Comments Off on Journalistic Integrity and Ethics (or the current lack of it)

British journalism is broken. This should be obvious.

Stories nowadays are twisted to elicit the most emotional response,  usually to scare. In the main the news is no longer reported; it is sensationalized! Oh and a story being true, this appears to be an optional extra for some publications.

Also for a long time I have hated the unhealthy obsession there is with the every move (I’m sure if it was allowed to be printed every bowel movement too) and more to the point every slip celebrities make, that has become the mainstay of certain publications.

The most tasteless and bitter example of what is wrong happened in an advert for a ‘Chat’ / ‘OK’ type magazine. There had been what can only be described as a tragic accident: during a family visit to the beach a young child was killed when the person-size hole she had been digging in the sand collapsed on her. (As an aside there was a positive side to the story: many other beach goers rushed to help to dig the girl out.)

The magazine in question had done, what any of this type magazine would have been tripping up over themselves to do, was to pay the family for an exclusive of their story. Now the resulting article was never going to be measured it was only ever going to be hyped to tug at heart strings. And the TV ad that publicised it didn’t stray far from this vein but that was not the worst. The advert, as is customary, was voiced by the usual excitable young female.

What was so appalling was that in the 2nd half of the same advert the mag also publicised the latest insignificant celeb gossip, and the transition between the two topics was SEAMLESS. There was only the slightest change of tone with no respectful pause, no segue-way ( I however doubt that a suitable one could be written but no attempt was made.), no note of sympathy, nothing.

In the same breath, in the same inane tone both stories were publicised with equal weight and import. The truly tragic and the absolutely pointless and irrelevant voiced as one. Simply disgusting.

Now, I’m not naive, so I am well aware that the root of the problem is that people buy this shit. Society as a whole is sick.  This is the sort of thing, where we need protecting from ourselves, that government needs to regulate.

I had some ideas for a basic framework of measures that was needed. It was suggested by my other half that I do some research to see what the actual current regulations are. As the problem has not been fixed by them or by their enforcement, or lack of, I decided that seamed silly.

This is what I came up with (written in the style of a law because that’s what my thoughts were tending towards; a new journalism law) :

Journalistic Integrity and Ethics

Principle – To get rid of all the inaccurate, hurtful and intrusive journalism in the UK; To improve quality and preserve due privacy without harming proper investigative journalism.

Section 1. – Licensing of ‘Journalists’

Part i) – Who needs a licence
Any person or organisation supplying or presenting news or information must me licensed: reporters, ‘editors’, company owners, directors, CEO’s, media companies etc.

This applies not only to journalists working solely within the UK, but to those people who are entering the country from outside the UK even if the finished article will never be published and/or distributed within the UK. (For publications written and published outside the UK but distributed within the UK a license cannot be required of it’s reporters but all other requirements imposed by these regulations on the publishing company shall apply.)

The licence and general regulatory provisions apply to journalists and companies working and/or registered within the UK no matter in what medium the article is being published.

With regard to the internet an article is published in the UK, if it resides on a domain regulated by a UK body(.UK).

A personal blog or social media page author and/or owner would not need to be licensed as long as the blog, site or page is understood to be opinion or fiction only by it’s readers.

It is an offence to work as a ‘Journalist’ or for an organisation to publish a ‘news’ publication without a license.

Part ii) – Obtaining a license
Obtaining a license should only cost a nominal fee that covers the administration and enforcement of such a licence.

The process should involve confirming that you understand the ‘Journalistic Integrity and Ethics’ regulations by signing a witnessed document and swearing an oath to uphold it’s principles.  The witness to the signing and the oath should be a professional person; similar to the requirements to certifying a passport photo except that they cannot know you personally or be a journalist themselves.

The application for a Journalism Licence can be fairly informal; taking place in village halls or similar place as long as a suitable arbitrator is present and all above conditions are met. Oaths can be taken en-mass but signatures must be witnessed one on one.

Applications must be submitted to the regulatory body for the production and distribution of the printed licence. Licence to be much like a new type drivers licence; personal details, with a photograph, address, any organisation being worked for or freelance status.

The same process to be undertaken by a company director on behalf of an organiasation for a company licence. The licence in this case is to be in the form of a certificate which must be then displayed at the company headquarters.

A license is valid for 25 years after which it must be renewed by the repeat of the same process.

