Rules and Usages of the Provincial Daily Press, published in December 1995 by the “Syndicat de la presse quotidienne regionale” (SPQR), the association of the major dailies produced outside the Paris area.
The increasing number and volume of news sources, linked to the development of communication media, bring about a risk that the editorial function might lose its identity.
This disturbing evolution raises the question of the role and re-sponsibility of media that are clearly identified as social phenomena both by the individual citizen and by the nation.
That double observation leads the Regional Daily Press to stress its specific nature and function.
With its thirty-seven titles and 20 million readers, the regional daily press forms, first and foremost, a local medium, constantly aware of its mission to inform.
That responsibility is assumed with a concern for two basic values: the citizen’s right to information and respect for every indi-vidual.
It lies within the framework of a freedom of speech that must be exercised in a daily practice guided by strong ethical concerns.
That ethics derives from a culture, a training, a professional spirit that come to fruition in the daily practice of a craft.
The publishers of all regional dailies want solemnly to remind the public of the professional rules and usages upon which is predicated their commitment as publishers, each of whom is responsible for, and keeps full control over, the contents of his/her publication.
PROFESSIONAL RULES AND USAGES
Keeping close to its readers and conscious of its responsibilities towards them, the newspaper is careful that “fact” be distin-guished from “comment” in the processing of the news.
Seriousness and rigour required
To publish accurate and precise information
The credibility of a newspaper depends on its capacity to distribute accurate and precise information. So the publication of news that has been verified guarantees the seriousness, the rigour and good faith of the newspaper.
Not to encourage rumours
Especially, a newspaper does everything possible not to keep any rumour alive or to amplify it, even if other communication vehicles have already published it.
To insure a follow-up to the news
In its concern for rigour, the newspaper follows up the news that it delivers to its readers. It brings them, if need be, all the further data, comments, analyses or corrections needed for an understanding of the facts.
To show moderation in speech
As a general rule, the newspaper will take care that its articles do not contain outrageous or offensive words and phrases.
The trustworthiness of the reported facts, ” prudence and moderation” in the description of them, a sense of balance in dealing with information, should characterise the newspaper’s pro-cedure.
Assertion of respect for persons
To inform without inciting to discrimination, racism or violence
The newspaper will stick to a strict respect of the legal regulations which forbid any incitement to discrimination, to hatred or to violence against a person or group of persons “because of their origin, or because they belong (or do not belong) to a particular ethnic group, nation, race or religion”.
Discrimination consists in generating, in the minds of readers, feelings of distinction (segregation) based on contempt, dislike or repulsion.
Hatred implies hostility towards someone, a desire to hurt him/her because he/she belongs, or does not belong to a particular ethnic group or nation.
Violence should be understood both in the moral and physical sense of the word.
Beyond clearly defined provocations, the newspaper will avoid any words, any epithets that will, or might, trigger the above-mentioned sentiments.
Respect for human dignity
The newspaper, among other things, will take care not to publish photographs likely to undermine the dignity of human beings.
Respect of privacy
A newspaper will make sure that privacy is respected and also the right of each individual to his/her image. It publishes only facts that it considers to belong to the public sphere.
The newspaper will make sure that the honour and dignity of persons are respected. As a general rule, it will make sure that four criteria are respected that are crucial to any procedure based on good faith:
– Legitimacy of the object sought
The newspaper takes care that facts are always dealt with in view of the general interest, based on the right of the public to information. Priority is given to the issue rather than to the actors in the event reported.
– Absence of personal animosity
The newspaper will avoid publishing willingly polemical articles targeted at people, which might be caused by ex-isting personal conflicts.
– Moderation in expression
The newspaper takes care that its articles contain no outrageous or offensive words and phrases.
– Trustworthiness of investigation
The pursuit of information should be founded on the contradictory principle, which is the foundation of any procedure inspired by a concern for good faith.
Gather all viewpoints needed
To that purpose, contact will be sought with the main parties involved in a case dealt with in the newspaper, so as to obtain their viewpoints and to process the information fairly. When some person refuses to make any comment, the newspaper reports the fact to its readers.
Show discernment in revealing the identity of people
When it is not necessary to the clear information of the reader, the publication of the names of people involved in minor breaches of the law will be avoided.
The same approach should apply regarding the publication of the names of people who have received a suspended sentence.
Respect for the presumption of innocence
According to Article 9 of the August 26, 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Every Man and Citizen, which has constitutional status, any person is presumed to be innocent until he/she is declared guilty, in other words so long as he/she has not been convicted.
When the public’s right to information justifies the publication of information which has been gathered by the newspaper, respect for the presumption of innocence demands exemplary rigour in the selection of news items that will be brought to the attention of readers – and great vigilance in the presentation of them.
Check the truthfulness of information and show prudence and fairness in the expression of it.
Generally speaking, the principles of truth, prudence, fairness and rigour presented above, apply particularly in the processing of human interest stories.
Never take over the function of the Law: inform without condemning
The newspaper, while it intends not to relinquish any control over its editorial content, is not meant to substitute for the Law. It will report accurately and professionally the data it has in its possession. When it publishes verified facts as a result of a rigorous professional process, it will take care to remind the reader of the principle of presumption of innocence which covers every person that is involved in legal proceedings.
Use the proper legal terminology
In reporting court cases, the newspaper takes care that the proper legal terms be used and rules out “qualifying” phrases.
Not let pictures suggest a presumption of guilt
In the same concern, it will avoid publishing the photo on which a person is shown in a humiliating manner or in such a way as will suggest guilt.
The newspaper takes care to publicize the dismissal of a court case that has been covered by its reporters, unless the person involved requires otherwise. That publication is done in such a way as best to bring the news to the reader.
Exercise of the right of reply
Facilitate the exercise of the right of reply
The newspaper facilitates the exercise of the right of reply, so long as it appears that the terms used in the reply:
– are not contrary to the law or to decency ;
– are not likely to harm third parties ;
– do not impair the honour of the newspaper or of the au-thor of the article.
The newspaper will not append an “editor’s note” to a published reply, except in the rare cases when providing the reader with extra information is seriously, legitimately called for.
The principle of not using such notes applies, with no restric-tions, whenever the person using the right of reply has benefited of a case dismissal, a discharge or an acquittal which, ex-plicitly or not, clears that person of guilt.
The present reminder of the “rules and usages of the daily re-gional press” belongs within continuing study and research inaugurated several years ago by the Association of the regional daily press (SPQR) on the relations between the press, the judicial system and the citizenry.
This text does not claim to put an end to the fundamental debate on freedom of expression and respect for the person. It wishes to be a contribution to the clarification of the rights and duties that belong to the press, to the courts and to citizens.