Journalists’ Code of Ethics (Cehia)
The official declaration of the 4th European Conference on Mass Media, which was held in Prague in December 1994, recognized in Article 11 that „journalists have the right to adopt their own self-regulating norms, such as codes of ethics.” Resolution #2 of the conference states that such codes of behavior must be „voluntarily accepted and voluntarily applied” and that „the practice of the journalistic profession is primarily based on the fundamental right to freedom of speech, guaranteed in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.” The declaration was signed by government representatives from the various countries participating in conference. The journalistic codes of conduct which have been adopted in many European democracies all strive, in various ways, to harmonize the rights of journalists with the freedoms of citizens and to prevent those rights and freedoms from coming into conflict. They also attempt to list the professional responsibilities of a journalist.
On the basis of an analysis of various international and national documents, the Syndicate of Journalists of the Czech Republic has worked out its own Journalists’ Code of Ethics, which is binding on its members. The Syndicate also calls on all Czech and Moravian journalists, regardless of whether they are members of the syndicate or not, to voluntarily adhere to this code.
1. The right of citizens to timely, truthful, and undistorted information
The citizens of a democratic state, regardless of their social status, have the inalienable right to information, as in Article 17 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of the Constitution of the Czech Republic. Through their work, journalists turn these right into a reality. This is why they must accept full responsibility for providing the public with timely, full, truthful, and undistorted information. The citizen has a right to an objective portrayal of reality.
The journalist is therefore duty-bound to:
a) publish only such information for which the source is known, or else, if the source cannot be checked, to release such information with the necessary reservations,
b) respect the truth regardless of the consequences this might have for the journalist and search for information which serves the general public interest regardless of the obstacles,
c) take care to distinguish between facts and personal opinions,
d) defend the freedom of the press and the freedom of other media,
e) not to deviate substantially from the truth, even in commentaries, for reasons of bias,
f) ensure that assumptions are not presented as confirmed facts and that the news is not distorted by the omission of important facts,
g) reject any pressure to publish untrue, or even only partially true, information,
h) reject any intervention by state organs, which could influence the truthfulness of any news reported by the journalist,
i) accept only tasks that are compatible with the journalist’s professional dignity,
j) refrain from using dishonest means for obtaining information, photographs, or documents, or use anyone’s good intentions for that purpose. The dishonesty of the means should be assessed with regard to the public interest the publication of the information in question.
2. The requirements of a high level of professionalism in journalism
The essence of a journalist’s profession is responsibility to the public. This is why a high degree of professionalism is a fundamental requirement of journalism.
In that sense, journalists are duty-bound to:
a) accept personal responsibility for all their published work,
b) refrain from any activities that could compromise them or lead to a conflict of interest,
c) refuse any valuable gifts or advantages that could have any bearing on their journalistic activities, especially with regard to either publishing or concealing information,
d) not to abuse the journalistic profession for the purposes of acting as an advertising agent, not to accept any direct or indirect financial reward from any persons interested in advertising, and to refuse to take part in the publication of hidden advertisements,
e) not to sign their names under any commercial or financial advertisements,
f) not to accept money in the public service or from a private company if, by so doing, their position as journalists or their influence as such could be abused,
g) not to abuse their privileges as journalists to promote their own personal positions,
h) not to abuse any possible benefits related to membership in the Syndicate of Journalists for personal purposes.
3. Credibility, decency, and reliability increase the media’s authority
In this sense, journalists are duty-bound to follow these guidelines:
a) there is no excuse for inaccurate or unconfirmed information,
b) any information that is found to be inaccurate must be corrected without delay,
c) if a source wishes to keep its identity concealed, the journalist is duty-bound to maintain professional secrecy even if such a stance causes problems for the journalist,
d) respect the privacy of individuals, especially that of children and people who are not capable of understanding the consequences of their statements,
e) strictly uphold the principle of the presumption of innocence and refrain from identifying the relatives of a victim or delinquent without their clear permission,
f) consider slander, unfounded accusations, the misrepresentation of documents or facts, and lies as the most serious professional errors,
g) in the course of their work, journalists must not cause personal problems or distress to any person, unless they are acting on an indisputable question of public interest,
h) journalists must not use any information they gain during the course of their work for their own personal benefit until that information has been made public,
i) journalists must not create or shape any subject in such a manner as to incite discrimination on the basis of race, skin colour, religion, gender, or sexual orientation,
j) when reprinting any written text, ensure that the author’s name is included in a form that is adequate with respect to the size of the reprinted text,
k) plagiarism is absolutely forbidden.
This code of ethics for journalists was accepted as an open document at the general meeting of the Syndicate of Journalists of the Czech Republic on 18 June 1998, and, on the recommendation of the Ethics Commission of the Syndicate, it was updated by the administrative council on 25 November 1999.