The Guardian’s Editorial Code, last updated in April 2007.
“A newspaper’s primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted.”
The most important currency of the Guardian is trust. This is as true today as when CP Scott marked the centenary of the founding of the newspaper with his famous essay on journalism in 1921.
The purpose of this code is, above all, to protect and foster the bond of trust between the Guardian (in print and online) and its readers, and therefore to protect the integrity of the paper and of the editorial content it carries.
As a set of guidelines this will not form part of a journalist’s contract of employment, nor will it form part, for either editorial management or journalists, of disciplinary, promotional or recruitment procedures. However, by observing the code, journalists working for the Guardian will be protecting not only the paper but also the independence, standing and reputation of themselves and their colleagues. It is important that freelancers working for the Guardian also abide by these guidelines while on assignment for the paper.
Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice
The Guardian — in common with most other papers in Britain — considers the PCC’s Code of Practice to be a sound statement of ethical behaviour for journalists. It is written into our terms of employment that staff should adhere to the Code of Practice. It is published below so that all editorial staff can familiarise themselves with it — and comments in this document that relate to the PCC Code are marked with an asterisk.
1. Professional practice
We recognise that people will often speak more honestly if they are allowed to speak anonymously. The use of non-attributed quotes can therefore often assist the reader towards a truer understanding of a subject than if a journalist confined him/herself to quoting bland on-the-record quotes. But if used lazily or indiscriminately anonymous quotes become a menace.
We should be honest about our sources, even if we can’t name them.
The New York Times policy on pejorative quotes is worth bearing in mind: “The vivid language of direct quotation confers an unfair advantage on a speaker or writer who hides behind the newspaper, and turns of phrase are valueless to a reader who cannot assess the source.”
There may be exceptional circumstances when anonymous pejorative quotes may be used, but they will be rare — and only after consultation with the senior editor of the day. In the absence of specific approval we should paraphrase anonymous pejorative quotes.
Special care should be taken when dealing with children (under the age of 16). Heads of departments must be informed when children have been photographed or interviewed without parental consent. (See PCC code, section 6)
The general rule is that no one should be given the right to copy approval. In certain circumstances we may allow people to see copy or quotes but we are not required to alter copy. We should avoid offering copy approval as a method of securing interviews or co-operation.
Should not be changed to alter their context or meaning.
It is the policy of the Guardian to correct significant errors as soon as possible. Journalists have a duty to cooperate frankly and openly with the Readers’ Editor and to report errors to her. All complaints should be brought to the attention of a department head, the managing editor or the Readers’ Editor. All journalists should read both the daily and weekly column.
“The voice of opponents no less than of friends has a right to be heard . . . It is well be to be frank; it is even better to be fair” (CP Scott, 1921). The more serious the criticism or allegations we are reporting the greater the obligation to allow the subject the opportunity to respond.
People should be treated with sensitivity during periods of grief and trauma. (See PCC code, section 5)
Respect for the reader demands that we should not casually use words that are likely to offend. Use swear words only when absolutely necessary to the facts of a piece, or to portray a character in an article; there is almost never a case in which we need to use a swearword outside direct quotes. The stronger the swearword, the harder we ought to think about using it. Avoid using in headlines, pull quotes and standfirsts and never us asterisks, which are just a cop-out.
Our libel and contempt laws are complex, and constantly developing. The consequences of losing actions can be expensive and damaging for our reputation. Staff should a) familiarise themselves with the current state of the law and seek training if they feel unconfident about aspects of it; b) consult our inhouse legal department or night lawyers about specific concerns on stories; c) read the regular legal bulletins about active cases and injunctions emailed by the legal department.
In general, the Guardian does not pay for stories, except from bona fide freelance sources. The editor or his deputies must approve rare exceptions. PCC and libel judgments Judgments by the PCC and the outcome of defamation actions relating to the
Guardian should be reported promptly.
