The Media Council of Malawi Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, finalised in 1995.
For sometime, Malawi Journalism has been described as “irresponsible” or “unethical”, and such allegations have mostly come from politicians and other sections of the public.
However, the journalists have consistently resisted the label, partly because the accusations come from people who are difficult to please. The argument is that if you do not sing along with a politician, chances are that he or she will not be amused, and, as experience has shown, he or she will give you all sorts of labels, including “unethical” and “irresponsible”.
On the other hand, these people’s allegations are not entirely wrong. There are some sections of the Malawi media that need not only “ethical” or “responsible” reporting but also basic training.
This is due to fact that the thirty-one-year journalism training gap created by the one-party regime left many unprepared for a new multi-party scenario that folded from 1992 onwards. The so-called journalist just had to churn out columns upon columns of material in the name of newly-found freedom of expression.
This is when most allegations on ethics and responsibility came in, because, we admit, very few knew the tools of the trade, and for the rest, it was just a question of trial and error.
It was in recognition of this problem that a representative group of experienced journalists first met in Mangochi in November 1994 to tailor the first edition of the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.
This was widely circulated to solicit further contributions from both the fraternity and the general public. And in March 1995 a second meeting, this time attended by a cross-section of society, met in Mangochi to finalize the code.
The result is this pocket edition, to which have been added some important contracts, a section for notes or appointments and calendars for 1995 and 1996.
Once again, this documents is for all journalists, not specific individuals or associations. It would therefore be ideal if it were consistently used in journalism training institutions in the country.
And lastly, this document can only be effective if individual journalists take it upon themselves to adhere to the principles outlined therein; otherwise, the risk is still there that “outsiders” will ever describe the whole fraternity as “unethical” and “irresponsible”.
CHAPTER ONE: THE INDIVIDUAL JOURNALIST
1.1 Self-Representation: Journalists have the responsibility to provide the public with accurate information. They should also conduct themselves with propriety at all times when performing their duties.
1.2 Dress: Journalists shall dress in a manner that suits the occasion.
1.3 Interviews: Since it is not an obligation for any person, public or otherwise, to talk to journalists, information should not be obtained by using threats or blackmail, and sources must be informed that they are being interviewed for a story. And journalists should not insult, abuse or otherwise embarrass interviewees.
1.4 Language: An interview should be conducted only in a language the interviewee is competent in.
1.5 Conflict of Interest: Journalist shall not put themselves in situations or shall not associate with situations or professions that will bring a conflict of interest with their profession.
1.6 Policy: Journalists should consider the editorial policy of a newspaper or any other news medium in order for them to determine whether they can work for it without compromising their professional ethics.
1.7 Cheque – Book Journalism: Journalists should not accept payment to include or exclude material on a story they are writing. (In India, chequebook journalism is popularly known as envelopementalism).
CHAPTER TWO: THE JOURNALIST’S WORK
2.1 Material: All material produced by journalists should be credible, balanced and fair to all sides. In the same vein, headlines should reflect the gist of the story to avoid cheating the readers, listeners or viewers. Sensationalisation and unwarranted speculation should be avoided, as should be discriminatory language, slants involving racism, tribalism, religion, etc.
2.2. The news must be distinguished from opinion and all lan-guage must be decent.
2.3 Distinction in Presentation: Avoid traumatizing shocking or obscene pictures as much as possible. Pictures must be used appropriately, not for the sake of sales promotion. In long-term photography, journalists should not photograph individuals on their private property without consent. Private property shall be defined as an individual’s or a group of people’s residences together with their garden(s) and outbuildings.
2.4. Co-relation: Pictures must relate to the content of the story, (e.g. “A funeral picture must reflect the mood of the occasion).
2.5 Presentation on Radio or TV: The voice must be neutral and reflect an objective picture of the event under coverage.
Note: On TV what matters is the material presentation, not the personality (more details in the chapter on General Principles and Issues).
2.6 Quotations: Whatever a person is being quoted, the exact words said must be used. If there are any additions or subtractions, they must be indicated by brackets or ellipses (….) respectively.
CHAPTER THREE: GENERAL PRINCIPLES AND ISSUES
All journalists in Malawi have a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards. To this end, they must be free of obligation to any interest other tan the public’s right to know the truth. In order to achieve this, the following must be observed at all times:
3.1 Accuracy: Journalists should strive for accuracy and thoroughness in the writing of news, and pictures must relate to the story. Journalists should also avoid plagiarism.
