Should reporters tell interviewees all the ways the interview may be used?

In most circumstances, yes, reporters should tell interviewees all the ways the interview may be used. However in some circumstances this may not apply. For example if the interviewee is going undercover or using subterfuge to expose somebody then generally speaking it is acceptable, so long as it’s in the public interest. A controversial recent example is the Telegraph’s sting which cost the newly appointed England manager Sam Allardyce his job after just 69 days in charge of the Three Lions. Some thought the paper’s actions had crossed the line, with Allardyce saying “entrapment had won”, but others thought the shocking findings justified the means in which they were sourced.

However, on the whole this is the exception to the rule and for most regular interviews reporters should not attempt to mislead their interviewees in any way. As said in JournalistsResourcejournalists should “indicate that [they] are planning to publish or broadcast material from the interview”. Also, as said in the IPSO code, journalists should not attempt to misrepresent their interviewees. They should tell the interviewee what purpose they are interviewing them for and how the interview will be distributed. It sounds simple, but it could avoid legal issues down the line.

How should we handle the biases of sources and avoid skewing the range of viewpoints?

Biases have to be carefully dealt with in journalism. Whilst the different sides of an argument should be interviewed, the journalist shouldn’t favour one side over the other and must remain unbiased at all times. If there is an opposite view to what one person is saying, then they must be heard and given the right to respond. Journalists must scrutinise their sources and be skeptical about them. The SPJ argues that “the public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.” So they should be identified clearly to avoid confusing the reader and potentially misleading them.

Also, the Ethical Journalism Network argues that “most stories have at least two sides” and therefore, where appropriate, equal coverage should be given to each side to avoid skewing the bias one side or the other. On a similar note, there should not be considerably more sources/interviewees on one side than there are on the other, as this also implies bias on the journalists part.

(Ethical Journalism Network)

What do fairness and balance mean in the journalistic context?

Fairness and balance are the cornerstones of all good journalism. Balance means to give equal and ‘balanced’ coverage to either side, not favouring one over the other, whilst fairness is ensuring that you are not tilting your argument to one side so as to draw the reader into your preferred conclusion.

ONAethics state that journalists should “strive for accuracy and truth in reporting”. Accuracy is vital as without it a journalist is untrustworthy and loses credibility. Whilst Artistotle’s truth virtue means all journalists should have an inbuilt desire to identify and report the truth unequivocally. After all that is what they are there to do – to inform the public in a accurate, balanced and fair way.

When should suicides be covered?

Suicides are a a very sensitive area to cover as a journalist. Families and friends will be distraught about losing a loved one, official cause of death may not yet have been established, and as journalists we have to be very careful in how, or if, we report what is likely to be a suicide.

Certainly in the case of celebrities and those in the public eye, such deaths are in the public interest and so should be covered, but in a respectful manner. Also, suicides that have taken place in a public place (i.e train bridge) should be covered as the public have a right to know why the part of town was perhaps cordoned off or closed for a prolonged period of time.

However, in the case of private citizens who are not famous and who commit suicide at home, journalists should not intrude on the family’s grief. Such an act would fall foul of privacy laws and also straightforward human decency.

When we decide to write about suicide, how should we do so?

According to the SPJ, journalists should “exercise caution when dealing with suicides.” Where appropriate to report on the suicide, as detailed in the previous question, care must be undertaken so as to not bring harm on those who may be suffering. A key example of how to not report on suicide is the Robin Williams case where his death was distastefully reported by some in the press with seemingly no regard for his mental health.

However, with care, suicides can be written about in a sensitive manner. Firstly, under no circumstances should the method of suicide be written about, as is stated in various editors’ codes. This is for fears that some readers who may be contemplating suicide might look to replicate the method used.

Also, journalists have a duty of care not to start blaming anyone for the deaths, especially friends and family. This would be insensitive and also implies someone was to blame when, quite often, nobody is.

