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Ethics Guide

Section C: Pursuing the truth

9. Qualitative characteristics of information

Depending on the type of journalism, news and information pieces produced by journalists and news media should possess the following qualities:

  1. accuracy: fidelity to the truth;
  2. rigorous reasoning;
  3. impartiality: providing an unbiased point of view;
  4. balance: striving to present all sides of a story;
  5. completeness: presenting all the facts and information essential to understanding while preserving editorial freedom.

10. Types of journalism

(1) There are essentially two types of journalism, each with its own ethical requirements: objective reporting and opinion pieces.

(2) The public must easily be able to identify which type so as not to be misled in any way.

10.1 Factual journalism

(1) Factual journalism reports facts and events and contextualizes them.

(2) Such information must be accurate, rigorous in its reasoning, impartial, balanced and complete, as defined in article 9 of this Guide.

10.2 Opinion journalism

(1) In opinion pieces, journalists have great latitude with their choice of tone and style. They may express personal points of view, take sides, and provide criticism, comments and opinions.

(2) Opinion journalists ought to describe the relevant facts on which they base their opinions, unless these facts are already common knowledge. They also have a duty to share their reasoning.

(3) The information reported must be accurate and complete and rooted in rigorous reasoning, as defined in article 9 of this Guide.

11. Reliability of information from sources

Journalists must take reasonable means to assess the reliability of information from sources in order to ensure the public receives reliable information.

12. Identifying sources

Journalists must fully identify their sources so the public can make an informed evaluation of the reliability of the information reported, except as provided by article 12.1 of this Guide.

12.1 Anonymous sources

(1) Journalists may resort to using anonymous sources when the following three conditions are met:

  1. the information is in the public interest
  2. the information cannot be obtained by any other reasonable means
  3. the source may suffer harm if revealed.

(2) Journalists who agree to conceal the identity of a source must however provide sufficient information in their story so the public can evaluate the source’s credibility, but without compromising the source’s anonymity.

13. Agreements with a source

(1) Journalists must try to respect, by all means at their disposal, any agreement between themselves and a source to whom they have explicitly agreed (confidentiality, off the record, not for attribution, embargo, etc.), unless the source has knowingly deceived them.

(2) Journalists may however publish information covered by a confidentiality agreement if they have obtained such information otherwise.

(3) Journalists may reveal the identity of a source to a senior editor equally committed to respecting the confidentiality agreement. This is standard journalistic practice and is in no way equivalent to naming a source publicly.

13.1 Sources’ right to review

(1) Journalists should not give to their sources a right of review the contents of an upcoming publication or broadcast.

(2) On their own initiative, journalists may choose to submit certain elements of a story to a source in order to verify accuracy.

13.2 Paying sources

Journalists and news media must not offer payment to a source in exchange for information, except for fees paid to experts and guest commentators.

14. Presenting information

Journalists and news media must respect the integrity and accuracy of information in how they choose to present and illustrate it.

14.1 Sensationalism

Journalists and news media must not distort reality in any way by embellishing or misrepresenting the significance of the facts or events they report.

14.2 Clear distinction between ads and news

News media must clearly delineate between news and advertising in order to avoid confusing the public.

14.3 Illustrations, headlines, titles and captions

The choice and use of materials that complement or frame a news story, such as photos, video, illustrations, headlines, titles or captions, must accurately reflect the content.

14.4 Edits and archival material

(1) Journalists and news media must not edit photos or video for publication or broadcast if such edits compromise the integrity or alter the meaning of the events to which they are related.

(2) Journalists and news media must clearly identify any archival material and photo-illustrations if there is a risk the public could misinterpret them.

14.5 Reenactments and staging

(1) When journalists and news media resort to reenactments or staging, they must render the facts, opinions and emotions surrounding the events as faithfully as possible.

(2) Journalists and news media must clearly inform the public when using such techniques, unless the reenactment or staging is insignificant.

14.6 Plagiarism

Journalists and news media must never plagiarize.

15. Polls and research

Journalists and news media that broadcast or publish polls and surveys must disclose all pertinent methodological information. Those with and without statistical validity must be clearly distinguished.

16. User content

(1) News media that choose to include content submitted by the public must attempt to feature a variety of viewpoints.

(2) If news media choose to edit content submitted by the public, they must be careful not to distort the author’s opinions.

(3) News media must take reasonable measures to ensure that such content is not discriminatory and does not tarnish or violate the dignity or private lives of any individual.

16.1 Refusal to publish

News media may refuse to publish or broadcast user submissions, as long as such refusal is not biased, or the result of a will to suppress information of public interest.