s acting council, but his/her opinion shall be considered. The presence or absence of such an expert may not otherwise influence the ethical proceedings.
Section 2. The freedom and responsibility of journalists
2.1.1. Journalists are obliged to respect human rights. They must not incite hatred or propagate racial discrimination against peoples, nations or ethnicities. They must not spread libel about anyone, or attempt to defame anyone because of his/her religion, beliefs, gender, physical or mental state, age or difference in way of living.
2.1.2. It is an ethical duty of journalists to preserve the beauty and clarity of the Hungarian language, as well as the mother tongues of ethnic minorities living in Hungary. Journalists must not use improper or gross words or expressions in an unsubstantiated way. It is their duty to act against linguistic or stylistic sloppiness.
2.1.3. An ethical offence might be committed through improper behaviour in the course of practising journalism as a profession, or through the publication of a piece of work (belonging to any of the genres of journalism), such as written or spoken text or picture, in print press, in the electronic or online media. If a breach of the Ethical Code is suspected, both the norms of the Code and professional requirements related to the behaviour of the journalist or to the publication of the piece of work in question are to be considered in judging the case.
2.1.4. It is impossible to commit an ethical offence with a piece of text, picture or illustration which is prepared for publication but which is not in fact published. (However, under the circumstances described in Section 7.1., unpublished journalistic products may be instrumental to committing an ethical offence through unethical behaviour.)
2.1.5. Practising the freedom of press shall not breach public morals. The scope and contents of the notion „public morals” is to be interpreted by the acting council of the Ethical Committee; it is using this interpretation that the council might establish the breach of public morals, or the absence thereof. Given that the notion „public morals” can only be understood in relation to an actual, specific situation, in case doubt arises in the course of ethical proceedings, the acting council should refer to the assessment of the Ethical Committee as a guideline.
2.2. Journalists have the right to obtain and publish information and to criticize. Journalists also have the right to opinion and conviction, and to the expression thereof. Journalists must not be forced to create works that are against their opinion or conviction.
2.3. Employers, editors or owners of media organs must not curb journalists’ rights to opinion, conviction and publication.
Owners of media organs and editors commit an ethical offence if, in the production of the journalistic product, they prioritize its commodity features to the detriment of the principles of the freedom of press or to the public interest.
The notion of „informational competition” does not justify publishing unconfirmed or false information, or publishing pieces of information concerning a person’s private life, independent of his/her public role, and thereby encroaching on his/her personal rights.
Section 3. The protection of personality
3.1.1. Journalists must respect human personality rights and dignity. Journalists must not make untruthful allegations, and they must not use offensive expressions likely to infringe the good reputation and honour of others. Whether or not a certain specific expression is offensive shall be judged considering the facts published in, and the characteristics related to the genre of, the text in question.
3.1.2. It is an ethical offence not to consider the personal rights and emotions of victims of crimes, accidents or similar events, or the personal rights and emotions of such victims’ members of families, and to present such events without respect for grief.
Names of victims must not be published until members of the victims’ immediate families have been notified. Details that might identify the victims even without mentioning their names are to be avoided. (However, in case of important public personalities, these rules may not necessarily apply.)
3.1.3. When publishing the names or pictures of persons undergoing criminal procedure, the relevant pieces of law are to be respected.
3.1.4. If a fact detrimental to a subject’s good name or interests has been published, subsequent judicial rulings, decisions of authorities changing this fact, or the emergence of new, crucially relevant facts shall also be published.
3.1.5. If an acting authority requests confidentiality, this request shall be considered regarding the peculiarities of the specific situation in question.
3.1.6. The protection of the personal rights of underaged persons means the avoiding publishing their names, pictures or details that could lead to their being identified, likewise avoiding endangering circumstances with regard to their upbringing. It is an ethical offence to infringe the personal rights of minors. The ethical responsibility of journalists might be established even if the infringement took place with the consent of the subject’s legal representative (parent or guardian).
Children may only be represented with the consent of their parents or legal representatives; or with the consent of, respectively, their master teacher or kindergarten attendant, if reporting is to take place while children are at school or in kindergarten. If it is impossible to obtain such consent before recording the material to be published, written consent must be obtained prior to the publication (braodcastingairing) of the material. Naturally [sic] this does not apply to those cases in which minors are not represented individually but as a crowd.
