Statement of Principles
Our privilege and duty is to seek and publish the truth, defend free speech and the right to equal treatment under law, capture the diversity of human experience, speak for the voiceless and engage civic debate in order to build our communities and serve the public interest.
Freedom of Speech
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of expression and of the press to everyone. A free flow of information sustains and vitalizes democracy because truth emerges from vigorous discussion, openly reported. Our legal traditions give the press privilege and protection. We must return this trust by practicing our craft ethically.
Our reporting must be fair, accurate and comprehensive. When we make mistakes we must correct them. We must not turn a blind eye or temper the truth in order to curry favor or avoid retribution. And we must govern ourselves by the same standards we apply to those we cover.
Our stories should capture the rich and diverse values, view points and passages of the people in our communities. We also need to understand how our own beliefs can interfere with our ability to see and report fairly and courageously.
The Right to Privacy
The public has a right to know about the people who are elected or hired to serve their interests. However, people also have a right to privacy and those accused of crimes have a right to a fair trial. There are inevitable conflicts between the right to privacy and the public good or the right to be informed. Each case should be judged in the light of common sense and humanity.
The Public Interest
The right to freedom of expression and of the press must be defended against encroachment from any quarter, public or private. Journalists must be alert to ensure that the public’s business continues to be conducted in public.
Members of the National Ethnic Press Council of Canada, in holding to these principles, promote excellence in the practice of their craft. Journalists who abuse their power for selfish motives or unworthy purposes betray the public trust.
We will respect the rights of people involved in the news and be accountable to the public for the fairness and reliability of our reporting.
We will respect each person’s right to a fair trial.
Sources of information will be identified, except when there is a clear and pressing reason to protect anonymity. This will be explained.
When an unnamed source is used, the facts will be corroborated through other sources.
We will avoid using pseudonyms and composites.
We will not allow anonymous sources cheap shots on individuals or organizations.
Reporters will not conceal their identities, except in rare cases. (This has a legal as well as an ethical grounding: If a person knows that he or she is speaking to a reporter, it can be argued, in any libel action, that he or she consented to publication of the information.)
On the rare occasions that a reporter needs to go under cover in the public interest, the extent of the deception should be clearly spelled out to the public.
News organizations should not tell journalists to commit illegal or improper acts.
People, companies or organizations that are publicly accused or criticized, must be given the prompt opportunity to respond. A genuine and exhaustive effort must be made to contact them. If they do not wish to comment, the story must say so.
There are often at least two sides to every question. We will publish all sides of any controversy or dispute. We must also make sure that all relevant facts are reported and that pejorative words such as “claimed,” “admitted,” and “despite” are avoided.
Where the facts of a story show an individual or organization in a bad light, the facts must be double-checked for accuracy.
We will make a clear distinction between news and opinion.
We will be wary of sources who want to be paid for information. The quality of their information and their motive should be questioned.
Reporters are responsible for the accuracy of what they write, editors are responsible for the accuracy of any facts they add or changes they make.
Photojournalists are responsible for the integrity of their images.
News organizations should have a process for complaints. Mistakes of fact or unfairness should be promptly, ungrudgingly, corrected.
Corrections/apologies/clarifications should be clearly labeled and published in a prominent, consistent place.
We will not mislead the public by suggesting a reporter is some place that he or she isn’t.
We will not alter images to mislead the public.
Photo captions will explain if a photograph has been staged.
Altered images will be labeled as photo illustrations.
An individual’s right to privacy must be respected, except when that individual has brought disrespect by behavior that is against the public good.
Ordinary people have a right to privacy. People thrust into the spotlight because they are victims of crime or are associated with a tragedy should not be harassed or manipulated.
Relatives of public officials sometimes become newsworthy, but we must guard against voyeuristic stories.
Newspapers, radio, television and the web are forums for the free interchange of information and opinion. There must be room for the interests of all – minorities and majorities, those with power and those without it, disparate and conflicting views.
Columnists should be free to express their own views, even when they are directly contrary to the editorial views of their organization, as long as they fall within the boundaries of good taste and the laws of libel.
OFF THE RECORD
In Canada, there are no shield laws protecting journalists. This means you may be ordered by a court or judicial inquiry to divulge confidential sources upon threat of jail.
Be clear what you are promising:
Not for attribution: The statements may be quoted directly but the source may not be named, although a general description of his or her position may be given (“a government official,” or “a party insider”).
On background: The thrust of the statements may be used and the source generally described, but with no direct quotes.
