Norms of Conduct of the Daily Newspaper ABC. ABC is a quality national daily, born in Madrid in 1903. It has developed a reputation for conservative views and excellent writing.
Libel consists of any false statement, printed or broadcast, that stigmatises a person and tends to make that person the target of hatred, contempt or public ridicule, or causes him/her harm in his/her activities. The Penal Code defines it as “the malicious imputation of facts most likely to violate the privacy, the image, the dignity and honour of persons”. Whoever considers oneself as a victim of libel can sue the people responsible for its publication or broadcast, for an attack against one’s honour, for slander or false accusation of a crime.
To avoid committing libel, all journalists must exercise extreme care in evaluating and processing their news stories and eliminate any statements that could provide ground for quarrel.
Hence it is advisable to:
– Always give information based on facts, strive to obtain the opinions of both sides on controversial topics and always mention sources.
– Be the most precise possible when giving news about arrests, police investigations or enquiries and all activities that can constitute a crime.
– Not consider anyone as suspect or the author of any crime so long as the courts have not pronounced a clear sentence in that respect.
– Reproduce quotes exactly, but keep in mind that such exactness does not in itself constitute a defence in case of a libel suit if the quote reproduced contains false information on people, companies or organisations.
– When referring to persons or entities, try to avoid using pejorative terms which could motivate a libel suit, as well as insulting, slanderous terms; accusations of crime, of association with delinquents, of illicit, criminal or anti-social behaviours or attitudes.
When a news story contains established facts of indisputable journalistic value that can give rise to a complaint, the decision to publish must necessarily be submitted to the editor of the relevant section and, if need be, to the legal adviser of the newspaper.
Respect for Privacy
ABC will in its pages respect the right of people to protect their private life. That respect for individual and family privacy will set the limit for permissible journalistic intervention. Where major journalistic imperatives exist, the journalist will scrupulously weigh, in each case, the requirements of his/her duty to inform and the protection of privacy – in such a way that the rights of the readers are satisfied without the newspaper being involved in litigation or complaints. In the case of public figures, he/she will take into account that the limits are less sharply-drawn, since such people are exposed, by reason of their position or of the constraints of popularity, to more intense journalistic scrutiny.
The newspaper will also avoid any journalistic intrusion into private grief.
Every news story must mention the sources on which it is based, except when implicitly the facts described are confirmed by the reporter or correspondent. The journalist will abstain from introducing his/her own opinions not directly inspired by the facts described.
It is rigorously required to mention the authorship of opinions, value judgements, external theories and explanations, as well as of statistics or results of investigations or recent experiments, whose origin is known.
When the information comes from a public or written statement, clear mention will be made of the individual or collective source fit to issue it. The attribution to the source will be as precise as possible. Recourse will be avoided to such vague phrases as “well-informed sources” or “we are advised that”; on the contrary, it will be specified whether sources are police, military, diplomatic, political circles or a particular organisation, institution or company.
In cases when it is not possible or proper to reveal the precise identity of a source, one must use paraphrases which at least provide an idea of its position and authority: e.g. reliable parliamentary sources, high officials of the Ministry, circles close to the presidency of the company, etc.
– A news story is public (on the record) when all its contents and the names of the sources can be used. The report of a conference or the contents of an interview, for instance, belong in that category.
– A news story “not for attribution” is one that will be processed for publication but whose source cannot be identified.
– Information for reference (background) is the kind that helps the journalist get his/her bearings; the general idea of it can be used in the news story being written, but with the reservation that the information given is not based on that source.
– Off the record (extra-official, confidential) information is usually given not to be published. However, if the journalist can get that information confirmed by another source which speaks with no restrictions, he/she can publish it.
The journalist will have to consider closely each news story, and decide whether to process it with any one of those restrictions in mind – and wisely balance the interests of the reader and the possible promise made to the source.
If an explicit request is made by the informing person that no name be mentioned, the journalist will need to respect the request as an ethical duty and will conceal his/her confidential sources of information, protected as he/she is by professional secrecy.
All the facts in an investigation done by the newspaper or received without sufficient guarantees of authenticity need to be verified before publication. The more delicate or controversial aspects must be checked with more than one source before they are accepted as true.
Each source used in the process of verification will only be given access to the facts, quotes or limited elements that need to be verified. In no case, will the whole of the final text destined to publication be handed over or read to the source.
Journalists will keep their notes, their tapes – if there are any, and lists of the sources used during their investigations until a reasonable time has elapsed after publication of a given story.
Every mistake made in a news story that can cause confusion or misunderstanding must be rectified immediately by way of a “Notice of inaccuracy” which will be submitted by the person guilty of the mistake to the editor in charge of the relevant section in view of publication.
Similarly, typographical errors introduced in the photo-compo¬sition process must be corrected by way of a “Notice of error” whenever they alter the meaning of a sentence, prevent the proper understanding of it or induce a wrong interpretation. Special care will be given to correcting the names of people that have been misspelled.
External requests for correction will be considered with the utmost courtesy and seriousness and will be published whenever they turn out to be justified. Cases that are doubtful, disproportionate or excessive will be submitted to the Legal Adviser of the newspaper for his opinion.
[Translation by Claude-Jean Bertrand]