media update’s Emma Beavon breaks down the code of conduct for South African journalists.

Journalists are the ones who ensure that we, as the public, are informed about what is happening in our democracy and our country. They are the ones who alert us to any wrongdoing in our society by companies, politicians, law enforcement, other members of the public, etc.

But very few people actually know what journalists are and are not allowed to do and report on. The journalist's code of conduct is what helps to ensure that the news and information we receive is fair, balanced and accurate.

Here is a quick break down of the Independent Media press code and the SA Union of Journalists’ code of conduct:

1. Legality and professionalism

Journalists have to uphold the laws of South Africa. The code is interpreted by taking into account legal precedents set in similar cases that have already taken place.

A journalist also has a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards. They are there to inform the public and hold power to account and they cannot effectively do that if they do not conduct their work in an ethical manner.

2. Accuracy

Journalists must at all times defend freedom of the press and the expression of criticism and comment. This means that they need to remain objective in their reporting, but that they also have the right to criticise people and comment on events. However, this must be conducted in a professional manner and must not be used to carry out personal agendas.

Publications must strive to eliminate distortion, news suppression and censorship. This means that they strive to publish articles that are not inaccurate or contain misleading or distorted information.

They must ensure that opinion pieces are based on facts and derived from opinions that are honestly held.

Articles must also clearly distinguish the difference between comment, opinion and fact.

3. The right to reply

Anyone who is the subject of a critical article should be given the opportunity to respond unless there is a good reason not to. This gives the subject a chance to defend themselves, making the article balanced by portraying both sides of the story.

If there are any harmful inaccuracies — especially in articles critical of a person — journalists have a responsibility to correct them and issue an apology.

4. Privacy

No one’s privacy should be unreasonably invaded in pursuit of a story. Everyone is entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy.

It is important to note that when someone is out in a public space, journalists are allowed to approach them freely. But, this does also depend on public space. For example, a hospital is an inappropriate public space for journalists to pursue people as they expect a degree of privacy.

Journalists shall not:
  • publish details of a person’s health, family life or communication without their consent
  • enter into private homes/offices, unless the occupier gives consent
  • publish or take photographs of people other than those taken in public, or with their consent
In cases of personal grief or shock, journalists and editors must handle subjects with the necessary care and consideration; this includes in the actual article as well.

5. Children

A child in South Africa is classified as someone under the age of 18. Journalists are not allowed to name or identify children in any way as it is part of the statutory restrictions for the protection of the child.

When a picture of a child is to be published, it must be done taking the Constitutional rights of the child into account. This means that their identity can only be disclosed with the consent of their parent or guardian. This consent should be written as then there is proof — in writing — to avoid any future legal issues.

Even if consent is given, journalists must exercise caution and discretion if publishing the identity of the child may cause harm.

6. Victims of crimes

Victims of sex crimes shall not be identified or named unless they specifically give consent. If the victim of a sex crime is a minor, their identity must never be disclosed, unless they give consent after reaching the age of 18.

No information that may lead to the identification of victims of sex crimes may be published. This includes photos or names.

Victims of any crimes that are minors are protected by the statutory restrictions that protect them from identification.

Victims of any crimes must be treated with compassion, both when interviewed and in the article.

7. Sources and means of collecting information

Journalists should obtain information, photographs and illustrations using straightforward means. This information should not be collected secretly, obtaining private communications or unauthorised removal of documents.

The use of these means can be justified, however, only when the matter is of overriding public interest.

Sources of information need to be clearly identified and named in articles unless the source specifically asks to be kept anonymous. In this case, journalists will protect confidentiality as far as possible.

8. Discrimination, racism and hate speech

Disparaging remarks about someone referring to any of the following will not be published:
  • race
  • colour
  • religion
  • gender
  • sexual orientation
  • physical or mental illness or disability
References to the above are only acceptable when it is relevant to the story. For example, if the story was about a hate crime against a certain group of people, it is acceptable to state that the person being interviewed is part of that group.

9. Money

Journalists must not use the information gathered meant for an article for their own financial gain. They shall not accept bribes and they shall not allow other factors to influence the angle of their articles or their professional duties.

10. Conflict of interest

Journalists must avoid any conflicts of interest. This also means that they shall not allow their article’s stance or their information to be distorted or suppress the truth because of advertising, relationships, etc.

What else do you think should be added to the code of conduct to ensure that journalists remain objective and fair? Let us know in the comments section.

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Did you know that there are multiple types of journalists? Find out more in our article, Five types of journalists you need to know about.
*Image courtesy of Vecteezy