International – Principles for reporting ethnic tensions, Press Foundation of Asia (1970)

Principles for reporting ethnic tensions, which evolved out of a nine-nation* journalism conference conducted by the Press Foundation of Asia in Davao City, April 1970.

1. Factual accuracy in a single story is no substitute for the total truth. A single story which is factually accurate can nonetheless be misleading.

2. Prejudice may sell newspapers but newspapers should resist the temptation to exploit human fears for commercial gains.

3. In mixed societies, editors should be aware of the danger of feeding by selective reporting, common prejudicial stereotypes about groups. Generalisations based on the behaviour of an individual or a small number of individuals are invariably unjust.

4. When there is potential for communal tension, there should be a constant effort to investigate and expose the underlying causes.

5. Statistics can be used to excite passion. It should always be checked and interpreted.

6. All stories of communal, racial or religious nature should be scrupulously ascribed to their source. The authority of the source should be properly evaluated.

7. Advertisement of an unfair discriminating nature should not be accepted.

8. Editors have a responsibility for the tone and truth of the letters’ column.

9. Harm can be done by distortion in translation, especially in areas where several languages are spoken. Words and phrases may have different connotations among different groups.

10. It should be recognised that editorial comment, however benign, does not necessarily compensate for the harm done by a misleading news report.

11. Journalists should always use cool and moderate language, especially in headlines and also in display. No concession should be made to rhetoric. Lurid and gory details and emotive references to past history should be avoided.

12. In mixed societies where extra-territorial loyalties are often alleged and are a cause of tension, great care should be taken about stories imputing interference by a foreign power unless it is clearly established.

13. The traditional newspaper standards of checking for accuracy should be applied with even greater rigour in any stories involving racial, religious or communal groups. Statements should not be accepted at face value from any source, including official ones, and where necessary, these should be accompanied in the news columns by corroboration and interpretation.

14. Unverified rumour is not the proper content of news columns especially when there is great danger in speculation about violence.

15. When there is violence, particular care should be taken about publication of the first incidents.

16. Every effort should be made to portray ethnic groups in other than conflict situations.

17. When violence has broken out, the role of government in the supply of information is crucial. There must be a continuous supply of information from this source to prevent rumour, speculation and needless panic. In these circumstances, a close working relationship between the Press and the Government is essential and there should be no division of interest.

18. Casualty figures can cause chain reactions, and experience has shown that official figures may be under or over estimated.

19. Pictures can distort reality. An unrepresentative picture may lie even more than a news story and add to prejudices.

20. Journalists, particularly foreign correspondents, should not report crises without a sufficient understanding of the background of events and trends.

21. In newspaper groups publishing in different languages, care should be taken that they speak with the same voice on explosive issues and in times of tension. The cumulative effect of differing coverage and opinion is deadly.

22. In mixed societies with underlying causes of tension – social, economic or religious – newspapers and the broadcast media should initiate investigative and interpretative stories with sociological content. These would spread understanding and also help disperse an environment of resentment and suspicion which can turn a minor incident into a riot.

* Unfortunately, MediaWise has been unable to discover which nine nations took part in this conference. If anyone has this information, please let us know by e-mail so that we can include it.

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