Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Conduct of La Nación newspaper, published in 1997.
From the Book of Style and Journalistic Ethics published in 1997 by the Buenos Aires daily newspaper La Nación. La Nación considers that receiving information is one of the fundamental rights of human beings and that the citizen can demand that news published by the media be true and the opinions honest, free from pressure exerted by the public or the private sector.
Information and Advertising
One of the prime precautions to take, to serve the readers, is to make it possible for them to distinguish clearly in the newspaper what is news and what is ads. Consequently, different typography and layout will be used for each of those types of material.
One of the most serious errors that are committed in that respect is to publish as an original journalistic text what is a clandestine advertisement. La Nación does not tolerate such a violation of its readers’ trust.
News and Views
So that the reader cannot be led into mistaking news and opinions, and vice versa, the texts that express thoughts, comments, value judgments, beliefs and interpretations must be presented in a manner graphically different from the regular news stories, short news items and references to facts and dates reported by journalists.
The existence of La Nación’s op-ed pages is based on that principle.
A Style for All
La Nación does not admit any discrimination based on race, religion, nationality, cultural level or social position. That equalitarian evaluation of personal dignity is reflected, first and foremost, in its use of the Spanish language, which in its pages is simple, direct and correct, understandable by all.
Credibility is one of the values most prized by La Nación. It has been gained over many decades by a behaviour based on the checking of facts, the use of more than one source in every case, constant contact with the protagonists in events and developments which the newspaper is to cover. At La Nación, news stories as well as opinions are submitted, before they are published, to a strict analysis by editors and reporters. The result of that traditional conduct is that in this country one can trust that “if La Nación says so”, that’s how it is.
“No Slander, No Insults”
Slander as well as insults are crimes punished by the Law. The journalists of La Nación must avoid phrases that can be considered libellous or insulting, and will pay particular and permanent attention to respecting the private lives of public persons, except when their behaviour exposes them to lose that sacred privacy and become the necessary object of news and comments.
Naturally, the respect of the privacy of private persons must be guaranteed with utmost rigour in published texts. The motto that heads this section is representative of the spirit of the newspaper’s founder, who felt that obligation as a moral imperative.
Presumption of Innocence
Certain public administrations linked to the police and the judiciary are in the habit of publishing statements about the fact that a person has been under arrest: that gives the impression, explicitly or implicitly, that he/she is guilty. The guilt of a person can only be determined by the Courts, following due process.
The identity of news sources must be known by newsroom management, but the latter, just like the journalists that have consulted them, will keep that information secret when questioned by any outside person.
Access to the News
The professionals working for La Nación will only use honourable methods to obtain information, photos, interviews or any other material needed for their work.
Rewards, Gifts and Fees
It is totally forbidden for professionals employed by La Nación to accept any kind of external retribution for having participated in any way in the publication of a report, a news item, etc. The work of the members of the newspaper staff is exclusively paid by the company.
Journalists are often invited to travel abroad, either to cover news that occur during or at the end of the trip, or again for exhibitions, festivals, etc. In all cases, the invitations will be handed over to management who, judging what is needed and convenient, will assign a journalist to do the job.
Scholarships and Cycles of Study
National and international organisations often invite journalists to benefit from scholarships abroad or to take advanced training courses. In such cases, the decision whether to accept the invitation or not belongs to the authorities of the newspaper. It must be kept in mind that scholarships or extended courses may require that a substitute be hired to replace the absent journalist.
Plurality of Viewpoints
Concerning issues about which opposite positions exist, La Nación will gather on its pages all the dissenting views so as to offer the reader a full coverage of the topic. The newspaper’s own opinion on the subject will be presented in the editorial section. That principle also applies to columns so that the reader can have a complete knowledge of the arguments used by opposed parties about an event.
Assumptions and Rumours
Assumptions and rumours relative to facts – particularly those of a political nature – must not be defined as news, which consist in true information. For an already long time in our country – maybe because sources are not normally straightforward and also because, sometimes, they themselves generate those assumptions and rumours – one must admit that newspapers do mention the existence of such rumours, so that a report might seem incomplete if it didn’t. Facing the impossibility of avoiding such mentions, the journalists of La Nación must specify that items of that nature are not news but inferior products of hypothetical and doubtful value.
Correction of Errors
The newspaper itself must correct errors that may have occurred in it, even if no one involved requests it. In La Nación, as is known, we publish a list of “errata”. But there are cases when, because of their gravity, the rectifications require more space, which the newspaper will spontaneously offer.
It is commonly thought that freedom of the press is something that benefits newspaper publishers and so that it belongs to them to defend it. The truth is that press freedom, as a guarantee of all other guarantees, is a right of the citizen, which insures that he/she can be well informed, and so can make decisions based in reality. Press freedom is not a favour that the State grants to the citizens: it is a norm established by the Argentine constitution. The fundamental law prohibits the Parliament from legislating in press matters. Such concepts need to be made known so that the citizens take part in the defence of that basic good in the repeated occasions when it is endangered.
Not Naming Minors
In agreement with what is established by the law, the names of minors accused of a crime must not be published.
The names of victims of rape will not be published, except in special cases when the news story would make no sense unless they were revealed.
