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Code of Conduct for Journalists

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Dec.1.06

There are some mandatory qualifications which journalists must have if they want to work in the field. An associate degree, a Bachelors or Masters degree in journalism is highly desirable. In fact, there are some media houses where one cannot walk through the newsroom door without a first degree. Alternately, another qualification is experience in journalism which comes from on-the-job training.

Throughout the Caribbean there are writers in newsroom who are priests, lawyers, geographers, and scientists among others. If someone does not have an academic degree in journalism, that is not a problem, they can be hired anyway. They can learn on the job as long as they demonstrate that they have a “nose for news”.{{more}}

However, there is one single qualification that every news reporter working in any part of the world must have and without this it is impossible to hire that person irrespective of how well a writer he/she is or what pedigree of “nose” he/she has. That single critical qualification is “integrity”.

There is no single Code of Conduct for journalists. UNESCO has done much work in laying a basic foundation on which all media houses have built to write their own codes. There are, however, certain basic codes that one will find in common in the western and eastern media and they relate to integrity.

Without integrity a journalist’s career is over because the public has to trust a reporter. When that person writes “unnamed sources say”, the audience must be able to trust that the story is truthful but a journalist who has no integrity cannot be trusted and this is why media houses demand honesty and integrity of its reporters.

It is also the same reason that reporters do not accept gifts from the public and they make a clear separation between advertising and news.

It was therefore with some concern that we read in the story on page 38 of this edition “Local star Kyron Baptiste receives his winnings” that ”the final stop was at the Digicel Kingstown branch where each member of the media was surprised with a bottle of champagne and a gift of a sleek portable DVD player” .

This is a violation of the Code of Conduct for Journalists.

We believe that Digicel was well meaning and it was just a show of gratitude after a long and hard campaign and in no way was meant to influence reporters.

One of the Ten Principles of the Declaration of Chapultepec, to which Searchlight is signatory, states: “The credibility of the press is linked to its commitment to truth, to the pursuit of accuracy, fairness and objectivity and to the clear distinction between news and advertising.”

We can quote several codes from around the world but Section 4 of the Code of Ethics from the New York Times adequately covers our position on integrity:

NEW YORK TIMES

Section 4: Protecting the paper’s neutrality

33. Staff members may not accept gifts, tickets, discounts, reimbursements or other inducements from any individuals or organizations covered by The Times or likely to be covered by The Times. (Exceptions may be made for trinkets of nominal value, say, $25 or less, such as a mug or a cap with a company logo.) Gifts should be returned with a polite explanation. A sample letter for use in such situations appears below as Appendix A.

34. Staff members may not accept employment or compensation of any sort from individuals or organizations who figure or are likely to figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise.

35. Staff members may not accept anything that could be construed as a payment for favorable coverage or as an inducement to alter or forgo unfavorable coverage. They may share in reprint fees that other journalistic media pay The Times, according to the terms of our contract with the Newspaper Guild. They may also share in fees paid by non-journalistic parties for permission to reprint Times material in advertisements or promotions, though their share of those fees may not exceed $200 an article.

36. Staff members may accept any gifts or discounts available to the general public. Normally they are also free to take advantage of conventional corporate discounts that the Times Company has offered to share with all employees (for example, corporate car rental rates). And staff members may accept free admission at museums or other benefits extended to all Times employees by virtue of the Times Company Foundation’s support of various cultural institutions.

Searchlight urges other media in St Vincent and the Grenadines to adhere to a Code of Ethics.

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