India – Norms of journalistic conduct (1996)

Norms of journalistic conduct, adopted by the Press Council of India, August 1996.

Principles and Ethics
The fundamental objective of journalism is to serve the people with news, views, comments and information on matters of public interest in a fair, accurate, unbiased, sober and decent manner. Towards this end, the Press is expected to conduct itself in keeping with certain norms of professionalism universally recognised. The norms enunciated below and other specific guidelines appended thereafter, when applied with due discernment and adaptation to the varying circumstances of each case, will help the journalist to self-regulate his or her conduct.

Accuracy and Fairness
1) The press shall eschew publication of inaccurate, baseless, graceless, misleading or distorted material. All sides of the core issue or subject should be reported. Unjustified rumours and surmises should not be set forth as facts.

Pre-publication Verification
2) On receipt of a report or article of public interest and benefit containing imputations or comments against a citizen, the editor should check with due care and attention its factual accuracy – apart from other authentic sources with the person or the organisation concerned to elicit his/her or its version, comments or reaction and publish the same with due amendments in the report where necessary. In the even of lack or absence of response, a footnote to that effect should be appended to the report.

Caution against defamatory writings
3) Newspapers should not publish anything which is manifestly defamatory or libellous against any individual organisation unless after due care and checking, they have sufficient reason to believe that it is true and its publication will be for the public good.

4) Truth is no defence for publishing derogatory, scurrilous and defamatory material against a private citizen where no public interest is involved.

5) No personal remarks which may be considered or construed to be derogatory in nature against a dead person should be published except in rare cases of public interest, as the dead person cannot possibly contradict or deny those remarks.

6) The Press shall not rely on objectionable past behaviour of a citizen for basing the scathing comments with reference to fresh action of that person. If public good requires such reference, the Press should make pre-publication inquiries from the authorities concerned about the follow up action, if any, in regard to those adverse actions.

7) The Press has a duty, discretion and right to serve the public interest by drawing readers’ attention to citizens of doubtful antecedents and of questionable character but as responsible journalists they should observe restraint and caution in hazarding their own opinion or conclusion in branding these persons as ‘cheats’, ‘killers’ etc. The cardinal principle being that the guilt of a person should be established by proof of facts alleged and not by proof of bad character of the accused. In the zest to expose, the Press should not exceed the limits of ethical caution and fair comment.

8) Where the impugned publication are manifestly injurious to the reputation of the complainant, the onus shall be on the respondent to show that they were true or to establish that they constituted fair comment made in good faith and for the public good.
Parameters of the right of the Press to comment on the acts and conduct of public officials
9) So far as the government, local authority and other organs/institutions exercising governmental power are concerned, they cannot maintain a suit for damages for acts and conduct relevant to the discharge of their official duties unless the official establishes that the publication was made with reckless disregard for the truth. However, the judiciary, which is protected by the power to punish for contempt o court and the Parliament and Legislatures, protected as their privileges are by Articles 105 and 194 respectively, of the Constitution of India, represent exceptions to this rule.

10) Publication of news or comments/information on public officials conducting investigations should [not] have a tendency to help the commission of offences or to impede the prevention or detection of offences or prosecution of the guilty. The investigative agency is also under a corresponding obligation not to leak out or disclose such information or indulge in disinformation.

11) The Official Secrets Act, 1923, or any other similar enactment or provision having the force of law equally bind the press or media though there is not law empowering the state or its officials to prohibit, or to impose a prior restraint upon the Press/media.

12) Cartoons and caricatures in depicting good humour are to be placed In a special category of news that enjoys a more liberal attitude.

Right to Privacy
13) The Press shall not intrude or invade the privacy of an individual unless outweighed by genuine overriding public interest, not being a prurient or morbid curiosity. So, however, that once a matter becomes a matter of public record, the right to privacy no longer subsists and it becomes a legitimate subject for comment by Press and media among others.

Explanation: Things concerning a person’s home, family, religion, health, sexuality, personal life and private affairs are covered by the concept of PRIVACY excepting where any of these impinges upon the public or public interest.

14) Caution against identification: While reporting crime involving rape, abduction or kidnap of women/females or sexual assault on children, or raising doubts and questions touching the chastity, personal character and p;privacy of women, the names, photographs of the victims or other particulars leading to their identity shall not be published.

15) Minor children and infants who are the offspring of sexual abuse or “forcible marriage” or illicit sexual union shall not be identified or photographed.

Recording interviews and phone conversations
16) The Press shall not tape-record anyone’s conversation without that person’s knowledge or consent, except where the recording is necessary to protect the journalist in a legal action, or for other compelling good reason.

