This Latin American Code of Journalism Ethics took effect in the mid-1980s with the II Latin American Congress of Journalists. A 1985 FELAP survey demonstrate that the state continues to wield much power over the media in the majority of Latin American countries.
News as a social good concerns all society, and so it is necessary to establish moral norms that govern the responsibility of the collective mass media.
Resolution 59 (I) of the General Assembly of the United Nations, adopted in 1946, states:
“Freedom of information requires as an indispensable element the willingness and capacity to employ its privileges without abuse. It requires as a basic discipline the moral obligation to seek the facts without prejudice and to spread knowledge without malicious intent.”
The efforts to establish a universal ethical norm were addressed by UNESCO’s XX General Assembly, which approved a special declaration concerning the mass media’s responsibilities. Article VIII of the declaration states:
“Professional organizations, as well as people who participate in the professional development of journalists and other agents of the major media who help them accomplish tasks in a responsible manner, should accord special importance to the principles of this declaration in the ethical Codes that they establish and whose fulfilment they oversee.”
Journalists, in their role as professional intermediaries, are important players in the information process, and their professional ethics are based on the proper practice of the profession. Journalists also contribute to the elimination or reduction of deformations in the disbursement of information. This is essential in the region, because media owners usurp our name, calling themselves “journalists,” and they apply ethical rules that are governed by the search for commercial benefit.
The ethical norms in this document are based on principles from national codes, on UN declarations and resolutions, and on the Federation of Latin American Journalists’ (FELAP) Declaration of Principles. They proclaim:
* Freedom of the press is the right of our people to be informed in a timely and accurate manner, and to express their opinions without restrictions other than those imposed by the interests of those very people.
* Due to the nature of the profession, the journalist has political and ideological responsibilities, which influence the conscience of the masses, and those responsibilities are unavoidable and constitute the essence of the journalist’s social function.
FELAP recognizes that it is difficult to apply an ethical standard to a system governed by private ownership of the media, where news is converted into merchandise. It regards moral conscience as a form of social conscience, a concrete historical product, determined by the economic structure, and which is therefore changeable and dependent upon the norms of the dominant sectors.
FELAP is convinced of the existence of moral progress, and believes that with the progression of history, humanity has expressed ethical points of view which express common interests and are beneficial to the human race.
Since individual moral freedom is only possible if individuals make conscientious efforts to advance social interests, FELAP believes that professional ethics can be achieved within the context of the battle to achieve a truly free press in our nations.
With the certainty that a professional moral standard will contribute to the fulfilment of this objective, FELAP proclaims the following Latin American Code of Journalism Ethics:
Article 1 – Journalism should be a service of collective interest, with social functions that seek the integral development of the individual and of the community. The journalist must actively participate in the social transformation which seeks the democratic improvement of society; and dedicate his/her conscience to promoting respect for freedoms and human rights.
Article 2 – Journalism should contribute to the strengthening of peace, co-existence, self-determination of the people, disarmament, international cooperation, and mutual understanding among all the peoples of the world; and it should fight for equality among human beings, without distinctions of race, opinion, origin, language, religion, or nationality. It is the inalienable right of Latin American journalists to contribute to the economic, political, and cultural independence of our nations and towns, to the establishment of a New International Economic Order, and to the decolonisation of information.
Article 3 – The journalist also has other imperative duties:
* To impel, consolidate, and defend freedom of expression and the right to information, understood as the right of the people to inform and to be informed.
* To promote the necessary conditions for the establishment of the free and equal flow of information on the world, regional, and national stages.
* To fight for a new information order that relates to the people’s interests and that replaces the one which currently exists in the majority of Latin American countries and deforms reality.
* To fight for the democratisation of information so that the journalist may perform his/her mission as professional mediator and agent of social change, and so that the people have access to that same information.
* To reject propaganda on the inevitability of war, threats, and the use of force in international conflicts.
Article 4 – Journalists will adopt the principles of truth and objectivity in their work and will commit ethical faults when they silence, falsify or manipulate facts. They will provide the public with information about the context of events and about different opinions on these events, so that the recipient of the news can interpret the origin and the perspective of the facts. In the diffusion of ideas and opinions, journalists will appraise the conditions so that they can express themselves in a democratic fashion and not be limited by commercial, advertising, or other interests.
Article 5 – The journalist is responsible for his/her information and opinions, will accept the existence of reprinting rights, and will respect the professional secrecy of his/her sources.
Article 6 – Journalists should do their work with the integrity and dignity due to the profession; will respect their beliefs, ideas, or opinions as well as the material that is the source of their work; and will fight for the right to participate in the decision-making process of the media in which they are employed. As far as legal rights are concerned, journalists will seek the establishment of judicial statutes that protect professional rights and duties.
Article 7 – The following actions are violations of professional ethics:
* Plagiarism and lack of respect for intellectual property.
* Bribery and extortion
* The failure to report information of collective interest.
* Defamation and slander.
Article 8 – The participation or complicity of journalists in the repression of the press and of press workers is considered to be a major violation of professional ethics.
Article 9 – The journalist will strengthen the organization and unity of the unions, where they exist, and contribute to their creation, where they do not exist. The journalist will support the working class movement in his/her country.
Article 10 – The journalist will seek greater knowledge and will seek to defend national values, especially the value of langua6ge as a cultural expression and as an important factor in new forms of culture.
Article 11 – It is the journalist’s duty to defend nature and to denounce actions that result in the contamination and destruction of the environment.
[Source: International Journalists’ Network whose website www.ijnet.org contains over 100 codes in three languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese]