The first Estonian Code of Press Ethics, which serves as the basis for the self-regulatory Press Council, was launched at a Press Ethics Forum in Tallinn on January 29 1998. At the end of the Forum, the Estonian Newspaper Association, the Estonian Broadcasting Association and the Press Council signed a statement in which they recognized the Code and approved of its principles.
The Code serves as the basis for the work of the Press Council, which is made up of representatives of seven groups: the Newspaper Association, the Broadcasting Association, the Journalists Union, Estonian Radio, Estonian TV, the Media Educators Association and the Consumer Protection Society.
1. General provisions
1.1. Freedom of communication is the basic premise for a working democratic society, and the free press the means and prerequisite for attaining it.
1.2. The press and other media shall serve the right of the public to receive true, fair and comprehensive information. The critical observation of the implementation of political and economic power is the main obligation of the press.
1.3. Provided it remains within the limits of the law, the free press and other media may not be restricted or obstructed in the gathering and publication of information.
1.4. A journalist shall be responsible for his or her own statements and work. Media organizations shall undertake to prevent the publication of inaccurate, distorted or misleading information.
1.5. The reputation of any individual shall not be unduly harmed without there being sufficient evidence that the information regarding that person is in the public interest.
1.6. Individuals in possession of political and economic power and information important to the public shall be considered as public figures; and their activities shall be subject to closer scrutiny and criticism. The media shall also consider as public figures individuals who earn their living through publicly promoting their persona or their work.
2.1. Journalists shall not accept posts, bribes, or other inducements which may cause a conflict of interest in connection with their journalistic activity and which may compromise their credibility.
2.2. Journalists working with financial and economic information shall not distribute it privately or use it in their personal interests.
2.3. Journalists may not work for an institution whose activities they cover.
2.4. Editorial staff members may not be obliged by their employer to write or perform any like activity contradicting their personal convictions.
3.1. When conducting interviews, journalists must always identify themselves and the media outlet they represent. It is also recommended that the journalist specify the intended use of the information being gathered.
3.2. Journalists may not take advantage of people lacking experience in relating to the media. The possible consequences of their statements shall be explained prior to the conversation.
3.3. Journalists must strictly keep any promises made to their sources and must avoid making promises they may not be able to keep.
3.4. Media outlets have a moral obligation to safeguard the identity of confidential sources of information.
3.5. The editors shall, especially in the case of controversial materials, confirm the accuracy of the information and the reliability of the sources. The editors shall also verify the accuracy of all significant facts if the author of the material to be disseminated is not a member of the regular editorial staff.
3.6. Minors shall be interviewed, as a general rule, only in the presence of or with the consent of the parent or guardian. Exceptions can be made to this rule if the interview is intended to protect the interests of the child or if the child is already under close public attention.
3.7. A journalist shall use honest means of obtaining audio or video recordings and information, with the exception of cases where the public has a right to know information that cannot be obtained in an honest way.
4. Editorial guidelines
4.1. News, opinion and speculation shall be clearly distinguishable. News material shall be based on verifiable factual evidence.
4.2. In the case of materials concerning a controversy, the journalist shall hear all sides of the conflict.
4.3. It is not recommended to emphasize nationality, race, religious or political persuasion and gender, unless it has news value.
4.4. The media shall not treat any individual as a criminal prior to a court sentence to that effect.
4.5 The news value of a suicide or attempted suicide is to be questioned rigorously.
4.6. Information and speculation about an individual’s mental or physical health shall not be disseminated unless the individual is willing or the information is in the public interest.
4.7. As a rule, child custody battles should not be covered.
4.8. When covering crime, court cases and accidents, the journalist shall consider whether the identification of the parties involved is necessary and what suffering it may cause to them. Victim and juvenile offenders shall not be identified as a general rule.
4.9. Materials violating the privacy of an individual can only be disseminated if public interest outweighs the right to privacy.
4.10. Care should be taken in the use of quotes, photographs, audio and video materials in a context different from the original. Editing likely to mislead, as well as distortion of sound shall be identified by a corresponding subtitle or announcement.
4.11. Photographs, captions, headlines, leads and broadcast lead-ins may not mislead the audience.
The content, context and intended time of release of materials submitted by an outside contributor should not be altered without the author’s knowledge and consent.
5. Right of reply
5.1. Individuals subjected to serious accusations should be offered an opportunity for immediate rebuttal in the same edition or programme.
5.2. The objection should correct any factual errors and misquotations. The space/time taken up by the objection may not exceed the space/time for the offending statement. The objection shall be published immediately and prominently, without any editorial comment.
5.3. A correction shall be issued in the event of any inaccuracies.
6.1. Advertisements and promotional materials shall be clearly differentiated from editorial material.
6.2. Journalists and regular outside contributors should not air commercials within their programme, or write promotional articles under their own name in the same publication.
6.3. A product or trademark shall be mentioned or displayed in news and other editorial material only if relevant and justified.
6.4. In the case of consumer-oriented journalistic material, the audience must be informed how the selection of the products was made and how the products were tested.