17) The Press shall, prior to publication, delete offensive epithets used by an interviewee in conversation with the Press person.
18) Intrusion through photography into moments of personal grief shall be avoided. However, photography of victims or accidents or natural calamity may be in larger public interest.

Conjecture, comment and fact
19) Newspaper should not pass on or elevate conjecture, speculation or comment as a statement of fact. All these categories should be distinctly stated.

Newspapers to eschew suggestive guilt
20) Newspapers should eschew suggestive guilt by association. They should not name or identify the family or relatives or associates of a person convicted or accused of a crime, when they are totally innocent and a reference to them is not relevant to the matter reported.

21) It is contrary to the norms of journalism for a paper to identify itself with and project the case of any one party in the case of any controversy/dispute.

22) When any factual error or mistake is detected or confirmed, the newspaper should publish the correction promptly with due prominence and with apology or expression of regrets in a case of serious lapse.

Right of reply
23) The newspaper should promptly and with due prominence publish either in full or with due editing, free of cost, at the instance of the person affection or feeling aggrieved/or concerned by the impugned publication, a contradiction/reply/clarification or rejoinder sent to the editor in the form of a letter or note. If the editor doubts the truth or factual accuracy of the contradiction/reply/clarification or rejoinder, he shall be at liberty to add separately at the end a brief editorial comment doubting its veracity, but only when this doubt is reasonably founded on unimpeachable documentary or other evidential material in his/her possession. This is a concession which has to be availed of sparingly with due discretion and caution in appropriate cases.

24) However, where the reply/contradiction or rejoinder is being published in compliance with the discretion of the Press Council, it is permissible to append a brief editorial note to that effect.

25) Right of rejoinder cannot be claimed through the medium of Press Conference, as publication of the news of a conference is within the discretionary powers of an editor.

26) Freedom of the Press involves the readers’ right to know all sides of an issue of public interest. An editor, therefore, shall not refuse to publish the reply or rejoinder merely on the ground that in his opinion the story published in the newspaper was true. That is an issue to be left to the judgement of the readers. It also does not behove an editor to show contempt towards a reader.

Letters to editor
27) An editor who decides to open his columns for letters on a controversial subject is not obliged to publish all the letters received in regard to that subject. Her is entitled to select and publish only some of them either in entirety or the gist thereof. However, in exercising this discretion, he must make an honest endeavour to ensure that what is published is not one-sided but represents a fair balance between the views for and against with respect to the principal issue in controversy.

28) In the event of rejoinder upon rejoinder being sent by two parties on a controversial subject, the editor has the discretion to decide at which stage to close the continuing column.

Obscenity and vulgarity to be eschewed
29) Newspapers/journalists shall not publish anything which is obscene, vulgar or offensive to public good taste.

30) Newspapers shall not display advertisements which are vulgar or which, through depiction of a woman in nude or lewd postures, provoke lecherous attention of males as if she herself was a commercial commodity for sale.

31) Whether a picture is obscene or not is to be judged in relation to three tests; namely
i) Is it vulgar and indecent?
ii) Is it a piece of mere pornography?
iii) Is its publication meant merely to make money by titillating the sex feelings of adolescents and among whom it is intended to circulate? In other words, does it constitute an unwholesome exploitation for commercial gain?

Other relevant considerations are whether the picture is relevant to the subject matter of the magazine. That is to say, whether its publication serves any preponderating social or public purpose, in relation to art, painting, medicine, research or reform of sex.

Violence not the be glorified
32) Newspapers/journalists shall avoid presenting acts of violence, armed robberies and terrorist activities in a manner that glorifies the perpetrators’ acts, declarations or death in the eyes of the public.

Glorification/encouragement of social evils to be eschewed
33) Newspapers shall not allow their columns to be misused for writings which have a tendency to encourage or glorify social evils like Sati Pratha or ostentatious celebrations.

Covering communal disputes/clashes
34) News, views or comments relating to communal or religious disputes/clashes shall be published after proper verification of facts and presented with due caution and restraint in a manner which is conducive to the creation of an atmosphere congenial to communal harmony, amity and peace. Sensational, provocative and alarming headlines are to be avoided. Acts of communal violence or vandalism shall be reported in a manner as may not undermine the people’s confidence in the law and order machinery of the State. Giving community-wise figures of the victims of communal riot or writing bout the incident in a style which is likely to inflame passions, aggravate the tension, or accentuate the strained relations between the communities/religious groups concerned, or which has a potential to exacerbate the trouble, shall be avoided.

Headings not to be sensational/provocative and must justify the matter printed under them.
35) In general and particularly in the context of communal disputes or clashes:
a. Provocative and sensational headlines are to be avoided;
b. Headings must reflect and justify the matter printed under them.
c. Headings containing allegations made in statements should either identify the body or the source making it, or at least carry quotation marks.

