SPJ Code of Ethics

SPJ Code of Ethics

Mike Chu

According to the words of Christopher Dodd, an American lobbyist and former Democratic U.S. senator, “when the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.” Journalists are responsible for upholding the paramount values of free speech and the dispersion of knowledge. In order to execute this job with efficiency and morality, many journalist refer to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.

The four principles of the SPJ code aims to guide journalists who wish to practice “ethical journalism.” Howeve, journalists are not legally bound to this code, therefore, this document does not hold any legal authority. In the website, the SPJ clearly states that, “[The Code of Ethics] is not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable.”

The code begins with a preamble that states the significance of public enlightenment and on democracy and justice. The preamble continues by enumerating the goals of ethical journalism. “Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.”

The first principle that the code upholds is, “Seek the Truth and Report It.” According the the SPJ, “Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.” The code says that information ought to be accurate, and sources used should always be reliable and credited in the article. The code calls for journalists to, “Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.”

In the second section, the code continues by urging journalists to “Minimize Harm.” The SPJ code states that pursuit of news is not an excuse for rudeness or apathy. “Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.” Additionally, the code asks journalists to be mindful of publishing information that may harm a suspect’s right to a fair trial.

A third principle of ethical journalism that the code highlights is “Act Independently.” This section of the code emphasizes the importance of journalists being free from outside influence. For example, the code states that journalists should abstain from receiving money, gifts, or any form of special treatment. This section also warns journalists about the credibility risks of using a paid source. The SPJ states “ …do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.”

The last section of the article calls for journalists to be “accountable and transparent.” The code states that ethical journalist ought to keep the public’s trust by acknowledging their mistakes, responding to questions quickly, and exploiting any unethical actions in journalism practices.

The code of ethics is available in eight different languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. This shows that the code is being used by journalist across the world. While this code is not legally enforceable, the SPJ code of ethics continues to advocate the practice of ethical journalism.

Read the companion piece here: Ms. Kinsolving’s Class Response to Press Secretary Spicer