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Why Do We Need the Modification of the Code of Ethics?

28 December 2016
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Viorica Zaharia, president of Press Council of Moldova

I already see the skeptics (category in which I often find myself) affirming that even the existing code is not respected, let alone an improved version, therefore more restrictive. Solid argument. And yet, let’s try to make radiography of the most obvious violations of ethical standards in recent years to see to what extent possible changes might help and protect journalists.

We have the online, the content of which has no specific regulations in legislation. You can publish anything, if you do not directly instigate interethnic, religious, racial hatred etc., if you do not call to overthrowing the rule of law, if you do not defame someone...but nobody forces you to ensure in broadcasting the pluralism of opinions, not to favor a certain political figure, not to publish bloody details in subjects about crimes or accidents, to necessarily indicate the source from where you took a text or a photography (apart from common sense and good faith, of course). Also, NO ONE forces you to indicate WHO are the owners and responsible for the content of the site. More often I hear colleagues in investigative journalism asking us to help them find out who is the head of this or that site. Why? They have again taken over a content and have not indicated the source. Or they have taken a dubious text on an obscure blog or portal and, eventually, a rumor have become news. You are looking over and across the site to find out who the author is or who the boss of portal is to ask explanation, and you cannot find this information. A contact phone number, an address ... nothing.

Lately, more and more professionals from the media insist that we need legislative provisions that will oblige the informative portals to publish, at least, information about administrators and in the case of defamation or spread of fakes to have levers for accountability. A lawyer, who has read on a website a material that she considers disparaging against her, filed a complaint at the Press Council. Before that she tried to contact the “author" and the "editorial" that should, at least, have allowed her the right of reply. The letter she sent by mail to the approximate address that she found on the site came back, and she failed to find the "journalist", whom she believed to be the author. We also discussed about such cases at a specialized workshop at the Media Forum in early December. The conclusion is this: until we will have a legal provision, we should expressly provide in the Code of Ethics the obligation to indicate, in a visibly place, administrators’ names and contact address.

“The Press” calls today my colleague Victoria Dodon wrote one day on Facebook, a reporter from Investigative Journalism Center. What happened? A material of Victoria Dodon was quoted that day with the post "the press wrote," instead of indicating the actual source. On the one hand, the writer did not commit a theft, because he/she did not attribute the idea or product, on the other hand, he/she used the labor of other persons without telling whose it is. Why then didn’t he/she show the actual source? I admit, I never thought that the rules of taking over the information should be detailed so much in the Code of Ethics. Or, the current editorial provides only the obligation to place the link to the source when taking over the text. But when the idea of ​​an article it taken over or the information is reformulated by the person who takes it over? Why a newsroom that builds audience using a declaration made in other show or information found by someone else would not reveal the actual source, "said he/she at the show on TV7 or ProTV or Publika or ..."? We are not talking about the possible advertisement that we would do by saying the name of competitors (screen after which some are hiding), but about fairness and respect for the other's work.

... The problem of licensing or of a form of "certification" of journalists reappeared also in the context of the large amount of harmful information that harms the public rather than informing it. The idea of journalists’ licensing is still quite disputed in the guild, at the workshop at the Media Forum it was proposed to examine the possibility of establishing a kind of "mark of quality", which would mean that the media institution that holds it complies with ethical norms, does not use information manipulation techniques, declares its shareholders and authors etc .. Thus, the public should be helped to understand what products it consumes.

In fact, all these proposals are rules of common sense and good faith, valid not only for journalists, but also for professionals in any field. However, being fixed in the Code they will have the value of a document. Thus, the actions of journalists will be related to specific requirements, and this will come to support the journalists who will understand more clearly what is allowed and what is not allowed, and  why not, the Press Council, which is often confronted with dilemmas when examining complaints against the press.

The article was published within the Advocacy Campaigns Aimed at Improving Transparency of Media Ownership, Access to Information and promotion of EU values  and integration project, implemented by the IJC, which is, in its turn, part of the Moldova Partnerships for Sustainable Civil Society project, implemented by FHI 360.

This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The content are the responsibility of author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.