Caste, religion or community references
36) In general, the caste identification of a person or a particular class should be avoided, particularly when in the context it conveys a sense or attributes a conduct or practice derogatory to that caste.

37) Newspapers are advised against the use of the words ‘Scheduled Caste’ or ‘Harijan’ which has been objected to by some persons.

38) An accused or a victim shall not be described by his caste or community when the same does not have anything to do with the offence or the crime and plays no part either in the identification of any accused or proceeding, if there be any.

39) Newspapers should not publish any fictional literature distorting and portraying the religious characters in an adverse light, transgress the norms of literary taste, and offend the religious susceptibilities of large sections of society who hold those characters in high esteem, invested with attributes of the virtuous and lofty.

40) Commercial exploitation of the name of prophets, seers or deities is repugnant to journalistic ethics and good taste.

Reporting on natural calamities
41) Facts and data relating to the spread of epidemics or natural calamities shall be checked up thoroughly from authentic sources and then published with due restraint in a manner bereft of sensationalism, exaggeration, surmises or unverified facts.

Paramount national interest
42) Newspapers shall, as a matter of self-regulation, exercise due restraint and caution in presenting any news, comment or information which is likely to jeopardise, endanger or harm the paramount interests of the State and society, or the rights of individuals with respect to which reasonable restrictions may be imp;osed by law on the right to freedom of speech and expression under Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Constitution of India.

43) Publication of wrong/incorrect map is a very serious offence, whatever the reason, as it adversely affects the territorial integrity of the country and warrants p;romped and prominent retraction with regrets.

Newspapers may expose misuse of diplomatic immunity
44) The media shall make every possible effort to build bridges of co-operation and better understanding between India and foreign States. At the same time, it is the duty of a newspaper to expose any misuse or undue advantage of the diplomatic immunities.

Investigative Journalism, its norms and parameters
45) Investigative reporting has three basic elements
a. It has to be the work of the reporter, not of others he is reporting;
b. The subject should be of public importance for the reader to know;
c. An attempt is being made to hide the truth from the people.
The first norm follows as a necessary corollary from:
a. that the investigative reporter should, as a rule, base his story on facts investigated, detected and verified by himself and not on hearsay or on derivative evidence collected by a third party, not checked up from direct, authentic sources by the reporter himself.
b. There being a conflict between the factors which require openness and those which necessitate secrecy, the investigative journalist should strike and maintain in his report a proper balance between openness on the one hand and secrecy on the other, placing the public good above everything.
c. The investigative journalist should resist the temptation of quickness or quick gains conjured up from half-baked incomplete, doubtful facts, not fully checked up; and verified from authentic sources by the reporter himself.
d. Imaginary facts, or ferreting out or conjecturing the non-existent should be scrupulously avoided. Facts, facts and yet more facts are vital and they should be checked and cross-checked whenever possible until the moment the paper goes to press.
e. The newspaper must adopt strict standards of fairness and accuracy of facts. Findings should be presented in an objective manner, without exaggerating or distorting, that would stand up in a court of law, if necessary.
f. The reporter must not approach the matter or the issue under investigation, in a manner as though he were the prosecutor or counsel for the prosecution. The reporter’s approach should be fair, accurate and balanced. All facts properly checked up, both for and against the core issues, should be distinctly and separately stated, free from any one-sided inferences or unfair comments. The tone and tenor of the report and its language should be sober, decent and dignified, and not needlessly offensive, barbed, derisive or castigator, particularly while commenting on the version of the person whose alleged activity or misconduct is being investigated. Nor should the investigative reporter conduct the proceedings and pronounce his verdict of guilt or innocence against the person whose alleged criminal acts and conduct were investigated, in a manner as if he were a court trying the accused.
g. In all proceedings, including the investigation, presentation and publication of the report, the investigative journalist’s newspaper should be guided by the paramount principle of criminal jurisprudence, that a person is innocent unless the offence alleged against him is proved beyond doubt by independent, reliable evidence.
h. The private life, even of a public figure, is his own. Exposition or invasion of his personal privacy or private life is not permissible unless there is clear evidence that the wrongdoings in question have a reasonable nexus with the misuse of his public position or power and has an adverse impact on public interest.
i. Though the legal provisions of Criminal Procedure do not in terms apply to investigating proceedings by a journalist, the fundamental principles underlying them can be adopted as a guide on grounds of equity, ethics and good conscience.

