Journalists Ethics Code (Belarus)
Journalists’ main goal is to ensure the right of citizens to truthful and important information, which allows them to form adequate impression about social processes, their essence and importance, about the situation in the modern world.
The journalist bears responsibility before the society in general, before the law and before the professional association. The social responsibility of the journalist requires that he acts in accordance with his personal ethical standards.
The ethics of the trade involve permanent responsibility of the journalist for everything he/she does in the framework of his/her professional obligations, rather than sticking to the rules which were established once and for all.
The present Code shall set a high standard of ethical and professional behaviour for people involved in searching, receiving, keeping, distributing and commenting on information in the mass media. The norms of the Code are not obligatory requirements and formulated as moral guidelines or standards against which media employees can compare their professional work. The norms of the journalists Ethics Code cannot be used as the ground for holding media employees criminally, administratively, disciplinarily or otherwise responsible, except the responsibility in the framework of media self-regulation.
Freedom of the press
Mass media freedom is one of the major guarantees of the freedom of speech, an obligatory element for ensuring other civil rights and freedoms. The freedom of the press involves the possibility to freely discuss and criticize the activities of both the authorities and civil and private structures. Journalists contribute to the realization of the right to express unpopular opinions or agree with the point of view expressed by the majority.
The journalist must defend the freedom of speech, retain independence of his/her political views and convictions. He/she must resist any efforts to distort information or introduce censorship.
Like any other citizen, the journalist has a right to political and other convictions. However, in his/her professional activity he/she should remain neutral and objective.
Principles for searching and receiving information
Respecting the right of society to objective information, the journalist must convey truthful information and a whole spectrum of opinions on certain issues. The news should be based on facts and information where truthfulness can be checked.
The journalist should do his/her best to obtain information from all possible sources, to make sure it is complete, truthful and unbiased. Information which may offend or humiliate a person should be checked especially carefully.
Information should be obtained in legal and ethical ways.
When requesting information, the journalist must introduce himself/herself, name the media outlet that he/she represents, inform the interlocutor that his/her words may be published, except in cases when the information is confidential or impossible to obtain officially.
Trust must not be abused. In case of tragedies that have caused someone shock or oppressed condition, the journalist must interview the person carefully and with patience.
When gathering information, journalists may not misrepresent themselves. Journalists’ search for information by hidden means can be justified only in cases when the information in question is of major importance for society and cannot be otherwise obtained.
Materials obtained by means of tapping should not be published
The journalists must keep secret the sources of confidential information
Principles of publication
Journalists should present the facts and preserve their true meaning, demonstrate the major links and not allow distortions.
Unbiased journalism does not mean that the journalists should abstain from expressing their personal opinions. However, the reader should be able to tell the difference between the articles stating facts and materials expressing someone’s opinion or interpretation of events. However, this principle should not limit the journalist in choosing the style of writing.
The journalist should not be a spokesman for an egoistic private or group interest. He/she should contribute to mass media’s objective coverage of the pluralism of opinions. It is not allowed to hide publicly important information or distort the facts.
Bias in commentary is a violation of the principles of journalistic ethics.
Preparation and writing of analytical materials and commenting on certain events should be performed by journalists whose competence and experience correspond to the task in hand.
People featured in the articles should be characterized by race, religion, nationality and status only in cases when it is important for the correct understanding of the material.
Headlines and subheadlines of newspaper articles should correspond fully to the contents of the article, photographs and video materials should clearly illustrate the events, instead of presenting them out of context.
Unconfirmed information, rumours and conjecture should be marked as such. Symbolic illustrations (photomontage, restorations, similar motives recorded in other time periods) should be clearly recognizable or have corresponding tags.
When stating facts, commenting on them or entering a discussion on a certain issue, journalists should stick to the ethics and principles of a dialogue and express respect for the discussion partner.
Respecting the rights and lawful interests of third parties
The journalist should differentiate between publicly important information and information that evokes public interest.
Information on the private life of a person may be published only if the behaviour of this person in the private sphere affects the public interest. In such cases it is necessary to make sure that such publication will not violate the interests of the third parties.
The journalist should not photograph citizens in private environment without their consent. Photographs or pictures of people in their daily lives that could offend or humiliate them should not be published.
In covering family conflicts or cases being handled by the courts or other institutions it is recommended not to mention the names of minors.
For working on the territory of hospitals or other medical establishments the journalists should get permission from the management of these establishments. It should be kept in mind that the information on bodily defects or diseases is in principle a private secret.
When publishing materials on a medical topic it is necessary to avoid anything that can cause hope of rapid recovery which is ungrounded or inappropriate to the present condition of the sick person. On the other hand, one-sided critical publications on the perspectives of curing the illnesses, on which contradictory points of views have been expressed, should not develop in sick people the feeling of uncertainty and thus undermine a possible success of therapy.
The tentative results of scientific research should not be presented as final or nearly final.