3.1.7. Among personal rights, the right to privacy is to be respected. It is an extremely grave offence against the ethics of journalism to treat the personal rights of the family members of a public figure as if these rights were solely dependent on the personal rights of the public figure in question.
3.1.8. In every genre of journalism, increased attention must be paid to the protection and rights of subjects suffering from any kind of illness.
3.1.9. There are no regulations stipulating that reporting about all or any political party is compulsory. The selection of politicians for interview depends on the occasion (e.g. a programme covering an election, a round-table talk between politicians etc.), on the intentions of the journalists and editors, and on the presence of extra-parliamentary contributors (e.g. parties outside the parliament, other social organizations, professional bodies, experts etc.). If a given political party refuses to be represented, this does not exclude the possibility of the representation of other parties.
3.2.1. It is an offence against the ethics of journalism
– to significantly modify interviewees’ statements without their consent, or not to consider the changes pertaining to the content of the statements that the interviewees have asked for,
– to falsely represent something that an interviewee has not said as the interviewee’s claim or opinion,
– to represent an interviewee in a biased or offensive visual or textual context, or to mislead the interviewee about the place (media organ) in which the report is to be published,
– not to present, prior to publication, the article to the interviewee if so requested.
3.2.2. Interviewees have the right to stipulate the conditions on which the interview can take place. This practice cannot be interpreted as an infringement of editorial freedom. [Interviewees] not revealing such intentions in advance might be accepted as reasonable practice in extraordinary cases.
3.2.3. It is only necessary to present, before publication, the article, text or recorded material to interviewees or participants in a programme, if those involved request it. The purpose of this practice may only be to eliminate factual errors from the text. Both parties may discontinue the interview.
3.2.4. Information must only be obtained using by legal and ethical means and ways. Eavesdropping, wire tapping and the use of hidden cameras or hidden audio recorders constitutes an offence against the ethics of journalism, as does the revealing of information which pertains to the subjects’ private life and which is not authorized by the subject for publication.
Recording shall be considered „hidden” in cases where
– the recording appliance is hidden or concealed,
– the subject is not aware of the recording taking place.
However, at public events, the recording shall not be considered „hidden” even if those present are unaware of the recording taking place.
The use of hidden recordings does not constitute an ethical offence
– if it is intended to reveal illegal or anti-social activities, or
– if the objective of a television or radio show may solely be reached through the use of hidden recordings, or
– if the desired material cannot be recorded openly.
Hidden recordings must be authorised by editors-in-charge.
Telephone calls may only be recorded with the prior notification of parties.
Section 4. Truthful reporting and due diligence
4.1. Journalists and editors must not make untruthful allegations in writing, in online work or in television or radio programmes. Journalists and editors are obliged to check facts and figures with due diligence.
4.2. It violates the principle of correct information, and is therefore an ethical offence, to hinder the revealing of truth, or to hinder or obstruct co-workers in their attempts to reveal the truth.
4.3. If a journalist presents an event or phenomenon truthfully, he/she may not be condemned because of not dealing with other events or phenomena.
4.4. Journalists must not remain impartial when it comes to the protection of democratic values. It is a duty of journalists to take a stand against terrorism and against incitement to hatred (regardless of its motives, e.g. discrimination based on race, religion, culture, nationality, gender or age). Journalists must not support violence.
In case of obtaining information about a planned assassination attempt or act of terrorism, it is crucial to check the validity of this information. If it can be suspected that the threat is valid, then journalists must immediately notify authorities as well as the public.
4.5. In case of embargoed reports and documents, the earliest possible time of publication must be respected. An infringement of an embargo is an ethical offence. A journalist may only break an embargo with the knowledge and consent of his/her superior.
It needs to be checked whether a request for a publishing embargo comes from a person of suitable rank and authority.
4.6. When covering the hijacking of a plane or a hostage situation, it is especially important to carefully consider whether to publish texts on the internal communication of authorities. Journalists must consider the basic principle of not risking either the lives or the bodily integrity of hostages and forces trying to resolve the situation, or the success of the operation trying to resolve the situation. They also must consider the fact that the causeless, unauthorized publication of official messages might constitute a form of confidentiality infringement, and as such, might be illegal.