Confidence to be respected
46) If information is received from a confidential source, the confidence should be respected. The journalist cannot be compelled by the Press Council to disclose such sources; but it shall not be regarded as a breach of journalistic ethics if the source is voluntarily disclosed in proceedings before the Council by the journalist who considers it necessary to repel effectively a charge against him/her. This rule requiring a newspaper not to publish matters disclosed to it in confidence is not applicable where:
a. consent of the source is subsequently obtained; or
b. the editor clarified by way of an appropriate footnote that since the publication of certain matters were in the public interest, the information in question was published although it had been made ‘off the record’.

Caution in criticising judicial acts.
47) Excepting where the court sits ‘in camera’ or directs otherwise, it is open to a newspaper to report pending judicial proceedings in a fair, accurate and reasonable manner. But it shall not publish anything:
* which, in its direct and immediate effect, creates a substantial risk of obstructing, impeding or prejudicing seriously the due administration of justice; or
* is in the nature of a running commentary or debate, or records the paper’s own findings, conjectures, reflections or comments on issues sub judice and which may amount to arrogation to the newspaper of the functions of the court; or
* regarding the personal character of the accused standing trial on a charge of committing a crime.

Newspapers shall not, as a matter of caution, publish or comment on evidence collected as a result of investigative journalism, when, after the accused is arrested and charged, the court becomes seized of the case. Nor should they reveal, comment upon or evaluate a confession allegedly made by the accused.

48. While newspapers may, in the public interest, make reasonable criticism of a judicial act or the judgement of a court for the public good, they shall not cast scurrilous aspersions on, or impute improper motives, or personal bias to the judge. Nor shall they scandalise the court or the judiciary as a whole, or make personal allegations of lack of ability or integrity against a judge.

49. Newspapers shall, as a matter of caution, avoid unfair and unwarranted criticism which, by innuendo, attributes to a judge extraneous consideration for performing an act in due course of his/her judicial functions, even if such criticism noes not strictly amount to criminal Contempt of Court.

Newspapers to avoid crass commercialism
50. While newspapers are entitled to ensure, improve or strengthen their financial viability by all legitimate means, the Press shall not engage in crass commercialism or unseemly cut-throat commercial competition with their rivals in a manner repugnant to high professional standards and good taste.

51. Predatory price wars/trade competition among newspapers, laced with tones disparaging the produces of each other, initiated and carried on in print, assume the colour of unfair ‘trade’ practice, repugnant to journalistic ethics. The question as to when it assumes such an unethical character is one of fact depending on the circumstances of each case.

52. Using or passing off the writings or ideas of another as one’s own, without crediting the source, is an offence against the ethics of journalism.

Unauthorised lifting of news
53. The practice of lifting news from other newspapers, publishing them subsequently as their own, ill-comports the high standards of journalism. To remove its unethicality the ‘lifting’ newspaper must duly acknowledge the source of the report. The position of feature articles is different from ‘news’. Feature articles shall not be lifted without permission and proper acknowledgement.

54. The press shall not reproduce in any form offending portions or excerpts from a proscribed book.

Non-return of unsolicited material
55. A paper is not bound to return unsolicited material sent for consideration of publication. However, when the same is accompanied by a stamped envelope, the paper should make all efforts to return it.

56. Commercial advertisements are information as much as social, economic or political information. What is more, advertisements shape attitudes and ways of life at least as much as other kinds of information and comment. Journalistic propriety demands that advertisements must be clearly distinguishable from editorial matters carried in the newspaper.

57. Newspapers shall not publish anything which has a tendency to malign wholesale or hurt the religious sentiments of any community or section of society.

58 Advertisements which offend the provisions of the Drugs and Magical Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, 1954, should be rejected.

59. Newspapers should not publish an advertisement containing anything which is unlawful or illegal, or is contrary to good taste or to journalistic ethics or proprieties.

60. Newspapers while publishing advertisements shall specify the amount received by them. The rationale behind this is that advertisements should be charged at rates usually chargeable by a newspaper since payment of more than the normal rates would amount to a subsidy to the paper.

61.Publication of dummy advertisements that have neither been paid for nor authorised by the advertisers constitutes a breach of journalistic ethics.

62. Deliberate failure to publish an advertisement in all the copies of a newspaper offends against the standards of journalistic ethics and constitutes gross professional misconduct.

63. There should be no lack of vigilance or a communication gap between the advertisement department and the editorial department of a newspaper in the matter of considering the propriety or otherwise of an advertisement received for publication.

64. The editors should insist on their right to have the final say in the acceptance or rejection of advertisements, especially those which border on or cross the line between decency and obscenity.

65. An editor shall be responsible for all matters, including advertisements published in the newspaper. If responsibility is disclaimed, this shall be explicitly stated beforehand.

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