Digitally enhanced or altered images, montages and illustrations should be clearly labeled as such.
Staff must not reproduce other people’s material without attribution. The source of published material obtained from another organisation should be acknowledged including quotes taken from other newspaper articles. Bylines should be carried only on material that is substantially the work of the bylined journalist. If an article contains a significant amount of agency copy then the agency should be credited.
In keeping with both the PCC Code and the Human Rights Act we believe in respecting people’s privacy. We should avoid intrusions into people’s privacy unless there is a clear public interest in doing so. Caution should be exercised about reporting and publishing identifying details, such as street names and numbers, that may enable others to intrude on the privacy or safety of people who have become the subject of media coverage.
In general, we do not publish someone’s race or ethnic background or religion unless that information is pertinent to the story. We do not report the race of criminal suspects unless their ethnic background is part of a description that seeks to identify them or is an important part of the story (for example, if the crime was a hate crime).
Sources promised confidentiality must be protected at all costs. However, where possible, the sources of information should be identified as specifically as possible.
Journalists should generally identify themselves as Guardian employees when working on a story. There may be instances involving stories of exceptional public interest where this does not apply, but this needs the approval of a head of department.
Journalists are asked to exercise particular care in reporting suicide or issues involving suicide, bearing in mind the risk of encouraging others. This should be borne in mind both in presentation, including the use of pictures, and in describing the method of suicide. Any substances should be referred to in general rather than specific terms if possible. When appropriate a helpline number should be given (eg Samaritans 08457 90 90 90). The feelings of relatives should also be carefully considered.
2. Personal behaviour and conflicts of interest
The Guardian values its reputation for independence and integrity. Journalists clearly have lives, interests, hobbies, convictions and beliefs outside their work on the paper. Nothing in the following guidelines is intended to restrict any of that. It is intended to ensure that outside interests do not come into conflict with the life of the paper in a way that either compromises the Guardian’s editorial integrity or falls short of the sort of transparency that our readers would expect. The code is intended to apply to all active outside interests which, should they remain undeclared and become known, would cause a fair-minded reader to question the value of a contribution to the paper by the journalist involved.
These are guidelines rather than one-size-fits-all rules. If you are employed as a columnist — with your views openly on display — you may have more latitude than a staff reporter, who would be expected to bring qualities of objectivity to their work. (The Washington Post’s Code has some sound advice: “Reporters should make every effort to remain in the audience, to stay off the stage, to report the news, not to make the news.”) If in doubt, consult a head of department, the managing or deputy editors, or the editor himself.
No Guardian journalist or freelance primarily associated with the Guardian should endorse commercial products unless with the express permission of their head of department or managing editor.
Desk editors with access to personal information relating to other members of staff are required to treat such information as confidential, and not disclose it to anyone except in the course of discharging formal responsibilities.
Conflicts of interest
Guardian staff journalists should be sensitive to the possibility that activities outside work (including holding office or being otherwise actively involved in organisations, companies or political parties) could be perceived as having a bearing on — or as coming into conflict with — the integrity of our journalism. Staff should be transparent about any outside personal, philosophical or financial interests that might conflict with their professional performance of duties at the Guardian, or could be perceived to do so.
Declarations of interest
1. It is always necessary to declare an interest when the journalist is writing about something with which he or she has a significant connection. This applies to both staff journalists and freelances writing for the Guardian. The declaration should be to a head of department or editor during preparation. Full transparency may mean that the declaration should appear in the paper or website as well.
2. A connection does not have to be a formal one before it is necessary to declare it. Acting in an advisory capacity in the preparation of a report for an organisation, for example, would require a declaration every time the journalist wrote an article referring to it.
3. Some connections are obvious and represent the reason why the writer has been asked to contribute to the paper. These should always be stated at the end of the writer’s contribution even if he or she contributes regularly, so long as the writer is writing about his or her area of interest.