Part iii) – Eligibility
Anyone is eligible for a license. A licence cannot be denied for any reason other then the failure to meet the conditions above or ineligibility due to punitive measures (see below). No other criteria is required to be met before the granting of a licence, for example, but not limited to; social status, ethnicity, education, nationality, ability to speak or write English, intelligence or political or religious allegiance.

It is an offence to deny a person a journalism license for any reason other than failing to carry out the above procedure correctly or previous disqualification/ineligibility due to breach of these regulations.

Section 2. – General Rules for ‘Journalists’

Part i) – Accuracy of ‘Articles’
All information reported must at all times be accurate and correct. It is the responsibility of the Journalist to check the accuracy of ‘facts’ that they publish. The burden of proof is incumbent on the journalist to prove their ‘facts’ true not on the subject to prove false. It is an offence to publish any ‘fact’ known or suspected to be false.

Furthermore no information, nor quote, may be taken out of its correct context or paraphrased, abridged or truncated to imply a different meaning or an intention other than that which was originally intended.

Opinions must always be clearly, obviously and in close proximity declared as such. Furthermore any opinion or rumour must have it’s source cited.

Any honest error must be remedied. This at least means ‘publishing’ a full and detailed correction taking up at least as much space, prominence and pre-eminence as the original error; any harm or damage caused by any error must also be remedied and if deemed appropriate financially recompensed.

Part ii) – Impartiality & Objectivity
No ‘news’ publication may have nor promote a political or social agenda. At all times ‘news’ publications must maintain a neutral and objective stance towards political parties.

Part iii) – Measured and Reserved Reporting
Events must never be reported or presented in a way that is likely to sensationalise them or elicit fear or anger. This of course does not mean that emotive events should not be reported, but that ‘News’ ‘publications’ should report the cold hard facts as un-emotionally as possible.

Section 3. – Respect for Personal Privacy, Generally and in Relation to Celebrity

Part i) – Right to Personal Privacy
Every human being has the right to personal privacy. No factor, other than those listed in Part ii and Part iii of this section, can negate this right especially but not limited to: social status, sexuality, ethnicity, education, nationality, intelligence, political or religious allegiance or current location.

It is an offence to breach the right to Personal Privacy.

Part ii) – Waiving the Right to Personal Privacy
A person may wave their right to personal privacy at their own digressions to whatever extent or limit they desire. Publications using information under a personal waive must keep proof of the permission to do so.

An agreement to waive personal privacy is always relating to a specific occurrence and is not a permanent licence to invade private lives.

A breach of personal privacy that results even in just embarrassment shall be treated very seriously and result in strong penalties.

Part iii) – National & Public Interest
The only other occasion when Personal Privacy may be discounted is for purposes of national or Public Interest.

Public Interest means events or activity likely to affect a large proportion of the population. A large proportion my be taken in context of a large proportion of a community, town, village or county.

Things likely to be of Public Interest:
– the uncovering of dishonesty or falsehood when within the public sphere,
– criminal activity,
– a person setting themselves up to be an role model, an ambassador for a cause or as an authority may be discussed insofar as their qualifications, or any previous act that would render them unsuitable or would have them disqualified for holding a post or position,
– professional/business activity of an individual in context of their actions within a company or organisation or business activity whilst working as a sole trader or self employed,
– activity of an individual in context of their actions within a government department or organisation,
– any act or activity that happens ‘in public’ may also be reported

Section 4. – With Respect to ‘Freedom of Speech’

These rules are not intended to stop freedom of speech; nor do they make any provisions prohibiting the free expression of an individuals opinions. Any individual or company can exercise their free speech in whatever form they decide as long as it is NOT in any news publication they control.

What they are designed to do is make sure that organisations or individuals that set themselves up as sources of news or information are accountable for what they report.

Section 5. – With Respect to ‘Freedom of the Press’

These rules are not intended to put an end to the freedom of the press. In contrast by this act it is also intended to remind the press in the strongest language of their responsibility to investigate and uncover serious matters of public interest and move away from their current pointless obsessive schadenfreude of celebrity embarrassment.

Section 6. – Enforcement, Control and Punishment

Any breach in these regulations can, on the sole judgement of the regulator, result in the revocation of a licence. A person who loses their licence must immediately stop all journalistic writing or editing and may no longer own or hold shares or hold any position of authority with a  journalistic organisation. Similarly any organisation that loses its licence must cease publication or production of any ‘news’ publication.

The maximum penalties for any offence defined under this act can be either or both of: up to the maximum penalty for an offence of perjury or a fine of up to one years income, not profit, of the person or organisation respectively that committed the offence.

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