The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) recently published a contemporary guide on the ethical principles that should govern today's journalism given the context of the digital media era.
"In spite of the technological changes, the principles of seeking the truth, giving voice to those who do not have it, being responsible for what we do, acting with independence and transparency toward our audiences must continue to guide journalistic work," is one of the main conclusions of the Spanish-language manual Journalism Ethics in the Digital Age. The document highlights credibility as a fundamental value of journalism in the twenty-first century.
The realization of this guide was possible thanks to the collaboration of the Unesco Office in Montevideo, Uruguay, and the Government of Sweden. Its authors are Luis Manuel Botello, vice president of New Initiatives and Impact at ICFJ, and Javier Darío Restrepo, director of the Ethics Office of the Gabriel García Márquez Foundation for New Ibero-American Journalism (FNPI).
"The journalist is a servant of the public," Restrepo told the Knight Center. For the author, this manual can contribute by showing readers that journalism has a valuable opportunity to reinvent itself at this moment. "Emphasizing the identity of the journalist and their profession: serve society through information," he said.
According to the renowned and veteran Colombian journalist, this document is not about reinventing journalistic ethics but about applying it to a new story of the profession.
As technology gives more powers to users, it increases demands for accountability, Restrepo said. Audiences have grown, the possibilities of access to sources of information have multiplied, "this intensifies the duty to offer more secure information," he said.
For Botello, the other author of the guide, one of the most difficult aspects currently posing a real challenge to journalism is the way in which information becomes viral in social networks, "which often is not based on real events but on falsehoods." Another great challenge, he said, is the expansion of media options. Now "everyone reports, but how do we know which of those sources are reliable in that new ecosystem?" Botello posed to the Knight Center.
The journalism that is done on social networks is not as deep as that done in traditional media, because information usually comes in quick formats that appeal to emotions and can be shared quickly, Botello said. "We are in a time where we need more context, greater depth, greater credibility, greater confidence and greater connection with the audiences," he said.
Botello also considered that civil society should be more active and critical of the journalistic content it consumes, that it should make use of critical thinking to demand more thoroughness from sources of information.
At 32 pages, the guide is composed of 10 short essays in the form of chapters that explore topics such as post truth, editorial independence, immediacy of news, sensationalism, current business models and the importance of making a higher quality journalism, among others.
The ICFJ manual is part of a larger project that began just over a year ago, which included the production of five video reports on journalistic ethics and the creation of the microsite Journalism Ethics in the 21st Century.
The topics covered in the videos deal with the proliferation of false news and the necessary verification of data, journalism in violent areas, the ethical dilemmas of journalistic coverage, the responsibility for the consequences of publishing certain types of information, and how adapt traditional ethical principles to the new digital era.
Much of the content of the videos and the testimonies of the experts interviewed there have been included in the ethics manual.
Also as part of the project, and also with the support of Unesco and the government of Sweden, a conference on journalistic ethics was held. This conversation took place on Dec. 4, 2016, in Panama, within the framework of the four days of activities of the Latin American Journalism Research Conference (COLPIN) organized annually by the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) and Transparency International.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.