The victims of violence and incidents should be treated with care. The same concerns witnesses and victims’ relatives. Special attention should be paid to selecting the photographs illustrating the details of an accident.
The covering of incidents and catastrophes should not exceed the limits when respect for the sufferings of the victims and the feelings of their relatives is lost.
Account should be taken of what effect a report on an incident or a crime can have on a victim or his/her close relatives. The name of a victim or a missing person should not be disclosed until his/her close relatives get to know what happened.
Mass media should not stimulate unhealthy interest to the details of crimes. It is necessary to carefully consider which of the two is the priority – interest of the society in getting the information or interests of victims or people concerned.
Victims of accidents and crimes have a right to special protection of their names. Exceptions are possible when the person in question is a well-known person or the circumstances specifically relate to him/her.
Mass media should avoid identifying relatives and friends of suspects or convicted people without their consent.
When a crime is committed by a minor, names and photographs identifying them should not be published unless the crime in question is a grave one. The publication of names and photographs of public servants and other public people is acceptable if there is a connection between these people and the crime.
It is not allowed to publish the names of victims of sexual violence or details that could result in the disclosure of their identities, unless requested by the victims themselves.
It is not acceptable to identify children under 16 who are victims of or witnesses to sexual crimes.
When publishing materials on criminal subjects, witnesses or victims belonging to a religious, ethnic or other minority can be mentioned only if there are grounds to believe that this could contribute to a better understanding of the described events. This kind of information could result in bias in relation to these minorities.
Investigation and trial should be covered objectively. At all stages of an investigation and trial the journalist should seek comprehensive coverage of all points of view of all sides (in the criminal process, accordingly, the position of the prosecution and position of the defence).
Information on the suspect’s family, his/her occupation, religious background, nationality, race or membership in some organisations should be published only if it is directly relevant for the case.
The information that can damage the course of the trial should not be published until the verdict is pronounced and the case is closed.
The journalist should not mention the names of people who committed minor crimes and were punished with light sentences. An exception to this rule is when such a crime is committed by a public person.
The journalist should not mention a crime committed by a person if the person has already been punished for it. This rule does not apply to cases of a clear criminal second offence, or the cases when the person continues the activities related to the crime committed or seeks a high position in the society.
Minimizing the damage
Mass media should correct mistakes quickly and in completely. Corrections of significant mistakes should be published without delay in a visible place.
People criticized in the mass media should have the right to immediate response. This response should not be accompanied by editorial polemic comment, and it should have a sufficient volume, correspond to the essence of the subject matter and be acceptable in form.
The journalist should behave in such a way as not to become a victim of a collision of real or hidden interests. He/she should reject privileges or presents which could influence his/her opinion or create such an impression.
The journalist should not take part in activities or organisations which could limit the independence of his/her thinking and endanger his/her professional integrity.
Conflicts of interests damage the prestige of mass media.
The professional status of the journalist is not compatible with occupying a position in state bodies, or in the headquarters of political parties and other political organisations.
Journalists and editors should not have additional jobs or occupy elected or administrative positions, in case it compromises their moral impaccability.
If work in political parties, taking part in demonstrations and solving urgent social issues results or may result in a conflict of interests, raises or may raise the question of objectivity of mass media, it is not acceptable.
Journalists should not become dependent on sources of information or someone’s interests.
Mentioning cooperation with law enforcement agencies is justified only in cases when actions of journalists may defend life or health of victims or other people mentioned in the publications.
The journalist should not benefit from the financial information received as part of his professional activities before its publication or before conveying it to other persons. He/she should not write on moneys that form the sphere of his/her material interests or interests of his/her relatives, without informing the editor-in-chief about it.
The journalist may not be the author of paid advertising or advertising materials.
Advertising norms apply to paid publications. These publications should be presented in such a manner that the readers understand its advertising.
Editorials should be clearly distinguished from advertising.
In distributing consumer information it is necessary to show why certain goods are chosen. One-sided information – about one group of goods and services, about the production of one brand name, one firm, one network of restaurants – should be avoided.
The journalist should not write on behalf of some other person or sign under somebody else’s materials with his/her own name.
The journalist is not allowed to offer his/her materials to other mass media without the permission of his/her managers. If a freelance journalist offers his/her materials to several publications, he/she should inform all those publications about it.
The publication of articles should not be primarily aimed at getting prizes and awards.
Journalists should avoid publishing critical materials based on the facts of their personal biography, because it may produce an impression of them trying to settle accounts.
In their daily work journalists are advised to keep a balance between fair competition and professional solidarity.
Neither individual journalists nor editorial teams should settle accounts via mass media. Such behaviour damages not only their prestige, but the reputation of journalist’s profession in general, since it undermines people’s trust in the mass media. In resolving conflicts with colleagues the journalist should give priority to the jurisdiction of the journalistic association.
The journalist should defend professional dignity and prestige and express solidarity with colleagues prosecuted for their professional activities.