Date Adopted: November 21st 2016
The publication of all Editorial articles, be they the actual daily Editorial, opinion pages (including letters to the Editor), articles submitted by Freelance Reporters and Contributors and all other news stories in general, carries with them an awesome and potentially costly responsibility. As one of the leading media houses, The Businessuite Media Group (BMG) a division of the Blackslate Holdings Group Limited takes pride and care in doing its due diligence to ensure that all published material is accurate, unbiased, fair and free from defamation.
The company insists that all its publications reflect Reynolds’ Ten Guiding Principles for Responsible Journalism and that responsible reporters and editors are employed who share this vision and who are intrinsically motivated to adhere to a high standard of journalism.
This policy applies to all Editorial employees, be they reporters, editors, senior editors and executive editors. As independent contractors, freelance contributors should be encouraged to adhere to the code of conduct, however, it is the duty of the supervising editors to judge freelance work based on the standards contained in this code.
The Executive Editors must ensure general compliance with the Editorial Code of Conduct and hold responsible all editors, reporters and contributors for the quality of material that is submitted for publication.
Due care shall be taken not to publish or broadcast untrue, inaccurate, misleading or distorted material or information. Special care should be made to avoid distortions made possible by the new information and communication technologies.
With the explosion of the internet journalists have more access to more information than ever. These sources should not be used without attribution and should be checked for accuracy before the information is used in broadcast or print.
BMG is committed to remedying, in a timely manner, all errors of fact once we become aware, with a clarification, correction or apology. If a staff member becomes aware of an error in his own or other’s published work, the staff member has a responsibility to notify an editor as soon as possible.
The editors should field complaints from members of the public unless they come directly to the Legal Officer’s office. These complaints should be examined and referred to the Executive Editor and or Content Director within one (1) week. Where necessary, the complaint may be referred to the Legal Officer.
It will be the duty of the supervising editor to obtain a statement from the reporter to ascertain whether the information published was accurate or not, as well as any supporting documentation or materials used in writing the story.
Where there is any doubt whether the material presented is sufficient to establish the accuracy of the information, it must be submitted to the legal officer along with the article.
If it is established that a correction is required, where necessary, the offended party will be contacted by the legal officer to discuss the terms of the correction and the correction will be made as quickly as possible.
The correction should, as far as possible, appear in the same section as the offending article or column and be given the same prominence.
All reporters and editors must be aware of the defamation laws and ensure that they attend all legal seminars on defamation so that they are kept up to date on changes in the law.
The senior editors and editors who supervise reporters must also ensure that the following guiding principles for responsible journalism, as supported by Reynolds are considered prior to publication:
The nature of the information
The source of the information
The steps taken to verify the information
Whether comments were sought from all potential claimants which include persons directly referred to or affected by the story.
Whether the article contained the gist of the potential claimant’s side of the story
The seriousness of any allegations contained in the article
The tone of the article
The extent to which the information is a matter of public concern
The circumstances of the publication, which includes the urgency of the matter
The credibility of the source
The senior editors and editors must ensure that the following are observed during the process of editing material for publication:
The elements of the defences to defamation are borne in mind i.e. the following:-
Justification – Do you have the documents to prove what you have said?
Fair Comment – Can a reader distinguish what is fact and what is comment? They must be capable of separation and the facts on which the comments are based must be true or must be privileged. Is it a matter of public interest? Is the comment honestly made?
Qualified Privilege – Have the Reynolds’ principles been followed?
Absolute Privilege – Is it a fair and accurate report of judicial proceedings? Is it a report of a statement made in parliament? Was the statement made by one officer of state to another in the course of his official duty?
Beware of words that connote dishonest behaviour, criminal conduct, immorality or other undesirable traits.*N.B. Where such words are included in any article, the Editor is to ensure that credible evidence is obtained from the reporter to substantiate the words used, e.g. a copy of a court judgment or other court document. Where there is any doubt whether the evidence presented is sufficient to establish the truth of the words used, it must be submitted to the legal officer along with the proposed article to be published.
Beware of the choice of images (cartoons included) published with the article
Beware of the choice of adjectives
Beware of the conclusions or inferences which may be drawn from statements which may seem harmless.
Beware of the use of analogies to other persons or situations and the possible inferences which may be drawn from them
Comments must have a factual basis
Assumptions, deductions and rumour must not be elevated to “facts” or treated as facts
Quotations must be accurate
Quotations or statements must not be taken out of context
Ensure that The facts stated in the report submitted for editing are not altered
Ensure that The headline does not convey a defamatory meaning
Ensure that all claims or accusations of criminal conduct, dishonesty, impropriety, uncreditworthiness or anything which would obviously tend to reflect negatively on a person’s character or professional competence made in the report/ article can be proven. If the truth of statements cannot be proven do not publish as is. The statements may have to be re-phrased and the duty to obtain and present the other person’s side of the story will now be magnified.
*N.B. the following:-
Where it is reported that “A said that B murdered X” it is not sufficient to simply prove that A made the statement that B murdered X, the law requires that you prove that B in fact murdered X.