Offend No Nation or Community
Will be avoided designations that may be considered offensive by some national groups that compose our society. Among those terms, some are traditional. For instance, a certain crime, among people of the underworld, is called “mejicanada” [Mexican]; Jews are commonly contemptuously called “rusos” [Russians], and Arabs, in a similar pejorative way, “turcos” [Turks].
Surveys are instruments used daily by the present-day press. Whenever a survey is published, the investigator must be mentioned, the population surveyed, the methodology used for the polling and the interpretation of it.
Information on Terrorism
The processing of news relative to acts of terrorism must be given maximum attention. One should distinguish with utmost precision what is news and what is propaganda. That precaution is based on the obvious fact that terrorism is first and foremost a communication phenomenon. What the groups that cultivate that form of violence seek is not to take power, but to create a paralysing fear in vast sectors of society. One of the rules of those organisations is that their attacks should produce victims indiscriminately: the irrationality of the method is what causes indiscriminate terror.
News of Suicides
It is a verified fact that suicide is contagious. If a demonstration of that is needed, just remember the epidemic which not long ago occurred in a town in the province of Santa Fe. News about suicides should not be concealed, but macabre details should be avoided, to the extent they are not necessary for the news story to have meaning, to be balanced and complete.
Often it is requested of the media that they suppress some details about such crimes. And, in some cases, it is requested that they totally suppress information. Newsroom management will decide when to accept those requests from the injured family or from the authorities. An exception can be considered when publication can jeopardise the life of the victim or if there is a risk that the liberation of the kidnapped or of the hostage might be impeded.
Staying Out of the Limelight
A reporter covering an event must not try to turn him/herself into a protagonist of it, not even in the story he/she will write. The difficulties he/she may face in his/her assignment do not interest the reader, except if they are so dramatic that they themselves constitute a news story. The function of the journalist is to be neutral: the fact that is being reported as news must occupy the foreground, and only the fact.
Persons who wish to publish personal ads (solicitadas) often believe that “since they sign the text” they are solely responsible for its contents. That is a mistake: the newspaper is, in all cases, co-responsible for what is inserted in their pages. “Solicitadas” must not contain libellous or insulting expressions. In the case that they refer to unfinished trials, we will not accept “solicitadas” whose publication would indicate that we take sides in favour of one of the litigants. […]
The Fourth Estate
For quite a long time, the press has often been described as the “Fourth Estate”. That is just a traditional phrase but mainly in this country and in recent times, certain programmes of the electronic media spread the illusion that they act as tribunals. The press expresses value judgments but it does not issue verdicts and must not usurp the position of an established power within the State.
When an interview is done, the ideas expressed by the interviewee will be respected absolutely. A good method to do this is to record the exchange electronically, the tape being preserved for a time, as a precaution in case of possible rectifications. What is important in interviews is the contents, so that the text will be transcribed into correct Spanish whenever the interviewee did not use such language. A rather common distortion of journalistic interviews will be avoided at all costs, which consists in trying to turn it into an exercise in psychoanalytical interpretation.
A round table is a type of collective conversation on a given topic. The moderator is in charge of insuring that participants on the panel actually dialogue and do not read or indulge in long monologues, so as not to distort the nature of such meetings.
The function of press photos is to identify the protagonist of an event and, if possible, do it in such a way that the picture reveal his/her state of mind, a dramatic moment of the action in which he/she is engaged or indicate by the look on his/her face what is being said. Obviously, il is impossible to express with words what a photo can reveal. As an essential rule, the context of the shot must be respected. To modify a photo for aesthetic reasons, among others, suggests that the newspaper is in the habit of altering reality.
Infographics are not simply graphical decorations; they have an eminent didactic function […]. They should summarise, be expressive and precise. The artist and the journalist should work together so as best to succeed in achieving accuracy.
Rude Words and Phrases
The language used in the newspaper must be correct not only in its form but also as regards the contents. It is necessary to ban rude words and phrases, except in the case when the news item cannot be understood without mentioning those terms or if they were uttered in very special circumstances which justify that they be quoted in context.
The fact that another medium has been faster in obtaining a piece of information is no reason why this daily should not treat the news as it deserves. The newspaper’s pledge to the readers is to inform them of all that occurs, regardless of issues of competence.
Acknowledgment of Sources
In all cases when the newspaper has obtained a piece of news thanks to a particular source – agency, civil servant, other medium etc., it will indicate the origin of the information. The exception is the case when the source requests that it be not mentioned. Once the newspaper has promised to respect the “off the record” [sic], it will respect it, except when the same information is obtained from another source, which can be named.
Right to Silence
People possess the right not to answer questions asked by journalists. This clearly implies that a journalist should not insist, as often happens with electronic media which try to force someone to make a statement. While the republican regime of government requires that the acts of civil servants be made public, it must be kept in mind that the obligation does not apply in all occasions.
Not Draw Profit from Information
A basic moral obligation forbids the journalist to profit, in any other sense than the normal informative one, from confidential or privileged news. For instance, if he/she knows in advance that a currency devaluation will occur, he/she must not draw personal profit from that knowledge.
A journalist who has a personal interest other than strictly journalistic in any topic that he/she is to cover, will opt out of the assignment and explain the reasons to the newsroom managers. Such cases occur mainly in the sections that deal with economic and financial subjects.
The journalist will respect, and make others respect, the legitimate rights of authors and creators.
[Translation by Claude-Jean Bertrand; source: www.rjionline.org]