Section 5. Correction
5.1. The author and the editor of a text is obliged to voluntarily publish due correction either upon request of the subject offended, or if the untruthfulness [of the original text] is revealed. If due correction is not published, ethical proceedings may take place even if the offended parties do not initiate legal action. If, on the other hand, a court has ordered the publication of a piece of correction, ethical proceedings cannot alter the court order, or the contents of the ordered correction.
5.2. An opportunity for a rejoinder must be provided for whoever was personally and detrimentally affected by an article or broadcast programme, even in the absence of an official obligation for correction. The reply of the offended parties must not infringe the personal rights or honour of others.
5.3. The ethics of journalism demands that the editorial staff shall conscientiously pay due attention to reactions, criticism and complaints pertaining to the media organ, programme (or the contents of these).
Section 6. The protection of the author
6.1. Plagiarism – appropriating intellectual products of others and publishing them as one’s own, or otherwise pretending authorship – is an infringement of the ethics of journalism.
An ethical offence is committed by
– knowingly misappropriating a text,
– quoting the works of others while distorting them and pretending the distorted version is the authentic version of the work,
– publishing a text, modifying its contents, or putting the text into a derogatory context without the consent of its author,
– publicizing as one’s own a topic considered as original – previously researched and published by others – without acknowledging the original source,
– covering a popular theme or topic originally published in a different media organ without acknowledging the original source or author. Even if a journalist reveals additional facts that elaborate the original topic, he/she must refer to the original source when reporting about them.
6.2. The author may not hand over the same piece of work to multiple publishers without indicating this fact, neither may he request a second publication of an already published article without drawing the attention of the second publisher to this fact. Editors of media organs shall notify authors who submit manuscripts, photographs or other illustrations, audio or video texts about the acceptance or refusal of their material within 15 days, but by all means before the submitted material becomes outdated.
6.3. Authors have the right to use pseudonyms. When choosing a pseudonym, consideration must be paid to other journalists. In case two or more journalists happen to share names or pseudonyms, upon request of the author with longer service in the profession, it is the duty of the less experienced journalist(s) to use different name(s) or distinctive mark(s) in their names.
Section 7. Prohibition of abuse
7.1. A journalist abuses his/her profession if he/she, for the publication or the withholding of facts, requests or accepts financial gains, or in case he/she threatens affected parties with the publication or non-publication of facts in order to realize unlawful benefit (see also Section 2.1.4.).
7.2. It is an infringement of ethical norms if journalists or editors advertise, positively or negatively evaluate products or companies without indicating that a piece of text is advertising material, for the realization of financial gains. Paid advertising material and paid announcements shall be noticeably marked as such.
7.3. It is an ethical offence to force journalists, in return for employing them, to sell advertising or to obtain or produce paid-for announcements.
7.4. Journalists shall not promote violence, or substances or lifestyles detrimental to health. Legal regulations offer a guideline as to what, in a specific situation, constitutes an infringement of this section.
7.5. If a journalist or editor practises his/her profession while financially dependent on other sources, it is an ethical offence to abuse said financial dependence in order to influence his/her journalistic activities.
7.6. MÚOSZ expects state and municipal institutions, as well as private individuals, as owners of print media, radio and television channels and on-line news portals, to provide journalists with reasonable remuneration and suitable working conditions, so as to ensure that high quality and independent journalism can be practised.
7.7. Journalists must not accept gifts that might raise suspicions of bribery. (Simple press gifts, theatre tickets, dinner invitations may be accepted, as these do not raise the suspicion that the journalist is bribed.)
Section 8. Rights and ethics of information
8.1.1. Journalists’ profession – their right and obligation – is to inform the public in fairness, providing unbiased and thorough information. Journalists must always consider whether the publication of certain emerging facts would risk others’ lives, or infringe others’ personality rights or lawful interests.
8.1.2. It is an ethical duty of journalists to consider whether there is substantial reason to publish classified information (private, state or official secrets). It is also an ethical duty of journalists to consider, when revealing classified information in any way, how much risk the publication of the information in question would pose to other interests, and thus to decide whether in the specific case the protection of the secret is more important than providing the public with information.
