Why integrity is important
Editorial integrity is central to all a journalist does
Without integrity your journalism is untrustworthy and suspect. Integrity gives a journalist the authority to investigate issues, shine a light in dark places and to dig where others don't. It is essential for informing the public debate with trustworthy, rigorous journalism. In editorial terms it means the following:
- not to sell your services for financial reward other than the salary you receive from your employer.
- not to take money from a person, group or organisation in return for ensuring their story is covered by your news organisation.
- not to promote a story based on any personal, group, or partisan interests.
- not to endorse or appear to endorse any organisation, its products, activities or services.
- not to promote commercial products or services.
- not to promote our own media organisation.
Everyday news releases arrive in the newsroom promoting a product or a company, often these are disguised as news items, when, clearly, they are advertising material. We myst
- retain all editorial control of any material that we uncover, or which is given to us by others, and ensure that we have the final say in how it is used or not used.
- when choosing which stories to cover we must do so on the basis of our own independent editorial justification, and we need to be able to defend those decision if challenged.
- always be aware that some people contributing material will be doing so in order to influence our editorial output and always apply ‘the public interest’ test to including the material in our output (please see our training module on applying the public interest test)
- be able to justify, if we feel we need to name a product, service or organisation in our output, that the decision was required in order to fully inform the public debate.
A journalist must never include a product or service in sound, vision or print in return for cash, services or any consideration in kind. We must:
- ensure that references to trade names, brand names and slogans are clearly editorially justified.
- never use material from advertising campaigns or promotions without revealing the source and making clear, through our script, why the material was used.
- not linger on brand names or logos and use verbal references sparingly unless there are strong journalistic reasons for repeated references to a brand.
- never accept free or reduced-cost products or services from those whose brands are featuring in our output.
Free material and gifts
It is extremely dangerous for a journalist to take gifts. There will always be a price to pay at some future date. The best advice is to say no. A journalist should always pay for their own travel and accommodation costs. There may be some situations where a producer of a lifestyle programme is offered facilities to sample so that they can report on them, in such cases the following rules should apply:
- keep accurate departmental records of what has been accepted.
- never guarantee that any product or service will be featured.
- never guarantee the approach that will be taken in dealing with the product or service - for example never suggest it will get a glowing review.
- always inform suppliers that they cannot refer to your news organisation in selling their products.
- only give on-air, online or in-print credits if clearly editorially justified.
- never offer suppliers any editorial say influence in the programme.
- never offer them a preview of it with a view to them being able to make changes.
It is best not to accept expenses-paid trips, unless they are the only way to cover the story - for example, such a case might be the first flight of a new airline service.
Be careful where a guest on a programme has a particular product to push, such as a book, a new piece of music, a show or a film. It is fine to discuss the editorial issues, but you need to ensure that they are not taking advantage of you and the position you have offered them by including them in your programme.
When creating links to articles online, make sure that you link only to material that adds value and is not simply promoting a product. Lazy links go to home pages, thought-through links explain more about the subject. Ensure that links lead to material that adds value to that you are already presenting, so that those using your service will be better informed.
You must must never include a link to a commercial site in return for cash, services or any other consideration in kind.
All links must be editorially justified and should lead to sites which are:
- clearly relevant to the content of the page where the link is placed
- normally free to access
- normally factually accurate
We must never give the impression that we are endorsing a commercial product or service.
Conflicts of interest
There must never be any suggestion that personal, commercial, business, financial or other interests have influenced your news organisation's editorial decisions. Presenters, reporters, producers, editors, researchers and managers are all affected. The higher someone's level of editorial responsibility, the greater the need to avoid any possible conflicts of interest.
Typical conflicts of interest for journalists include:
- writing for another news organisation
- public speaking/public appearances
- media public relations training
- connections to charities and campaigning organisations
- political activities
- hospitality and personal benefits
- financial and business interests.
Journalists must declare all these to their senior editorial managers if they feel that there is a conflict of interest that could damage the news organisation’s integrity.
- social action programmes or campaigns coincide with a government campaign or lobbying initiative.
- the output could be seen to embrace the agenda of a particular campaign group.
- broadcasting/publishing appeals
- mounting fundraising appeals
- reflecting the work of charities in the editorial output
- as partners in social action or awareness campaigns.
However, for every charity doing good there is likely to be another competing in that space. Also, don’t get too close; you may end up covering a story about wrongdoing involving a charity, and you need to be free to examine all issues without fear of being compromised.
When entering into an external relationship journalists and producers must ensure that:
- editorial impartiality and integrity are not compromised and that you control all editorial output.
- the choice of partners is editorially justified and will not bring the media organisation into disrepute.
- no money or other services are accepted in exchange for broadcast coverage or publicity.
- you work with a range of organisations and do not unduly favour one above another
- you do not promote or appear to endorse other organisations, products, services, views or opinions.
Try our editorial integrity scenarios
Editorial integrity scenario
Protecting the integrity of an interview scenario
The author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who set up and runs Media Helping Media. He delivers journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide via Media Ideas. He also runs a media mentoring service.
This site has been given permission to use and adapt elements of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines in these short editorial ethics modules. They have been updated to reflect changing international, regional and cultural variations.
Image courtesy of Courtney and released under Creative Commons