Off the record: The information may not be reported and is solely to help the reporter’s own understanding or perspective of the subject. Since there is not much point in knowing something if it can’t be reported, this undertaking should be used sparingly, if at all.
No reference, direct or indirect, should be made to a person’s race, color or religion unless it is pertinent to the story.
In crime stories, particular care must be exercised. If police are looking for a suspect, there may be justification for identifying race or color if the description would allow someone to identify that suspect. But after the arrest, in most cases there is no such justification.
We will avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
Men and women should not be treated differently in stories: we will not make gratuitous references to appearance; we will use gender-neutral language; we will avoid photos and images that foster sexual stereotypes.
Polls should be used prominently only when news organizations know the full context of the results: the names of the sponsor and the polling agency; population from which the sample was drawn; sample size, margin of error, type of interview; dates when the poll was taken and the exact wording and order of the questions.
Stories about straw polls should state that they are unscientific.
Some polls are misleading. Polls sponsored by interest groups are especially suspect. It is easy to frame questions or choose a sample designed to produce an answer favorable to the interest group.
COPYRIGHT AND PLAGIARISM
There is no copyright on either news or ideas. Once a story is in the public domain, others may grab it, with or without attribution. If you can’t match the story, credit the originating source.
While news and ideas are there for the taking, the words used to convey them are not. A story or even a paragraph borrowed from another source must be rewritten before you publish it. Otherwise, credit the source. To fail to do so is plagiarism.
Even when the words are rewritten, the borrowing of someone else’s analysis or interpretation may constitute plagiarism unless it is attributed. This is especially true for columnists.
We should not accept or solicit any free gifts, passes or favors for personal use.
We must pay our own way to ensure independence. If we don’t, we should say so, so that the reader, viewer or listener can take this into account.
(Make sure any exceptions are understood: For example it is common to accept reviewers’ tickets for film previews and theatrical performances.
Working press passes can be acceptable for some sporting events, but only for those reporters and photographers actually covering the event. )
Unsolicited gifts of more than nominal value should be returned promptly.
If it is impractical to return the gift, it should be turned over to an appropriate charity or institution.
Use of merchandise for review: We should not accept the free use or reduced-rate use of goods or services of real value when the offer is intended as a favor because of the recipient’s position. Within narrow limits, it is appropriate to use a product for a short time to test or evaluate it.
(An exception is unsolicited books, records or new food products that are sent for reviewing. In no case should this material be sold for personal profit.)
We should not give advertisers and special interests favored treatment. We must resist their efforts to influence the news.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
It is inappropriate for journalists to be both actors and critics.
Journalists must be free to comment on the activities of any publicly elected body or special-interest organization. It is not possible to do this without an apparent conflict of interest if the journalist is also an active member of the group he or she is covering.
Working journalists should not hold any elected political office, work as officials on any political campaign, or write speeches for any political party or official.
Care should be exercised to avoid open endorsement of any political candidate or cause.
We should not make financial contributions to a political campaign if there’s a chance we will be asked to cover the campaign.
We should not hold office in community organizations about which we may write or make editorial judgments. This includes fund-raising or public relations work, and active participation in community organizations and pressure groups that take positions on public issues.
We should avoid participation in judicial and other official inquiries into wrongdoing. Such inquiries are often prompted by our stories.
We should avoid participation in demonstrations or signing petitions if there could be an appearance of conflict with their jobs.
We should not write about people or organizations if we have previously been in contact with them concerning employment.
We should avoid writing about any subject in which we have a financial interest.
We should not use our positions to obtain any benefit or advantage in commercial transactions not available to the general public.
Police and lawyers try to involve journalists in the judicial process by asking for tapes, notes, and photographs and by calling reporters or photographers as witnesses in both criminal and civil cases. In effect, we become a short cut for outside persons trying to prove a case.
This poses difficulties for two reasons: If we are seen to be a part of the judicial process, it damages our credibility as critics of the system and may limit our access to sources; if a reporter has promised confidentiality to a source and is then summoned as a witness, he or she may be asked to break that promise upon the penalty of a jail sentence for contempt of court. Accordingly, we should be wary of approaches from the police or lawyers for assistance on a case.
If you know that a confidential document was obtained illegally, there may be legal implications for your organization if its contents are published.
It is not ethical to report confidential conversations overheard through eavesdropping or monitoring cellular phone calls, although it appears to be perfectly legal to publish them.
CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST JOURNALISTS
From time to time, a journalist will be charged with a criminal offence for activities unrelated to work. The charge may be one that would go unreported if it happened to somebody else. But because many journalists have a public profile, a different standard must apply, just as it does to an elected official who is charged.