Where it is reported that “it is alleged that B murdered X” you are required to prove that the allegations have in fact been made and that there are at least reasonable grounds to suspect B.
3. Reports on Persons being Investigated
No story should be run which alleges that a named individual is being investigated for a criminal offence unless a comment has been obtained from the individual and included in the story.
There is a distinction between “being investigated” and actually having been charged with an offence. Saying a person is “being investigated” for an offence is akin to saying that the person is suspected of committing an offence. Either way, at that point it is mere suspicion and it is not known whether there are reasonable grounds for that suspicion. There is a danger that the public may not be able to appreciate that distinction.
A story reporting on an investigation where no charge has been made must be handled with great care to avoid defamation. If it is likely to be controversial, the Editor must ensure that it is approved in advance by the legal officer.
In any such story, if it is run following a public statement, e.g. from the police information arm, every attempt must be made to contact the person being investigated to obtain his/her side of the story.
The story should only contain the facts set out in the public statement or from reliable sources and should not contain rumours, innuendoes, speculation or unconfirmable background material.
4. Crime Reporting
Criminal suspects should only be identified as such after arrest warrants have been issued, they have been arrested or they have been formally charged. When writing about accused persons, we MUST provide them with an opportunity to respond.
This may involve speaking to them directly or to their attorney-at-law representing them on that particular matter. Efforts made to contact them or their representative must be included in the article submitted for publication. Such phrases as “unavailable for comment” or “could not be reached” are to be used sparingly. They should be used only after we have worked hard to reach suspects or their attorneys. Keep written records of such efforts made and mention them in the story.
Juvenile suspects are not to be named, except suspects 17 years of age or older who are charged with committing crimes serious enough to warrant their prosecution as adults.
Using the word “allegedly” does not protect from defamation.
Care should be taken to report fully and promptly the outcome of an investigation or court case on which it has reported especially where the accused has been exonerated.
5. Use of Internet Sources
All facts taken from an online site must be verified unless the reporter is confident of its source e,g. government website etc.
If using a source via Internet or email, ensure that the source is verified.
Generally, credit photos and graphics downloaded from the Internet unless they are generic images
Internet derived information should be attributed just as any information from any book, magazine or other printed source.
6. Use of Photos
The use of photographs may be defamatory, depending on certain factors such as the juxtaposition of the photo and text on the page.
The use of file photos and caption text must be approved by an editor.
7. Conflict of Interest
Real or perceived conflicts of interest should be avoided at all costs.
Editorial employees should not work for a political candidate or office-holder on a paid or voluntary basis. Participation in public demonstrations for political causes is forbidden unless approved by the Executive Editor or Content Director.
Taking a public stand on controversial social, religious or political issues should first be discussed with the Executive Editor or Content Director.
Holding public office or accepting political appointment is prohibited, unless specifically approved by the Executive Editor or Content Director or the President and Publisher.
If a staff member has a close relative or friend working in a political campaign or organization, the employee should refrain from covering or making news judgments about that campaign or organization. A loved one’s activities can create a real or potential conflict for an editorial staff member. In such cases, a supervising editor should be informed and steps taken to avoid the conflict.
Intrusion and enquiries into an individual’s private life without his or her consent including the use of long-lens photography to take pictures of people on private property without their consent, are not generally acceptable and publication can only be justified by clear and overriding public interest.
N.B. Private property is defined as any private residence or place of business, together with its garden and outbuildings but excluding any adjacent open fields, public parks or other public property. In addition, hotel bedrooms (but not other areas in a hotel) and those parts of a hospital or nursing home where patients are received, treated or accommodated are considered private property.
9. Grief and Trauma
Journalists shall show respect for grief and trauma resulting from violent crime, accident or tragedy and must act with empathy and discretion when carrying out enquiries.
Persons in shock or in deep grief should not be interviewed or photographed unless it is demonstrably in the public interest.
10. Victims of Crime
The exposed bodies, or body parts of victims of fatal injury from criminal activity, accident or tragedy should not be photographed or displayed on television except where visual portrayal is essential to public information about the scale of the disaster.
The media should take care to avoid sensational reporting of violent crime.
The media should not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification.
Unless it is clearly in the public interest, the media should generally avoid identifying relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime.
It is the responsibility of all reporters and editors to read this policy carefully and fully apprise themselves of its provisions. New editorial employees will receive a copy of this policy when completing new employee paperwork. Supervisors will review the policy with team members as part of the annual assessment process. Each editorial employee will attest in writing that they have read and understood the policy in the preceding three (3) months.
Intentional or flagrant violations of the policy may result in disciplinary action to include, reprimand, suspension or, in the most serious cases, termination.
It is therefore imperative that in the daily execution of their duties, all reporters and editorial staff act with the highest degree of care, responsibility and professionalism to minimize the possibility of lawsuits and to ensure the company’s success as the leading newspaper of choice whose integrity and reliability are unquestionable.
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