3.2 Correction: Whenever it is recognized that a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distorted report has been published, it should be corrected promptly and with due prominence, and an apology published whenever appropriate.
3.3 Objectivity: In reporting the news, journalists shall strive to be objective.
3.4 News and Opinions: Journalists shall distinguish clearly between news reports, speculation and expressions of opinion.
3.5 Headlines: News headlines should be fully warranted by the contents of the articles they accompany. Photographs and telecasts should give an accurate picture of an event and not highlight a minor incident out of context.
3.6 Balance and Fair Play:
(I) Journalists must make every reasonable effort to present all sides of the story.
(ii) A fair opportunity for reply should be given to organizations or individuals.
(iii) The media may carry rebuttal adverts as long as they are meant to clarify the issue at stake. And the medium that published the story that is being refuted may run the advert free of charge.
(iv) To safeguard public funds, the media shall not carry rebuttal adverts from public servants, which are intended to protest personal reputation rather than the office, they hold.
3.7 Advertising: Advertisements and public announcements shall be accurate and clearly distinguishable from news.
3.8 The law and the Journalist: In reporting matters that involve or may involve litigation, the journalist shall avoid practices, which would tend to interfere with the right of an individual to a fair trial. A matter that is pending court decision must not be commented on.
3.9 The right to Know: While facilitating the public’s right to know, journalists shall observe the following limits:
(I) Journalists have a moral obligation to protest confidential sources of information.
(ii) Journalists should not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification unless, by law, they are free to do so. Similarly, journalists should not, even where the law does not prohibit it, identify children under the age of 13 who are involved in cases concerning sexual offences, whether as victims, witnesses or defendants.
(iii) Journalist should avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to a person’s race, color, religion, sex or sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or handicap
(iv) Journalists should avoid reference to a person’s race, color, religion, sex or ethnic origin unless such reference is relevant to the story.
(v) Journalists shall not receive favours, which are likely to compromise their professional integrity.
(vi) Journalist shall generally not obtain or seek to obtain information or pictures through misrepresentation or subterfuge unless it can be justified in the public interest and cannot be obtained by any other means.
(vii) Journalists should generally avoid identifying relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime, unless the reference to them is necessary for the full, fair and accurate reporting of the crime or legal proceedings.
(viii) Journalists should be accountable to the public for their reports and the public should be encouraged to voice its grievances against the media in an open dialogue.
CHAPTER FOUR: RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PUBLIC AND OTHER JOURNALISTS
4.1 Chance of Reply: The public and institutions should be given the opportunity to reply to statements made about them in the media.
4.2 Privacy:Journalist shall respect the individual’s private life without undue intrusion or harassment unless justified in the public interest.
4.3 Transparency:Journalists should be transparent and introduce themselves and seek permission to obtain information or take pictures.
4.5 Media Relationship: Journalists should foster relations among themselves and encourage internal dialogue whenever misunderstandings arise. Media wars should be avoided.
CHAPTER FIVE: DISCIPLINARY ACTION RESULTING FROM PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT
The Media Council of Malawi shall enforce the observance of this code of ethics. Other media associations desiring to further the interests and advancement of journalism in Malawi should also use this code of ethics, since it governs the practice of journalism in this country. In the administration of the code when a journalist has behaved unethically, the Council shall, through a panel, apply any one of the following measures:
(I) It will call the practitioner for a discussion to determine the facts of the matter;
ii) If appropriate, it will call the management of the practitioner’s media organization for a discussion to determine further the facts of the matter;
(iii) Based on its determination, it may issue a warning to the person(s) responsible;
(iv) It will ask the responsible media organization to apologize or withdraw the article in the same medium the article was published or transmitted;
(v) It will issue a statement condemning the article if the media organization responsible refuses to apologize or retract the article;
(vi) It may also urge other media associations to disassociate themselves from the practitioner responsible until a remedy to the matter has been found.
The above measures shall be taken only after the person(s) responsible has/have been given a chance to be heard.
The person(s) responsible will be free to demand a different set of panelists to look into the matter should it be felt that the current panelists can be or are prejudiced against them. An appeal can also be made to associate councils in the region or other recognized media institutions should the person(s) responsible not be satisfied with the Council’s verdict on the matter.
Determination and decisions of the Council are not intended to prejudice the right of anyone to legal recourse in a court of law.
The Media Council Of Malawi (c)