Is it our job simply to reflect reality, or do we have a responsibility to protect our readers and viewers from disturbing images?

Journalists have to tread very carefully when considering showing disturbing images. Sometimes, as with the Haitian earthquake, the pictures taken by the American news crews could have been by some as “insensitive and dehumanizing” (AJR).

Such footage and images are always controversial, but one photo that made the world stand up and take notice was of the young Syrian boy washed up on a beach during the midst of the refugee crisis. It is at rare times like that when a simple image can be more powerful than thousands of words. And that is the risk editors and reporters must take when choosing to broadcast disturbing images such as those.

IPSO and  Ofcom codes both dedicate sections to not invoking harmful and offensive material on its readers, but it’s for editors to interpret.

A balancing act must be undertaken, or an Aristotle golden mean, to protect readers but not patronise or censor them.

When should a person or group be identified by race, ethnicity, gender or religion?

The IPSO code makes clear that identifying a person or group by race, ethnicity, gender or religion should only be undertaken in explicit circumstances. Specifically, it states that

“Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.” and that the press must not be prejudicial or pejorative when reporting. This, however, appears to be at odds with some of the stories we see in the British press, not least the Daily Mail and Daily Express, whose thinly-veiled distain for Eastern Europeans in particular is surely in contrast to IPSO’s guidelines.

What is the most appropriate language to use for transgender people and people who do not identify as male or female?

The most appropriate language to use is the language that the transgender person accepts and wishes. If for instance someone who used to identify as a man and is now transgender and wishes to be known as a woman, then it is only right for the journalist to call her a woman. It would be entirely inappropriate to identify them as a gender they no longer identify with themselves. One of the main case studies on this topic is that of Chelsea Manning, the ex US Army officer who leaked classified documents to WikiLeaks. She used to identify as Bradley Manning. Like the previous question, IPSO section 12 includes coverage of transgender people, meaning the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative references.

Does the diversity of a news staff affect the diversity of issues, topics and people depicted in news coverage?

Broadly speaking, diversity of a news staff should have no impact whatsoever on news coverage. However, it could be said that getting a more diverse range of staff enables those journalists to gain contacts and sources who would not have been obtainable through traditional white journalists, for instance in some densely populated Muslim areas. This can only be a good thing for the industry as a whole and enables the industry to gain talented reporters who can approach a different group of people and forge links for the betterment of that specific paper.

What sorts of verification and accuracy standards are appropriate for material gathered on social networks?

As with all material gathered on social media, it needs to be verified. By another source is pretty essential journalism practise. Anyone can post anything on social media and with the rise of fake news in recent months, journalists should never simply take material on Twitter or Facebook as fact. However the rise in citizen journalism has certainly allowed for greater sense of freedom and empowerment, particularly in the Arab Springs at the start of the decade. Journalists and news outlets relied heavily on citizen journalism, particularly through Twitter, during the uprising. And providing the footage and information is correctly verified, material gathered on social networks can be very important. As usual with all footage, accuracy needs to be duly applied just like any other story. Balance and fairness met also not be forgotten about when dealing with citizen journalism.

Does a journalist need to get permission from a member of the public who’s posted material on a social network before using that material? What other rights issues need to be considered?

Of course journalists’ need to get permission. Like using material from any other website, just because its on social media doesn’t its a case of help yourself. Written permission should be sought and a credit given to that person if they give permission for their material to be used. Journalists also need to make sure that the material isn’t of an event that is being covered by a company who have paid rights for. I.e. a sports match that somebody is filming on their phone.

Should a member of the public, who shares newsworthy material on social networks be credited by a journalist who uses that material?

As specified on the previous question. Yes, a member of the public who shares newsworthy material does deserve to be credited with the material, providing that they have given access for the material to be used in the first place. It is still their content, their material. It isn’t the property of media and news companies and as such they need to seek permissions to use it, and credit where appropriate.


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