Proposing Code of Ethics for Online Media and Journalists

(This write-up is published in March 2016 issue of Samhita – a quarterly publication of Press Council Nepal – under title ”Media, codes and ethics’.)

It’s an undeniable fact that the quality of the contents and performance of the online media in Nepal has remained questionable despite tremendous growth in recent few years. As the establishment of online media doesn’t require a big investment as in other types of media, everyone seems to be jumping in – with a lot of journalists with experience in print and broadcasting media becoming online journalists. There is no official record of the number of online media in Nepal, but its safe to assume that at least a few dozens are operating.

It’s also undeniable fact that the future of news media in online. Online media will become the integral part of media landscape very soon and will probably overtake print and broadcasting media as the most-consumed media in a couple of decades in Nepal. In this scenario, the media stakeholders in Nepal – such as the Press Council of Nepal (PCN) and the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) – should look forward to facilitate the growth of the online media in a responsible ways to prevent chaos. There has been a lot of discussion and declarations globally to understand the online media and democratic regulations for it.

One of the immediate requirement for facilitating growth of online media is the Code of Ethics for the Online Media and Journalists. The PCN is in the process of revising the existing Code of Journalists Ethics 2008 and based on discussions in some consultation meetings, it’s evident that everyone wants to ensure that the Code covers online media. Given the nature of online media, it may be wise decision of the PCN and the FNJ to either have a different set of code of ethics for online media and journalists or has a supplementary addition in the basic principle.

When I was the Chair of the Digital Media Committee at the FNJ from 2011 to 2013, the Committee organized a couple of seminars along with the Online Journalists Association of Nepal (OJAN) to discuss various issues of the online media. One of the issues discussed was ethics and a sub-committee was formed to prose the draft of the ethics for online media and journalists for further discussion. The first draft was written but due to various constrains, it was never further discussed and consulted. I believe that ht proposed Code of Ethics should be a starting point for further discussion and consultation.

Draft of Proposed Code of Ethics for Online Media and Journalists

Whereas it’s deemed necessary to issue the Code of Ethics for Online Journalists to ensure that ever-growing number of online journalists, bloggers as well as internet-based news portals function in accordance with responsible and credible practices; adhere by the basic principles of journalism; safeguard and ensure citizen’s rights to freedom of opinion and expression as guaranteed by Nepal’s constitution; be responsible towards people thus supporting the nation; promote healthy journalism. Therefore, the Code of Ethics for Online Journalists 2015 has been proposed.

A. Basic Principles

  1. Press Freedom; Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Right to Information and fundamental human rights
  2. Accuracy, Balance and Credibility
  3. Editorial Independence, Accountability and Social Responsibility
  4. Professionalism

B. Editorial Content

  1. All online journalists should be accurate, fair and responsible to their writings.
  2. No content should be deleted entirely. If content needs to be deleted entirely, it should be replaced by editorial note about the removal, preferably also explaining why.
  3. All online journalists should immediately correct any mistake on the content, but either using strike through or small note of correction. A note of correction could only be a marked footnote with text ‘corrected’. Rewritten news, if facts or quotes are corrected, should be noted as corrected or updated.
  4. All online journalists should not plagiarise or copy-paste content from other online or offline source without permission. Source should be clearly stated on such contents and online source preferably should be hyperlinked.
  5. Any internet-based news portal and/or online journalist should not discriminate, in coverage and writing, anyone based on their personal preference of religion, sexual orientation, community, color, caste, and any such social or personal embodiments
  6. Any internet-based news portal and/or online journalist should not mention name of person unrelated to the event; use editorial content for personal benefits; and distort facts and/or present facts in such a way that it leads into believing something that’s not truth
  7. All internet-based news portal and/or online journalist should only use pictures/photos that are not modified or distorted to an extent that they distort information/truth within them

C. Disclosure / Advertising / Sponsorship

  1. All internet-based news portals should clearly distinguish between editorial and advertising or sponsored content. All contents that are result of own journalistic practices should clearly have byline (either name of online journalist(s) or online news portals). Any content coming from a source other than the editors/journalists should be clearly labeled.
  2. All internet-based news portals should have following pages linked from homepage:
    1. About Us: A page that clearly defines the publisher and enlist the core editorial team. It should also identify designing and hosting agencies even if they are third-party agencies.
    2. Privacy Policy: A page clearly defining that data from users (including use of cookies, if any) are collected and whether they are stored or shared by the publisher and/or third-party.
    3. Sponsorship Policy or Disclosure Page: A page that should clearly note sponsorship policy for content if any and disclose to clarify the sponsor’s role in the content. Any affiliation to e-commerce or affiliated business websites should also be disclosed.
  3. Any advertisements should be clearly differentiated from editorial contents. Special advertising or “advertorial” features should be labeled as such.
  4. Hypertext links that appear within the editorial content of a site, including those within graphics, should be at the discretion of the editors. If links are paid for by advertisers, that should be disclosed to users.

D. User Engagement and Respect to Privacy

  1. Any internet-based news portal should respect the privacy of its users. It should clearly state what data will be collected, stored and shared from users (in Privacy Policy page) and must offer users an ‘opt-out’ option in subscription or registration (to website and/or newsletter and/or any such offers).
  2. All internet-based news portals should clearly state moderation policy for comments, if they allow users engagements through comments.
  3. Any internet-based news portals should not publish or distribute or make available by any means any personal and confidential information of users without explicit permission of the users and/or required by court orders.

E. Protection of Humanitarianism, Social Harmony, Communal Goodwill, Religious Tolerance, National Interest, Sources and Computer Systems

  1. All internet-based news portals should show compassion for human being – be sensitive writing about or using photos of victims; be careful not to use content that are likely to deemed pornographic or crude by communities of users
  2. Any internet-based news portals should not give space to and/or promote child pornography and hate speech; and encourage criminal activities
  3. Any internet-based news portals should not spam, spread malware and viruses
  4. Any internet-based news portals and/or online journalists should not disclose the source of information without source’s consent
  5. All internet-based news portals and online journalists should be careful while writing and/or publishing anything regarding nationality, national security, religion and communal issues so as to protect the greater social/national harmony and interest

(Acharya is a media researcher with special interest in digital media at the Center for Media Research – Nepal)

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