By: George Garneau Chairman of the Associated Press Managing Editors ethics committee defends proposed code against charges that it could provide ammunition for libel suits sp.
THE CHAIRMAN OF the Associated Press Managing Editors ethics committee defended the group's proposed ethics code against charges that it could provide ammunition for libel suits. David Hawpe, who is vice president and editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, said the proposed code was designed as a guide for newspapers to develop their own codes. He said the 41/2-page proposal aggressively attempts to help editors deal with ethical dilemmas posed by such developments as computerized photo manipulation, rising advertising pressures and minority affairs. The detailed ethics guide would replace a one-page code, adopted in 1975, that is so general that Hawpe called it "a series of platitudes." Critics have said the details are the devil in the proposed code, which is so specific that it could serve as a how-to guide for suing newspapers. Richard Winfield, an attorney for the Associated Press and a contributor to E&P, called the proposed code "naive, dangerous" and said it will bring far more harm than good. The more specifically a code defines acceptable and unacceptable behavior, he said, the more "hooks and advantages" plaintiffs' attorneys have to show "journalistic malpractice." In an interview, Hawpe disagreed. "I already have a code, and 40% of newspapers have more detailed written guidelines, and that has not laid us open to legal attack," he said. "That has not eviscerated our journalism." Quite the contrary, he said, codes spelling out unacceptable practices are needed. Because he has responsibility for more than 200 journalists at the Courier-Journal, "it is absolutely incumbent on me to offer guidance on what is expected," Hawpe said. "I think it would be fairly irresponsible not to have some fairly specific set of guidelines at a newspaper." That paper's code, reputed to be among the nation's most strict, covers several dozen pages in a ringed notebook. The APME began the ethics code rewrite after a poll of members last year found that ethics problems troubled most editors. The group used 80 codes from newspapers and journalism organizations and held four town meetings last year before drafting the proposed code from scratch. It includes a statement of purpose, a six-part mission of journalism and six core ethical values: trustworthiness, fairness, respect, accountability, public service and diversity. "Standards of ethics" list specific performance standards applied to each core value, sometimes in painful detail. Under trustworthiness, it: ? calls for newspapers to develop "safeguards," including "systematic verification of facts and quotations and corroboration of critical information;" ? prohibits alteration or manipulation of photo content except for illustrations, which must be clearly labeled; ? says "every effort" should be made to get information on the record before publishing it unattributed. Under a new category of diversity, it says newspapers: ? are "obligated to serve all of the community;" ? "must make concerted, sustained efforts" to recruit and develop staffs reflecting their areas; ? should avoid stereotyping. In addition to Hawpe, seven editors and an "ethics guru" composed the proposed code. Members of the ethics committee include Robert Ritter, outgoing APME president and vice president, Gannett News Service; Michael Waller, editor, Hartford Courant; Peter Bhatia, managing editor, Sacramento Bee; Marcia Bullard, editor, USA Weekend; Robert McGruder, managing editor, Detroit Free Press; Lawrence Beaupre, editor, Cincinnati Enquirer; and David Zeeck, associate editor, Kansas City Star. Their "guide," Hawpe said, was Michael Josephson, "ethics guru" from the Josephson Institute in California, who "has helped some of America's biggest corporations and major organizations wrestle with similar tasks." The APME is conducting town meetings throughout the country this year to collect views of readers and newsmakers. ?("I already have a code, and 40% of newspapers have more detailed written guidelines, and that has not laid us open to legal attack.")[Caption] ?(? David Hawpe, APME ethics committee chairman and vice president and editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal) [Photo & Caption ID]