8.2. If a journalist promised an information source not to reveal his/her identity, this promise shall be kept under all circumstances. However, the origin of the information shall be revealed if this does not threaten the anonymity of the source. Journalists shall attempt everything reasonable to be able to name their sources. If this is impossible, journalists shall attempt to obtain information from other, named sources. If this is also impossible, the reason for withholding the sources’ identity shall be indicated. Anonymity might not be offered in case this would serve an attempt to elude justice.
8.3. Anonymity must be assured
– if a report deals with such kind of private affair that substantiates anonymity (e.g. when writing about organ donors, financial donations or minorsunderaged persons),
– when reporting about victims. It is especially important to provide anonymity for victims of sex crimes. No such details shall be revealed that, when put together, could lead to the identification of the victim. Thus it is not permitted to disclose the victim’s address, or the relationship between the victim and any other person involved in the crime, or the relationship between the victim and the crime scene.
Section 9. Collegial behaviour
9.1. The Ethical Committee shall investigate complaints against the members and elected representatives of MÚOSZ, if a breach of the articles of association or an infringement of the laws regarding the operation of the Association is suspected, and the complaints have ethical implications, or if the complaints indicate that a disciplinary offence (as stated in the articles of association) has been committed.
9.2. Upon request, or on its own initiative, the Ethical Committee shall defend members of MÚOSZ who are wrongly accused of unethical professional behaviour.
9.3. Journalists must, among themselves too, abide by the rules of civilised contact. It is not permitted to hinder fellow journalists’ work, to attempt to malign one another, or to abuse a fellow journalists’ work free of charge.
9.4. If a journalist uses lawful means in order to collect outstanding debts of payments or remuneration, the employer, publisher or editor who in any way punishes, or threatens to punish, the journalist for doing so commits and ethical offence.
Section 10. Ethical rulings
10.1. In case of an infringement of the rules stipulated in this Code, the Ethical Committee, upon conducting ethical proceedings according to its regulations, may rule that an ethical offence has been committed. In the course of the proceedings, and in publishing the Committee’s verdict, the widest possible publicity shall be sought.
10.2. The Ethical Committee, or its acting council, usually publishes only its final verdicts. However, the acting council may decide that – especially in order to protect the freedom of press and to fend off unjust or unethical attacks – non-final rulings might be published too. In such a case the non-final status of the verdict must be strongly emphasized. Rulings or statements may also be published in press releases or at press conferences.
10.3. The acting council of the Ethical Committee shall impose sanctions in proportion to the gravity of the ethical offence, but as a professional court of honour, its primary objective is to bring the parties to an understanding, to have them seek an agreement, to appease and to satisfy all parties involved.
10.4. The Ethical Committee may impose the following sanctions:
– oral warning,
– written warning,
– major censure,
– suspension of membership rights for one year,
– exclusion from MÚOSZ.
If an elected representative of the Association commits an ethical offence, the acting council of the Ethical Committee may also initiate the removal of the representative from his / her position.
10.5. The chair and deputy chairs of the Ethical Committee act as an acting council of appeal. There is no appeal against a decision of the council of appeal, with the exception of a decision excluding the defendant from MÚOSZ. It is possible to lodge a complaint against such a decision with the Board of the Association. Verdicts that are not appealed within the period of time set by the Ethical Committee for this purpose are considered final.
10.6. The Ethical Committee may notify the leader of the editorial staff, the publisher, or the owner of the media organ about the verdict reaching its final stage. If it is necessary, the Committee may initiate proceedings with other social forums or authorities.
In the creation of this Code, the following documents have been consulted and considered:
– the [Hungarian] Law No. II. of 1986 about the press, law No. I. of 1996 about the media,
– thoughts expressed in [Charles Fletcher’s] Visegrád Guidelines pertaining to journalism,
– the ethical principles published in 1977 by the Washington Post,
– the ethical and procedural rules of the Hungarian Association of Content Providers,
– Resolution 1003/1993 by the Council of Europe on the ethics of journalism,
– production guidelines of the BBC, and
– previously passed bills of law and guidelines that concerned parliamentary and municipal elections in Hungary.