4. Generally speaking a journalist should not write about or quote a relative or partner in a piece, even if the relative or partner is an expert in the field in question. If, for any reason, an exception is made to this rule, the connection should be made clear.
5. Commissioning editors should ensure that freelances asked to write for the Guardian are aware of these rules and make any necessary declaration.
Declarations of corporate interest
The Guardian is part of a wider group of media companies. We should be careful to acknowledge that relationship in stories. Anyone writing a story concerning Guardian related businesses should seek comments and/or confirmation in the normal way. Staff should familiarise themselves with the companies and interests we have. At the end of this document is a summary of the
areas and companies that GMG owns or in which it has an interest. Full details are on the GMG website at http://www.gmgplc.co.uk/
For many years the Guardian’s business desk has maintained a register of personal shares. All staff are expected to list all shares that they own, any transactions in those shares and any other investments which they believe ought to be properly disclosed because of a potential conflict of interest. While it is acceptable for financial members to own shares, it is not acceptable for them to be market traders on a regular basis. It is most important that the register is kept and that all information is up to date. The attention of Guardian journalists is also drawn to Section 13 of the PCC Code of Practice (below) and to the PCC’s best-practice guidelines on financial journalism (http://www.pcc.org.uk/news/index.html?article=OTM=) which can also be found in the “code advice” section of the PCC website http://www.pcc.org.uk/.
• prohibits the use of financial information for the profit of journalists or their associates;
• imposes restrictions on journalists writing about shares in which they or their close families have a significant interest without internal disclosure;
• stops journalists dealing in shares about which they have written recently or intend to write in the near future; and
• requires that financial journalists take care not to publish inaccurate material and to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact. This is particularly important for any journalists making investment recommendations to readers about whether to buy, sell or hold shares.
As a general rule avoid freelance writing for house magazines of particular businesses or causes if the contribution could be interpreted as an endorsement of the concern. If in doubt consult your head or department.
1. Staff should not use their position to obtain private benefit for themselves or others.
2. The Guardian and its staff will not allow any payment, gift or other advantage to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence. Any attempts to induce favourable editorial treatment through the offer of gifts or favours should be reported to the editor. Where relevant the Guardian will disclose these payments, gifts or other advantages.
3. We should make it clear when an airline, hotel or other interest has borne the cost of transporting or accommodating a journalist. Acceptance of any such offer is conditional on the Guardian being free to assign and report or not report any resulting story as it sees fit.
4. Except in some areas of travel writing it should never need to be the case that the journalist’s partner, family or friends are included in any free arrangement. When a partner, family member or friend accompanies the journalist on a trip, the additional costs should generally be paid for by the journalist or person accompanying the journalist.
5. Staff should not be influenced by commercial considerations — including the interests of advertisers — in the preparation of material for the paper.
6. Gifts other than those of an insignificant value (say, less than £25) should be politely returned or may be entered for the annual raffle of such items for charity, “the sleaze raffle”.
Staff members should not use their positions at the Guardian to seek any benefit or advantage in personal business, financial or commercial transactions not afforded to the public generally. Staff should not use Guardian stationery in connection with non-Guardian matters or cite a connection with the paper to resolve consumer grievances, get quicker service or seek discount or deals.
Outside engagements or duties
The Guardian accepts the journalist’s right to a private life and the right to take part in civic society. However, staff should inform their immediate editor if, in their capacity as an employee of the Guardian, they intend to:
1. Give evidence to any court.
2. Chair public forums or seminars arranged by professional conference organisers or commercial organisations.
3. Undertake any outside employment likely to conflict with their professional duties at the Guardian.
4. Chair public or political forums or appear on platforms.
5. Make representations or give evidence to any official body in connection with material that has been published in the Guardian.
Staff members should not write about, photograph or make news judgments about any individual related by blood or marriage or with whom the staff member has a close personal, financial or romantic relationship. A staff member who is placed in a circumstance in which the potential for this kind of conflict exists should advise his or her department head.